Not every game played is a great game. Some are simply average and forgettable. And some are lopsided, one-sided blowouts. But there’s a point where domination stops being boring and just becomes impressive. How can one team dominate a contest so much? How can the other team be so bad in every aspect of the sport? One such game in the history of the NFL occurred many years ago, and still stands as the biggest blowout in NFL history.
The date was December 8, 1940. The location was Griffith Stadium in Washington D.C. The Chicago Bears and the Washington Redskins, as they were called at the time, were facing off in the 1940 NFL Championship Game. The two teams had faced off in the 1937 NFL Championship Game in Chicago, with the Redskins winning 28-21. The 1940 game was being broadcast on the radio by Mutual Broadcast System with sports announcing pioneer Red Barber on the call. This was the first NFL game to be nationally broadcast. Under the leadership of George Halas, the Bears were 8-3. The Bears used their T-formation offense to great effect during the season with quarterback Sid Luckman under center. Luckman was the first quarterback who truly utilized the passing game, and while his stats by modern standards are unimpressive, they were very impressive for the era he played in, which included a pair of 2,000 yard passing seasons in 1943 and 1947. Washington was 9-2 and in their fifth season under Hall of Fame head coach Ray Flaherty, and their fourth season in Washington D.C. after previously being in Boston. Redskins great Sammy Baugh had thrown for 1,367 yards with a ratio of 12 touchdowns to 10 interceptions that season. In week 11, Washington beat Chicago 7-3. After the game, Redskins owner George Preston Marshall called the Chicago Bears “crybabies” in an interview with reporters. To get his team fired up for the rematch, George Halas showed his team the newspaper article and would say, “Gentlemen, this is what George Preston Marshall thinks of you. Well, I think you’re a GREAT football team! Now, go out there and prove it!”
Before we get into the game, a brief explanation of the Bears T-formation offense. The T is considered one of football’s oldest offensive formations, with Walter Camp being believed to have invented it. The original T-formation became obsolete as the forward pass was legalized, and formations like the single wing took its place. The T was revived in the late 1930’s-early 1940’s due to innovations like a smaller ball more suited to passing and the hand-to-hand snap. A common variant of the T was the Power T, which used two tight ends and two halfbacks along with a fullbacks. Another variant was the Pro T, which used one tight end and one wide receiver. George Halas was a notable advocate of the T, along with college coaches Dana Bible (Texas), Frank Leahy (Notre Dame), and Clark Shaughnessy (Stanford). Clark Shaughnessy led the 1940 Stanford Indians football team to an undefeated 10-0 record, including a win in the Rose Bowl (the NCAA didn’t count bowl games towards win-loss statistics until 2002, so officially they were 9-0) using the T. The previous season, Stanford went 1-7-1 and fired head coach Claude “Tiny” Thornhill. In his first season, Clark Shaughnessy turned a one win team into an undefeated one, leading the 1940 squad to be nicknamed the Wow Boys. Shaughnessy assisted Halas in the Bears gameplan before the 1940 NFL Championship Game, aiding in developing counters to the Redskins linebacker shifts. The T formation is also mentioned in the Chicago Bears fight song “Bear Down, Chicago Bears.”
The game kicked off at around 1:30 p.m. Eastern time. A crowd of 36,034 were on hand, and many more listening on the radio. They probably weren’t prepared for what was to occur. On the Bears second play from scrimmage, fullback “Bullet Bill” Osmanski turned on the jets for a 68 yard touchdown run. On the ensuing Washington drive, the Redskins managed to get down to the Bears 26-yard line, but wide receiver Charlie Malone dropped a touchdown pass from Sammy Baugh. The Redskins attempted a field goal on fourth down, and missed it. The Bears second offensive drive ended with a 1-yard touchdown run by Sid Luckman, and their third ended in a 42-yard touchdown run by Joe Maniaci. Ken Kavanaugh caught a 30-yard pass from Luckman in the second quarter making it a 28-0 Bears lead going into the half. The 3rd quarter featured 3 pick sixes thrown by Sammy Baugh, which were returned by Hampton “Hamp” Pool, George McAfee, and Clyde “Bulldog” Turner, and a 23-yard rushing touchdown by Ray Nolton. During the game, so many balls were kicked into the stands on the point after touchdown kicks that the officials asked Halas to run or pass the PAT on the last two touchdowns, which were a 2-yard run by Gary Famiglietti and a 1-yard run by Harry Clarke. Clarke had scored a 44-yard touchdown run earlier in the quarter. The Bears had 3 failed PAT kicks, and the PAT pass on the final touchdown also failed. All of this culminated in a 73-0 blowout. Sammy Baugh was asked after the game if the game would’ve played out differently had Charlie Malone caught that touchdown pass. Baugh responded, “Sure. The final score would’ve been 73-7.” Redskins owner George Preston Marshall said, “We needed a 50 man line against their power.”
Here’s the legacy of the 1940 NFL Championship Game. Chicago’s 73 points remains the most points scored in an NFL game, regular or postseason. Chicago’s seven rushing touchdowns remains the most by any team in a postseason game. The margin of victory remains the largest in the history of the NFL, and for nearly 8 decades, remained the largest margin of victory in American sports until December 2, 2021, when the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies beat the Oklahoma City Thunder by 73 points with a final score of 152-79. Griffith Stadium, where the game was held, was demolished in 1965. The Howard University Hospital now occupies the site. Since the stadium was also used for baseball as the home stadium of the Washington Senators, who later became the Minnesota Twins, a marker in the hospital marks where home plate used to be. But on a December day in 1940, Griffith Stadium played host to a moment in sports history.