Ever wonder how Bears, and not Cardinals, became 'Monsters of the Midway?'
“Monsters of the Midway” is one of the coolest nicknames for a team in the NFL. It just sounds fitting for a franchise that’s steeped in great defense, especially at the linebacker position.
It also has, actually, nothing to do with the Chicago Bears.
The original “Monsters of the Midway” were the University of Chicago football team. Yes, the University of Chicago — now known for its scholars but not its athletics — once was home to a football powerhouse, winning two national championships and seven Big Ten titles between 1899-1924.
The Maroons were coached by the legendary Amos Alonzo Stagg, who’s considered one of the most important innovators of football’s infancy.
Where does “Midway” come from, then? (It's not the airport). The Midway Plaisance is a pristine one-mile strip of parkland running through the University of Chicago’s campus, stretching one mile from Jackson Park in the east to Washington Park in the west between 59th and 60th streets.
Hence, the University of Chicago football team was dubbed the “Monsters of the Midway.”
Stagg left U-Chicago in 1932, and the university disbanded its football team in 1939, then left the Big Ten in 1946. The original Stagg Field — where the Maroons became one of the nation’s best college football teams — was the site of the first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction on Dec. 2, 1942.
The Bears were at their peak when U-Chicago dumped football, and absorbed the “Monsters of the Midway” moniker right around when Sid Luckman and George Halas won the 1940 NFL Championship, 73-0, over Washington. The name stuck, and roared back locally and nationally in 1985 as the Bears mauled their way to winning Super Bowl XX.
The Bears' most recent renaissances — 2005, 2006 and 2018 — were all based around dominant defenses. Perfect for being known as the "Monsters of the Midway." It fit Bill George in 1963 and Dick Butkus shortly after. It fit Mike Singletary in the 80's and Brian Urlacher in the 2000s. It fits Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks now, doesn't it?
But you might’ve known this history. What struck me while researching this EverWonder article is how, actually, ridiculous it is for the Bears to be known as the “Monsters of the Midway.”
Because the Bears have no connection to the South Side of Chicago. But the Cardinals do.
“We lived on the South Side and the Bears were North Siders, playing at Wrigley Field then,” a die-hard Chicago Cardinals fan told the Associated Press in 1988, long after the team left the city. “The Cardinals played at Comiskey Park on the South Side.”
In a city with such a clear, hyper-local demarcation of sports loyalties, how did the North Side’s football team co-opt a nickname rooted deeply on the South Side?
It starts with the Cardinals being bad. They stunk. This is a team that went on a 29-game losing streak between 1942 and 1945, and in that streak combined for a year with the Pittsburgh Steelers due to a player shortage during World War II.
(The team was known as Card-Pitt, and sneeringly referred to as the “Carpets,” because as one fan wrote to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “I think it’s appropriate because every team in the league walks over them!”
Meanwhile, the Bears won three NFL championships in the span of four years in the early ’40’s. They had a much larger following in Chicago than the Cardinals, even despite being located on opposite sides of Madison St.
The Bears were a natural fit to carry the “Monsters of the Midway” moniker after the University of Chicago stopped playing football. From one great team to another. Local divide be damned.
The Cardinals moved away from Chicago in 1959, settling in St. Louis for a few decades before relocating to Arizona. The Bears played at Wrigley Field until 1970 before permanently* settling at Soldier Field — only a short trip up Lake Shore Drive from the Midway.
*Let's all forget about the 2002 season in Champaign, shall we?
Maybe if the Cardinals were better back in the late ’30’s and early ’40’s, they would’ve been known as the “Monsters of the Midway.” Maybe that nickname would’ve followed them across the country, from Missouri to Arizona.
But the name just fits the Bears, doesn’t it?Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.