“Monsters of the Midway” is a nickname thrown around all too lightly by today’s football fans. If you want to find a team that was truly monstrous, consider the Chicago Bears of the 1940s. There was little an opponent could do to outslug or outthink the Bears, and they just kept attacking relentessly. When one Chicago player went down, a bigger one seemed to take his place. And when the Bears couldn’t beat you with their brawn, they tricked you with their brains.

The player who best embodied all of the best qualities of Chicago's great teams was Clyde Turner. Known by everyone as “Bulldog,” Clyde was a center/linebacker with a quick mind and a physique chiseled out of stone. How he became a pro football immortal is one of the most amazing and improbable stories in the history of sports—truly the stuff that fairy tales are made of. Indeed, it all started the day young Clyde sold the family cow so he could go in search of giants.

Clyde Turner was born on March 10, 1919, on a ranch outside the town of Plaines, in the high plains of West Texas. (Click here for today's sports birthdays.) When Clyde was a little boy, the Turner family moved into town. Plaines was the county seat, mostly because it was the only town in the county. As Clyde remembers it, Plaines did not have a town square because there wasn’t enough town to go around it. The cattle outnumbered people by at least 50 to 1.

When Clyde was 13, his father bought land in Sweetwater, some 200 miles to the east, and started raising cattle of his own. He sent for his family a couple of years later. Clyde was a strapping teenager, but he had never played football, much less seen one. When he enrolled at Sweetwater High School as a junior, he noticed that the boys wearing the sweaters with the big “S” on them seemed to be getting a lot of attention. He decided to investigate.

A boy two classes ahead of Clyde had been the star of the football team. His name was Sammy Baugh, and he parlayed his gridiron talent into a college scholarship at Texas Christian. Clyde’s after-school job was picking cotton, which conflicted with Sweetwater High’s practice schedule. He asked his father if he could quit picking and start playing. When his father asked why, Clyde said, “I want to get me a sweater."

There were only 13 players on the team. Clyde made 14. Fast, strong and coordinated, he became the Mustangs’ top sub. He learned the duties of every player on the team—a habit that would serve him well during his “Bulldog” days. Sweetwater wasn't very competitive, but by the time Clyde got his sweater, he was hooked on football.

The following season Clyde was stunned to hear that he was ineligible to play. Sweetwater typically graduated students at 15. (Clyde’s older brother, for example, received his diploma at 14.) Now 16, Clyde would have to find a college team willing to take him. After selling the Turner family cow for $8, he hit the road, hitchhiking his way around Texas. At every stop, the The raw-boned teen tired to talk his way onto a football team. He had no success.

This may have been a blessing in disguise. Clyde wasn’t exactly ready for the academic challenges of higher learning. At one school, the coach looked at the bedraggled teenager and offered him a meal in the cafeteria. Clyde didn't understand—he had never encountered this word before. So embarrassed by his own ignorance, Clyde left the campus. With funds and food running low and winter weather setting in, he hitched back to Sweetwater, where he worked in the cattle business for a year.

At 17, Clyde and a friend named A.J. finagled a tryout with coach Frank Kimbrough at Hardin-Simmons College in Abilene. On their way to the school, they invented nicknames to make themselves seem tougher and more colorful. A.J. was “Tiger.” Clyde was “Bulldog.” Kimbrough picked both boys for the team. From that day on, the only person who ever called Clyde by his real name was his future wife, Gladys.

Bulldog filled in at center on the freshman team when the starter was hurt. He had already distinguished himself as a promising defensive player and was looking for more playing time. When the freshmen scrimmaged the varsity, Bulldog  turned the older players inside-out.

Bulldog became a starter as a sophomore and played three years of varsity football for Hardin-Simmons. During that time, the team lost only three games. Despite performing in a football backwater, Bulldog's fame grew. When he tackled you, well, you stayed tackled. The school invested in some publicity photos during Bulldog’s senior year and distributed them to the wire services. One showed him running with a calf hoisted above his head. The other had him dressed in full-on cowboy gear. The shots made enough of an impression to get him All-America recognition in 1939.

Bulldog first hit the pro football radar that same season, when Hardin-Simmons traveled west to play Loyola of Los Angeles. A sellout crowd watched Bulldog dominate the game. At halftime, a fan telephoned George Richards, the owner of the Detroit Lions, and told him to hurry to the stadium. Richards was a powerful radio executive who owned a home in Southern California. He watched Bulldog—now a 6–2, 220-pound whirlwind—mop up the gridiron with the Loyola players. As Bulldog left the field, Richards asked him whether he would like to play pro football. Of course, said Bulldog. Richards put some walking-around money in his pocket, and then instructed his young discovery to tell any other NFL teams that contacted him that he had no interest in football. Then as now, this violated a bunch of league rules. The Lions were later fined $5,000.

Richards knew what he was doing. At the time, small-school stars got almost no press. The NFL was a struggling league with no formal college scouting system. On draft day, team officials often relied on hearsay or what they read in the football annuals. Detroit would almost certainly have a clear shot at Bulldog.


Clyde "Bulldog" Turner
     
 

Little did Ricards and the Lions know that the secret was already out. During Bulldog’s junior season, a Hardin-Simmons booster tipped off Frank Korch, who worked for the Bears. Korch had also seen Bulldog play and convinced George Halas that he would one day be worth a #1 pick.

On draft day in 1940, Detroit coach Gus Henderson was under orders to draft Bulldog. Figuring no one else knew about him, Henderson decided to spend the Lions’ first pick on Doyle Nave of USC. Halas, picking next, tabbed Bulldog. Harry Wismer, who worked for Richards as a sportscaster, ran to the phone to tell the owner that Henderson had disobeyed him. Richards was furious. Henderson was later fired.

Richards didn’t give up. He contacted Bulldog and advised him to tell the Bears he wanted to coach high school football. Richards planned to set up Bulldog with a job in California. After the Bears lost interest, he would sign to play in Detroit. In the end, Bulldog decided he didn’t want to sit out a year. He loved football too much. He signed with the Bears that summer.

The 1940 draft was not considered a particularly good one. In fairness, the full flower of its talent will never be known because of the number of players who ended up losing some or all of their careers to military service. What is known is that the Bears made out like bandits, plucking Bulldog, Ken Kavanagh, George McAfee, Ed Kolman, Scooter McLean, Hamp Pool and Lee Artoe from the available college players. This group would help Chicago contend for the NFL’s Western Division for more than a decade.

The Bears were coming off an 8–3 season in 1939. They had fallen a game short of the Green Bay Packers for the division title. The draft provided an opportunity to address a weakness in the line. Halas installed Bulldog and fellow rookies Artoe and Kolman alongside veteran stars Joe Stydahar and Danny Fortmann. Almost overnight, Chicago developed the best line in the league.

Bulldog was a revelation. In training camp, he performed so well that the coaches howled at the defensive linemen to do better. They complained that the rookie was holding. If we don't see it, replied the coaching staff, the refs won’t either. The truth was that Bulldog was faster than any center that the Bears had ever played against. That included Mel Hein of the New York Giants, the king of NFL centers. Bulldog would later study Hein and model much of his game after the Hall of Famer.

Chicago’s revamped line translated into a superb running game. The Bears did not have great ball carriers, but anyone who got a hand off could count on five yards of running room before anyone touched them. The team’s real star was quarterback Sid Luckman, who led the league in virtually every passing category. His top targets in 1940 were Kavanagh and Dick Plasman. McAfee, meanwhile, became the best young all-around player in the NFL.

On the other side of the ball, the same guys who did the blocking proved to be ferocious defenders as well. Bulldog contributed greatly to both causes. The quickest center in the league, he still had to learn a few tricks of the trade but was already quite adept at holding without getting spotted by the referees. And as a linebacker, there were few faster or better than Bulldog. He was a savage tackler, driving into ball carriers the way he drove into defensive linemen from his center position.

Bulldog’s proficiency as a long snapper was also the stuff of legend. Over the years, Chicago’s punters would brag that they always received the ball laces-up.

Chicago repeated its 8–3 record, which this time was good enough to take the Western crown. In the ninth week of the campaign, the Bears played the East-leading Washington Redskins and lost 7–3 on a final, controversial play at the goal line. Washington owner George Marshall chastised the Bears as crybabies when they groused about the officiating. Marshall's own players cringed when they read his rant. They knew the Bears were a great team and expected to meet them again for the NFL Championship a few weeks later. Marshall, they believed, had no business inciting Chicago.

Halas, meanwhile, asked Stanford coach Clark Shaughnessey to give Luckman and the offense a crash course in the new T-formation, which he hoped to unleash on the Redskins in their rematch. In those early days of pro football, the T was particularly troublesome—when properly executed, it was impossible to tell who would get the ball and what they planned to do with it. Bulldog was tremendously impressed by Shaughnessey’s understanding of the game. He later called him the smartest man he ever met.

The Bears returned to Griffith Stadium ready to make Marshall eat his words. On the second play of the game, Bulldog and his linemates went crashing into the ’Skins. But the play Chicago had been practicing for hours was stuffed at the line! Bill Osmanski, the ball carrier, looked to his right, saw an opening and took the ball around end for a 68-yard touchdown.

From there, things only got worse for Washington. The Bears led 28–0 at halftime. In the third quarter, Chicago returned three interceptions for touchdowns, the third of which was plucked from the air by Bulldog, who raced 24 yards into the end zone. The finals score was 73–0—still the biggest wipeout in the championship history of team sports.

At the end of the game, so many extra points had been kicked into the crowd that the teams were down to a couple of practice balls. After one score, Halas sent word to Bulldog that he should make a bad snap on the conversion. Bulldog refused, telling holder Dick Snyder that he would have to botch the play. Bulldog snapped the ball perfectly, and Snyder let the ball roll on the ground. On their last two scores, the Bears agreed to try to convert their extra points on running plays so they would still have a ball to play with.

Three weeks later, the Bears traveled to Los Angeles to play a group of All-Stars in an early incarnation of the Pro Bowl. Chicago won 28–14.

The Bears were primed to repeat their championship run in 1941. For a time it looked as if they would add Heisman winner and Athlete of the Year Tom Harmon to their lineup. The team made Harmon its top draft pick, at which point Richards, now the former owner of the Lions, intervened.

George Halas book
     
 

Still burning from the Bulldog debacle a year earlier, Richards offered Harmon—who was eyeing a career in broadcasting—a huge contract to do a radio show at his Michigan station. A condition of the contract was that he could not play football, at least not for the Bears. That summer a rival to the NFL—the American Football League—was formed. Richards told Harmon he was free to sign with the New York Americans, as long as he still did his weekly show. The AFL lasted just one season, and Harmon was badly injured when he was shot down during World War II.

The Bears would scarcely require Harmon’s contributions in this final season before the war. The elusive McAfee became the league’s top runner, and also picked off six passes as a member of the Chicago secondary. Luckman directed an offense that averaged a jaw-dropping 36 points a game—an NFL record. The Bears looked golden after beating the Packers in their opening game, but Green Bay returned the favor later in the year and both clubs finished with identical 10–1 records. Bulldog had a fine sophomore season, unseating Hein as the NFL’s All-Pro center.

The one-game playoff between the Bears and Packers was contested the Sunday after Pearl Harbor. The game was decided in the second quarter, when Chicago erased a 7–0 deficit with 30 straight points. The final score was 33–14.

The Bears met the New York Giants a week later in Wrigley Field. They continued their momentum, this time scoring four touchdowns in the second half to break open a close game. With the shock of war sapping enthusiasm for football, a scant 13,000 fans showed up to root for their team. Chicago controlled the action almost the entire way, winning 37–9. On the final play of the game, the Giants muffed a lateral and Kavanagh ran in the recovered fumble for a 42-yard touchdown. McLean drop-kicked the extra point just to see if he could. For two years in a row, the Bears had humiliated their opponents in the NFL title game.

That January, the Bears went to New York and assumed the role as the home team in the Polo Grounds against the NFL All-Stars. As they had a year earlier, the Bears triumphed in this exhibition contest. The final score was 35–24.

As military service began to claim the NFL’s young stars, the Bears fared better than most teams. They had been stockpiling backs for several years, and when three of their best—McAfee, Norm Standleee and Joe Maniaci—were called up, Halas still had plenty of firepower. Gary Famiglietti, who had touched the ball a grand total of 36 times in 1941, led Chicago with 503 yards and eight touchdowns in 1942 and was named All-Pro.

Among the linemen, Stydahar was the only man drafted, so Bulldog's group was left largely in tact. George Wilson, a blocking and tackling receiver, joined the line and turned in a great season. This showed week after week, as the Bears rolled over their opponents, often by big scores. Bulldog had his best year as a defender, picking off eight passes to lead the NFL.

The Bears played their entire 11-game schedule without a loss. In their final six game,s they allowed just two touchdowns. Four of these victories were shutouts.

As expected, the NFL Championship was a defensive struggle. The Redskins had also enjoyed a dominant season. In their one and only loss—on a rain-soaked field against the Giants—they had not allowed New York a single first down. Before 36,000 fans in Washington, the Bears broke through first. Artoe scooped up a fumble around midfield and outraced the Redskins to the end zone for a 6–0 lead. That was all the scoring the Bears would do, however, as Washington stymied their running attack all day. The Redskins won 14–6, ending Chicago s ’ bid at history’s first undefeated championship season.

More players swapped their black and red uniforms for olive drab in 1943, prompting the Bears to entice Bronko Nagurski out of retirement. Halas loved to talk about Nagurski, and Chicago's younger players had begun to wonder if such a superhero could really exist. When Nagurski showed up in camp, Bulldog was the first to greet him. He said it was a pleasure to see the legend with his own eyeballs.

Nagurski’s days as a runner were over, but he was still big, tough and in great shape. He had maintained his physique by working on his farm and wrestling professionally. It had been five years since Nagurski had strapped on the pads, but he performed well on the line as a tackle.

Absent from camp was Halas, who had been called to the Navy during the previous season. He had entrusted the team’s coaching duties to Hunk Anderson, Paddy Driscoll and Luke Johnsos. They continued as Chicago’s three-headed coach in 1943.

George McAfee, autographed card
     
 

After an opening day tie with the Packers, the Bears sailed through the shortened 10-game campaign until Week 9, when they lost to the Redskins 21–7. Green Bay was just a game behind in the standings on the final weekend and scheduled to play the hapless Steagles, a wartime conglomeration of the Steelers and Eagles. Bears fan were confident about their chances, as they played the South Side Cardinals, who were winless.

Three quarters into the finale, the Cardinals led 24–14. The running game was going nowhere. Anderson ordered a stunned Nagurski to take his old fullback slot behind Luckman, who used the Bronk as a human battering ram on a 62-yard drive. Nagurski punched it in for a touchdown that cut the deficit to 24–21. Later in the quarter, the Bears faced a season-defining fourth and four. Luckman called Nagurski's number again, and he plowed through the line for six yards to keep the drive alive. Moments later, the Bears scored on a touchdown pass from Luckman to Harry Clark, who had replaced Kavanagh as the team’s ace receiver after he was called to duty. In the game's final minutes, Chicago continued to hand the ball to Nagurski, who gained 84 yards on 16 bruising carries to cement a 35–21 victory.

The 1943 NFL Championship featured the familiar combatants from Chicago and Washington. Bulldog and his fellow linemen had a great day, giving Luckman—now master of the T formation—all the time he needed to find his receivers. The Bears connected on a record five touchdown passes, including two to Clark and a pair to Dante Magnani, who caught just six passes all year. Nagurski also found the end zone on a short run.

The game turned in the first quarter, when the Chicago pass rush creamed Sammy Baugh and sent him to the sidelines with a concussion. He wobbled back onto the field in the fourth quarter but could not rally the Redskins. The Bears won 41–21.

Bulldog had now been to the championship game in each of his first four seasons. His contributions were no small part of Chicago's success—and not just because of his fine play on the field. Bulldog was always coming up with questions and ideas that opened up new possibilities for the Bears. In the huddle, he was the only man Luckman allowed to voice an opinion. In one game, the Bears were backed up to their own 10-yard line, and Luckman was stuck for an idea. Bulldog ordered the quarterback to throw it long. The result was the longest TD pass of Luckman’s career. The Chicago quarterback gave Bulldog full credit when reporters interviewed him after the game.

Chicago’s string of title game appearances would end in 1944. The Bears lost their first two games to the Packers and Los Angeles Rams, and never made up the ground. They finished behind Green Bay, who went on the beat the Giants for the NFL title. The war further depleted the team’s ranks, but Luckman—who was in the Merchant Marines—was able to play in most of Chicago's games, albeit without much practice time.

Bulldog continued to shine as a center and linebacker. He held the offensive line together and intercepted two passes. He also got a chance to line up as a runner in a game against the Car-Pitts, the 1944 amalgamation of the financially strapped Cards and Steelers. A fight had led to the ejection of several Bears and Halas asked Bulldog to plug a hole at fullback. The one time Bulldog got a handoff, he ran straight up the field for a 48-yard touchdown. The opposing coach, Walt Kiesling, was infuriated. Later in the game, Bulldog fielded a short punt and ran it up the opposing team’s sideline. He was tackled in front of Kiesling, who kicked Bulldog in the rear end.

The talent drain created by World War II impaired the Bears again in 1945. Bulldog was called into the service and played in only two games. Chicago dropped its first five and was out of the race by October. As the war wound down, however, some familiar faces trickled back. Halas returned in Week 9 and led the Bears to a pair of season-ending victories. Also returning was McAfee, who hadn’t lost a step. In his first game back, he scored three touchdowns.

Bulldog returned to action for the 1946 season. Since joining the NFL, he had been packing on the pounds. This became a concern to Halas, who set a strict weight limit on Bulldog of 230 pounds. For each pound above that mark at a weekly weigh-in, he would be fined $50. Bulldog didn’t miss too many meals, and he preferred to save his energy for game days. So instead of sweating off these expensive pounds, he became adept at tricking the team’s scale.

Bulldog’s bag of tricks included a number of slick moves. One of his favorites was pulling off his t-shirt and hanging it on the balance arm while coaches watched the needle on the scale. Another way of staying under the limit was to stand so that his long toes curled around the edge of the step-plate. By pushing up with his toes, Bulldog claimed, he could knock off a couple of pounds. When all else failed, he worked it out with the teammate behind him to subtly boost up his rear end with one finger under each cheek. As Bulldog liked to joke when giving tips such as this one, “Be sure he’s a good friend.” Bulldog failed to make weight only once during his years with Chicago.

Sid Luckman, 1938 Life
     
 

Of course, Bulldog’s toughest opponent wasn’t the scale. It was Ed Neal of the Packers, who weighed in at way over 300 pounds. Green Bay played a 5–4 defense, with Neal lining up right over center. On every play, he plowed into Bulldog the instant he snapped the ball, bringing his arm up into his face. In the days before facemasks, this kind of tactic was meant to intimidate. Bulldog refused to back down, but his nose was broken seven times—five times by Neal. When Bulldog kept his head down, Neal belted him on top of the helmet—and often cracked his headgear. In retaliation, Bulldog would cut Neal's legs out and hold him as he charged through the line. Finally, they came to an understanding. Neal wouldn’t touch Bulldog's head if Bulldog quit holding him. In 1951, when the Bears needed a big man in the middle of the defense, Bulldog got Halas to trade for his old nemesis.

Another Green Bay opponent—who had retired by the mid-’40s—also gave Bulldog problems. His name was Buckets Goldenberg, and he could do what no one else in the league could—read Luckman at the line of srimmage. Goldenberg drove Chicago crazy, thwarting pass plays by dropping into coverage and running to exactly the spot the Bears planned to throw the football. Goldenberg lined up in front of center on most plays, which gave Bulldog an idea. He suggested to the coaching staff that Luckman drop back as if to pass so that Goldenberg would leave his post and scramble back into coverage. Then Luckman could hand the ball to a blocking back to run up the huge hole in the middle.

The first few times the Bears ran this play, Goldenberg took the bait and Chicago runners were into the secondary before the Packers knew they even had the ball. This was, of course, the beginning of the draw play.

In 1946, the Bears reclaimed the Western Division crown. They mixed returning stars with new faces and, even though the roster was aging, Chicago used its experience to go 8–2–1 and unseat the champion Rams. The Bears faced the Giants in the Polo Grounds for the championship. The postwar sports boom was on, and though no one could imagine how this would transform the NFL, there was a hint this day as Bulldog and his teammates took the field and saw nearly 60,000 fans. It was the largest crowd ever to see an NFL title contest.

The Bears struck early on a TD pass from Luckman to Kavanagh, and then an interception returned all the way by Magnani. Chicago would pick off a total of six passes during the game, but the Giants managed to knot the score in the third quarter. The winning score came later on a play that the entire Chicago offensive line had to sell to New York.

With the ball on the Giants’ 19-yard line, Bulldog and his teammates exploded into their run-left blocking scheme, as McAfee took a handoff from Luckman. Or did he? Luckman kept the ball on his hip as a gang of New York tacklers pursued McAfee. So convincing was the decoy that a referee nearly whistled the play dead as Luckman ran his bootleg right into the end zone. It was his only running play of the season. The Bears went on to win 24–14.

The following summer, the Bears participated in the annual College All-Star Game. The contest was played in Chicago and pitted the previous year’s champions against a group of NFL-bound college stars. The pro team typically won these game. In fact, the Bears prevailed in 1941, 1942 and 1944, when they subbed for the Redskins because of wartime travel restrictions. But with so much talent on the field, there was always a chance for a surprise. In the summer of 1946, for instance, the Rams were beaten 16–0. The 1947 game saw the Bears lose to the All-Stars by an identical store in front of more than 100,000 stunned fans.  Buddy Young of Illinois buzzed all over the field like a waterbug, eluding Chicago tacklers and taking home the MVP award.

There were more surprises in 1947. The season saw the Bears become Chicago’s “other” team, as the Cardinals clobbered them early in the year and then finished them off in the season finale to take the Western Division crown. Chicago was continuing its evolution into a passing team, with McAfee, Kavanagh and Jim Keane combining for 128 catches.

Bulldog put in another exceptional season at center, earning All-Pro honors for the seventh consecutive year. On defense, he picked off two passes, including one against the Redskins that Chicago fans still talk about.

Ed Neal, 1951 Bowman
     
 

Bulldog plucked a Sammy Baugh bullet out of the air at the 3-yard line and then bobbed, weaved and spun his way to a 97-yard touchdown. He carried the Washington quarterback on his back into the end zone. As they crossed the goal line, Bulldog asked Baugh how he caught up to him. Baugh said, “You cut back one time too many.'' The play was part of a 56–20 drubbing of the reviled Redskins. Bulldog claimed this Sweetwater High reunion was the favorite play of his football life.

Bulldog had long been hailed as the game’s most athletic center, but it took a play like this to remind everyone just what that observation meant. Bulldog could be a greyhound when he needed to be. He also took pride in learning the playbook cover-to-cover and understanding the job of every player on every plays. That was quite a feat, given the more than 300 plays the Bears ran during his time in Chicago. Halas knew that, in a pinch, Bulldog would and could play anywhere on the field.

The Bears battled the Cardinals down to the wire again in 1948, but fell to their South Side rivals on the final day of the campaig again. Halas had pulled out all the stops in his attempt to beef up Chicago's chances. He paid huge salaries to a trio of talented rookies—Bobby Layne, Johnny Lujack and George Connor—in order to keep them away from the All American Football Conference.

Lujack and Layne were talented passers, but with Luckman still running the offense, Lujack made his contributions on defense and Layne mostly sat and watched. Connor, on the other hand, was a force on both sides of the line, playing offensive and defensive tackle. He would later move back to join Bulldog’s linebacking corps.

The Cards came back to earth in 1949, but the Rams proved problematic to Chicago’s designs on the division title. Los Angeles beat the Bears twice during the season, and that was enough to give them a half-game edge when all was said and done. A third straight near-miss was frustrating to Bears fans, but they could see the team moving forward. Luckman stepped aside in '49, and Lujack became the primary quarterback. The former Heisman winner led the NFL in passing yards, completions and touchdowns. In the final game against the Cardinals, he threw for 468 yards and six scores.

The Bears seemed set at quarterback with Lujack at the helm and Luckman in reserve. But when young George Blanda joined the team, Halas felt confident enough about his passing corps to sell Layne. Though it seemed like a smart move at the time, Chicago fans would lament this deal each time Layne brought the Lions to town during the 1950s.

What Halas and the Bears could not imagine was that quarterbacking would soon become the team’s Achilles heel. Lujack hurt his shoulder in 1950 and did not have the old zip on his passes. He threw for only four touchdowns and was intercepted a league-high 21 times. Fortunately for the Bears, they still had an exceptional offensive line. Bulldog now shared blocking duties with a new group of players, including Connor, Dick Barwegan, Ray Bray and Buster Ramsey. All four received postseason recognition for their fine play. For the first time in his career, however, Bulldog was absent from the All-Pro lists. At 31, he was being eclipsed by the NFL’s younger centers—most of whom had learned their craft by watching him.

Even so, Bulldog was invited to play in the NLF's first Pro Bowl, which was held in January of 1951. He was a member of the National Conference, the newly renamed Western Conference. The Nationals lost 28–27. Bulldog would play in the Pro Bowl again after the following season. This time the Nationals won 30–13. He did some solid blocking for the game’s MVP, Dan Towler of the Rams.

Sammy Baugh, 1950 Bowman
     
 

The 1951 season was Bulldog’s last as a center. He would soon follow fellow superstars Luckman, Kavanagh and McAfee, all of whom called it quits after 1950. With a sub-par passing game, the Bears reverted to a running attack that produced seven victories. Eight would have been enough to win the division, which featured a four-team scuffle between the Bears, Rams, Lions, and San Francisco 49ers. Bulldog was 32, but he had plenty in the tank when it came to leading the blocking for Chicago’s runners. Unfortunately, with Lujack throwing third-down wobblers much of the year, the team’s drives stalled again and again.

As happens with every player as he ages, Bulldog was beginning to lose his air of invincibility. For a decade he had convinced himself that he could handle anyone in the NFL. Now he met his match in Bill Willis, the nose tackle for the Cleveland Browns. Willis was a speedy, undersized defensive lineman with legs like pile drivers. He had a made a name for himself in the AAFC during the late 1940s. After joining the NFL in 1950, the Browns played the Bears for the first time in 1951. It was a 42–21 rout. Willis practically leap-frogged Bulldog to get into the backfield. All Bulldog could do was try to get up under Willis's arms and do some subtle holding to slow him down. Willis, he said, was a “war horse."

The 1952 season was Bulldog’s final one. He had taught young Wayne Hansen all he could about playing center and then slid over to right tackle. Despite an infusion of new talent, including Bill George and Bill McColl, the Bears were crumbling. Lujack was out all year, and none of Halas’s options at quarterback—Blanda, Bob Williams or Steve Romanik—panned out. Barely keeping their heads above water, the Bears dropped two of their last three games. For the first time since the war-depleted 1945 season—and only the second time since 1929—Chicago finished with a sub-.500 record at 5–7.

With prospects dimming for a return to greatness, Buldog struggled to find a reason to continue playing. He announced his retirement that spring. Bulldog could look back proudly on a career that featured three championships and six All-Pro seasons. He played in 138 games and rarely took a play off. His quickness at center triggered the entire Chicago line, which opened holes for talented runners and gave Luckman time to become a Hall of Fame passer. When the Hall of Fame voted for its All-Decade Team of the 1940s, Bulldog and Don Hutson were the only two no-brainer picks.

On defense, Bulldog was one of the best all-around linebackers in the game. He was a ferocious tackler and a skilled ballhawk who intercepted 17 passes in his career. He also had the speed to chase down the league’s best runners. Had Bulldog come along in the 1960s, when specialization replaced two-way football, there is little doubt his name would be mentioned in the same breath as the first great multitalented linebackers, Dick Butkus and Tommy Nobis. Many wondered how great Bulldog could have been if he’d ever bothered to rest for a snap or two.

Bulldog now entered the coaching phase of his career. As a player, he knew the job of every player on the field and occasionally gave teammates in-game pointers. Now he would get to put that knowledge to work. The art of blocking had literally evolved around Bulldog, as had the basic offensive formations used in college and the pros. His insights into interior line play—and the still relatively new position of linebacker—were incredibly valuable.

Bulldog worked as an assistant to Halas with Chicago from 1953 to 1956. The Bears suffered through three horrendous seasons before reclaiming the Western Conference crown. They were massacred by the Giants in the '56 title game 47–7. Bulldog took some measure of pride that year, his final season with the club, when new center Larry Strickland was named the NFL’s All-Pro center.

Bulldog’s next stop was Baylor University, where he served as an assistant under Sam Boyd and then John Bridgers. With the formation of the AFL in 1960, a bunch of new coaching jobs opened up. When Bulldog's old pal Sammy Baugh offered him a job with the New York Titans, he accepted.

Baugh’s stay in New York was brief and tumultuous. The Titans weren’t much good, and Baugh was openly critical of the league and its commissioner, Joe Foss. The team’s finances were shaky, and the man pulling the strings—the same Harry Wismer who had worked for George Richards in Detroit—was more of a showman than a businessman. On the field, the Titans won as often as they lost. New York had glaring weaknesses that the AFL’s better teams found easy to exploit.

In 1962, Baugh was fired, and Bulldog was hired to replace him. He took over a team in chaos. New York was home to the Giants, and the local media all but ignored the Titans. Wismer tried every headline-grabbing trick in the book, but still the seats were empty at game time. For Bulldog, who had played in front of full houses at the very same Polo Grounds, it must have been like working in a ghost town.

Bulldog Turner, 1951 Bowman
     
 

Wismer tried desperately to keep his team afloat, but in November Bulldog’s paycheck bounced before a game in Denver. The players got stiffed too, and they voted not to play the Broncos that Sunday. Bulldog personally guaranteed his players that the team would make good on their pay. Then they went out and won 46–45. Later, Foss stepped in and the league took control of the team, which was able to finish out the year.

Given the circumstances, Bulldog did a commendable job in what would be his one and only year as a head coach. The Titans started the season without an established quarterback. Bulldog settled on Lee Grosscup, and he did a nice job until felled by an injury. Bulldog then turned to Johnny Green, who had a miraculous year. Green completed a higher percentage of his passes than all but three other AFL starters. Bulldog also gave young stars Don Maynard, Art Powell, Larry Grantham and Wayne Fontes a chance to shine. New York finished a respectable 5–9, but Bulldog was not invited back in 1963, when the Titans became the Jets under Weeb Ewbank.

Four years later, in 1966, a bust of Clyde “Bulldog” Turner joined those of other immortals at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton. The Bears retired his number 66. He was also enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame.

After these ceremonies, Bulldog returned to Gatesville and a quiet life in West Texas with his wife, Gladys, and his daughters, Pat and Sandra. Over the years, the family grew. There were five grandchildren and—when he died at 79 on October 30, 1998 from lung cancer—six great-grandchildren.

 

Bulldog Turner, Exhibit card
 

 


© Copyright 2008 Black Book Partners, LLC. All rights reserved.

The original material appearing on JockBio.com is protected by copyright. No part of this material may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, without permission of Black Book Partners, LLC. Please direct any inquiries regarding its use to jockbio@comcast.net.