Since college football and the NFL are returning, let’s take a look back at Sid Luckman, a Jewish sports legend who had an incredible and long-lasting impact on the game of football.
Luckman grew up in Brooklyn, New York and was a highly sought-after football recruit. He spurned better and bigger programs for the chance to go to school at prestigious Columbia University. Columbia, however, didn’t give athletic scholarships, so he had to work in order to pay for school in addition to all of his responsibilities as a football player!
Legendary Chicago Bears owner and coach George Halas approached Luckman about joining his team out of college. Halas was trying to implement the “T-formation”, a system that emphasized speed, misdirection and passing, as the new foundation of his offense and he wanted Luckman, a running back in college, to run it.
Luckman actually turned Halas down the first time he asked, but Halas, like Marlon Brandon’s Don Corleone in The Godfather, ended up making Luckman another offer he couldn’t refuse. It was tough sledding at first and Halas actually had to move Luckman from quarterback to running back because he wasn’t running the system like he had hoped. But, undeterred, they tried it again and that second attempt turned into magic that transformed the Bears franchise and changed the course of football history.
Luckman is arguably the greatest Jewish football player ever. Chicago won four NFL championships with him at the controls, and the team’s dominance in the 1940s led to the Bears becoming known as the “Monsters of the Midway.” After 12 seasons in the NFL, he finished his career with 14,686 passing yards and 137 touchdowns. Named all-NFL five times, he earned MVP honors in 1943 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1965.
He was also a humble champion, saying, “I was the luckiest guy who ever played football. I came along at the right time, under a great coach with a great team. Our only thought was to win for each other, for the glory of the team.”
Luckman’s impact on football extends far beyond when he played, although, amazingly, some of his passing records are still intact even though his last season came in 1950! Luckman’s true influence came because he was a pioneer of the T-formation. He had the smarts and the skills to command and execute an offense that required precision and quick decision-making.
He flat-out failed the first time he tried to run the system, but he didn’t quit. Luckman kept learning and when given a second chance, he made the most of it and changed the game forever.
The T-formation was a stark departure from the offenses that almost every other team was using at the time. Chicago’s success led other pro teams to adopt the system, turning the NFL into a league where teams could now beat you in a variety of ways on offense. It was much more wide open, and the evolution of passing in college football and what we’re seeing in today’s NFL is a direct result of Sid Luckman’s brilliance running the T-formation.
Sid Luckman wasn’t just an incredible football player. He was a pioneer and his performance led to not just the growth and popularity of the NFL, but also the different and explosive kinds of offenses we’re seeing in college football and the NFL 70 years after he retired from the game.