DECATUR – There are a couple of Green Bay Packers football fans in Decatur, Joyce and Brad Howe, who have – Would you believe it? – Chicago Bears connection.

Joyce is the daughter of Joe Sternaman and the niece of Edward “Dutch” Sternaman, who played for the Bears in the 1920s. Dutch helped George Halas put together the Decatur Staleys, who were to become the Chicago Bears.

The Howes recently were conducted on a personal tour of the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, including a behind the scenes look at the Sternaman collection, most of which is not ready for public viewing.

“My cousin, Peggy Sternaman Holmes of Manitowoc, Wis., donated Dutch's football memorabilia to the Hall of Fame,” Joyce Howe explains. “It took five trucks to transport it. As a result, she and I received a lifetime pass to the museum. We were given a special tour by the researcher and curator of the collection. I got to see and touch the exhibits and photos, wearing white gloves as necessary.

“The collection is fascinating with strong ties to Decatur and the University of Illinois where the Sternaman brothers from Springfield played before joining the Bears. I was awed,” she said.

“There are newspaper clippings, pictures, programs, The program for a Staleys game included pictures of the Decatur dam, This was when the lake was being built. Dutch's roommate and fraternity brother in college was Charles Heilley. Both Charles and Dutch studied engineering. Heilley was the engineer who worked on the dam while Dutch was playing ball for Staley's.”

Let's go back to the 1900s with the Sternamans:

The players worked in plants, mills and mines and played football on weekends for town teams for a few dollars. There was gambling and all-around rowdyism. The Decatur A.E. Staley Mfg. Co. had a team.

In 1919, the Staleys had beaten an Arcola team 41-0. A group of Arcola businessmen/gamblers wanted a chance to get even and booked a revenge match at Lyons Field in Arcola. They decided to upgrade the team with college football players using assumed names.

Dutch Sternaman, the University of Illinois running back, was enlisted. George Gipp of Notre Dame fame wanted to play. Sternaman enlisted other college players from Indiana and Purdue.

The game never happened. It seems A.E. Staley learned of the Arcola recruiting moves and decided to spare his team a shellacking. Staley, however, was eager to bolster his team and offered to hire Dutch Sternaman as a player/recruiter.

When Sternaman, an engineering student at the U of I, didn't immediately sign on, Staley, by this time eager to get going, turned to George Halas, who had played football at Illinois with Sternaman, had played on the Great Lakes Naval Training team and who had played right field for the New York Yankees before Babe Ruth arrived from the Boston Red Sox. Halas was already employed by Staley as a member of the plant's baseball team.

Dutch, still looking for a job, then joined Halas as co-coach, recruiter and running back and the 1920 team was formed. Dutch liked playing and coaching. He drew up plays on tablecloths. Halas was the front man, the organizational guy.

The team was highly successful, winning 10 games, losing one and tieing one in the newly-formed 12-team American Professional Football Association.

A.E. Staley decided, although he was a fan, he couldn't afford to bankroll the team. After two games in 1921, he gave Halas and Sternaman $5,000 to move the team to Chicago. The team was known as the Decatur Staleys that season, played at Wrigley Field and then became the Chicago Bears in 1922 when the league was renamed the National Football League.

Dutch Sternaman added his brother, Joe, in 1922, and Joe became the pioneer quarterback and drop-kick specialist. A tough 5 feet 6 and 130 pounds. Joe was Red Grange's quarterback when Grange, the “Galloping Ghost,” joined the Bears in 1925 from the University of Illinois.

Talking about quarterbacks, Joe once said: “We were allowed one forward pass every series of downs. The quarterback either ran it himself or handed it to the ball carrier and ran interference.” The Hall of Fame collection contains extensive documents about the Red Grange barnstorming tour in late 1925 from Tampa, Fla., to the Los Angeles Coliseum in front of 80,000.

Joe played for and coached the Duluth, Minn., Kelleys in 1923, then returned to the Bears. In 1924, he he led the NFL in scoring with 75 points. In 1926 he played for and was a part owner of a new team, the Chicago Bulls, in a new league, the American Football League. The league folded after one season and Joe again returned to the Bears.

Dutch continued playing and coaching through the 1920s before selling his half-interest in the Bears

to Halas in 1932 for $38,000. The Great Depression was on and gate receipts dwindled. Dutch had business opportunities elsewhere. Dutch died Feb, 1, 1973, at age 77.

Joe later operated the Sternaman Cast Iron Stove Pipe Co. He died in Oak Park at age 88 in 1988.

Joyce Sternaman Howe grew up in Chicago as a Bears fan.

She married Brad Howe from Rockford 60 years go. He was a Packers fan. After 20 years or so, she capitulated in favor of the Packers. They lived in Arkansas and have lived in Decatur about two years.

Want to kick off your morning with the latest in sports?

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Load comments