inducted February 18, 2006
Columbia has had many great quarterbacks, such as Rose Bowl hero Cliff Montgomery, Heisman Trophy runner-up Paul Governali, All-America Archie Roberts and NFL first-round draft pick Marty Domres.
But only one is in both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame — the legendary Sid Luckman.
Luckman is hailed as the man who elevated pro football to the level it now holds by revolutionizing the game. Under George Halas’s tutelage and Luckman’s execution, the T-formation became the most feared tool in football’s chest.
Although the T-formation had been in existence since the early 1930s, not until Luckman did it become an effective weapon. For the first time, the passing attack became the focal point of pro football. The former Columbia QB was the model of the pro football quarterback, as much a pioneer of the pass as Babe Ruth was a groundbreaker for the home run.
With Luckman at the helm, the Chicago Bears won four NFL championships, including the historic and devastating 73-0 rout of the Washington Redskins in the 1940 title game, just two seasons after his graduation. He threw six touchdown passes in a game in 1943, then topped it with seven later that season against the New York Giants.
That same year, in the 1943 NFL championship game, against the same Redskins, he tossed five more TD passes, an NFL title game record that stood untouched until Joe Montana threw five for the San Francisco ’49ers in 1990.
In addition to Chicago, Luckman was forever linked with two locales — Brooklyn, where he grew up and rose to prominence as perhaps the finest football player New York City has ever produced, and Manhattan, where he attended Columbia in the late 1930s and became a Hall of Fame quarterback.
Luckman did not play football his freshman season to concentrate on his studies, but became an immediate starter in 1936, his sophomore season, completing 46 percent of his passes and throwing six touchdown passes in seven games.
Columbia went 5-3 that season, but fell to 2-7-2 his junior year and 3-6 as a senior. If anything, Luckman stood out even more in the midst of his teams' mediocrity. He completed 83 of 176 passes (47%) for 1065 yards in 1937, with eight touchdown passes, then went 66 for 132 (50%) as a senior, for 856 yards and six touchdowns. He also punted, placekicked and played brilliant defense.
In the first two games of his senior season, Luckman led the Lions to major victories over Yale and Army. In the 27-14 vanquishing of the Elis, Sid hit 10 of 17 passes, including two of more than 50 yards, punted for a 40-yard average, ran 20 times for 103 yards, kicked all the Lions' field goals and extra points, and was the outstanding defensive player of the game!
Columbia next beat Army, 20-18, but won only one more, 39-0 over Virginia. The team lost to Penn by one, Navy by five, and Syracuse by one, 13-12. He was chosen first team All-America, and appeared on the cover of Life Magazine.
Chicago Bears coach George Halas attended the Syracuse game and was highly impressed. The Bears had the second choice in the NFL draft, after the Pittsburgh Steelers. Not wanting to leave anything to chance, he traded two players to the Pittsburgh Steelers for one of theirs, plus the Steelers' first draft pick. With that, he chose Luckman.
Luckman turned the Bears down at first, preferring to work for his father-in-law’s trucking company. But Halas won him over during that summer. They never regretted it.
In addition to the 1940 and 1943 NFL championship squads, Luckman’s Bears won NFL titles in 1941 and 1946. The latter came after World War II, when Luckman left football to serve in the Merchant Marine. He retired in 1950.
He led the league in touchdown passes three times, was chosen the NFL MVP three times and was All-Pro seven times in his 12 NFL seasons. After he retired, he remained in Chicago and went into business. He also served 14 seasons as a part-time coach for the Bears, never accepting a dollar in salary.
A member of Columbia Football’s “Team of the Century”, Luckman passed away July 5, 1998, at the age of 81.