Monday, May 24, 2010

Sid Luckman, Who Smells Worse Than Brian Urlacher (Now)

You always hear about the guys hurt by World War II, and not just from the shelling and carnage and such but by not being able to play sports one's allotted number of years. Explain that to Nile Kinnick, and then return to consider the players who were helped by staying stateside and ringing up four years of 4-Fs. Baseball cites Hal Newhouser as the textbook example -- except some of his best years were 1946-48, when all teams were at full strength, though perhaps not entirely accustomed to a wicked 12-6 curveball being thrown by a mean man.

In the NFL, Baugh, Hutson and Isbell all got a bump from the war, but perhaps no one was bumped higher than Sid Luckman. It's not that Luckman was a bad quarterback pre-war; he was All-Pro twice in three years, and the Bears won titles in those years, in part because Luckman's supporting cast included five Hall of Famers, four of them in the line. They could have stuck Amos Alonzo Stagg behind that line, put welder's goggles on him, spun him around a couple of times, and he still would have had time to shake out the cobwebs and hit Pudge Heffelfinger streaking down the sideline.

To say Luckman thrived during the war is like saying Lockheed came out okay on the deal; he led the league in some sort of passing every year but 1942 -- and the Bears were undefeated that year. He was also a a reasonably talented punter and a hell of a defensive center fielder even though most of the contemporary photos make him look like Sonny Jurgensen in wool. In retrospect, Luckman was like the Bears' equivalent of a victory garden, or Rosie the Riveter; the war placed a premium on players who could fill multiple roles, and Luckman had to fill multiple roles because of the war. The fact that he filled them about as well as Baugh or Hutson makes him a first-line HOFer.

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