For Two Players, Distant and Fading Memories of First Bears-Packers Playoff Game

Neither John Siegal nor Ed Frutig remembers much from the first. But they are thought to be the last surviving players who were there.

“Been that long?” Siegal said. “That is amazing.”

It was Dec. 14, 1941, a week after the attack at Pearl Harbor. Siegal was a two-way end for who caught a pass that day from , his friend and teammate from Columbia. Frutig, a two-way end, too, caught three passes for , two more than the future Hall of Famer Don Hutson.

“Everybody was all over him,” Frutig said. “They didn’t care about a little pipsqueak like me.”

Siegal and Frutig are 92 now. Their memories are fighting the fatigue of age. They do not remember each other. But when it comes to the shared postseason history of the league’s staunchest rivals, they represent the final threads of a frayed connection.

The 1941 and finished the regular season with 10-1 records and split their two meetings. That forced a playoff game on a 19-degree afternoon at Wrigley Field in front of 43,425 fans, about one quarter of them cheering for the visitors.

, scoring 24 points in the second quarter and overcoming 128 yards in penalties.

Writing for The New York Times, Arthur Daley said, “For one period, the Monsters from the Midway were the greatest football team ever to pull on cleats.”

One week later at Wrigley, , for their second consecutive championship.

Details have been lost to Siegal and Frutig in the intervening 69 years. The men each went into the Navy during World War II and established steady careers near their hometowns. They combined to have 6 children, 14 grandchildren and 9 great-grandchildren. Siegal and his wife, Emily, were married 68 years. Ed and Dorothy Frutig, now 89, have been married for 67.

Frutig grew up in River Rouge, Mich., and became an all-American end on a Michigan team that featured halfback

The Packers chose Frutig in the fifth round of the 1941 N.F.L. draft. He joined Hutson, the best end in the game, who caught a league-high 58 passes in 1941. Frutig caught two in his rookie regular season.

“The Packers were always a good team, and and , they gave us fits,” Siegal said by telephone from his home in Harveys Lake, Pa., near Wilkes-Barre and Scranton. “Don Hutson, it always took two men to cover him. You have to concentrate on Don Hutson. You stop him, you can win the game.”

In the playoff game, the Bears did just that. Hutson caught one pass for 19 yards. Frutig had three catches for 75 yards, including one for 40 yards.

“I remember playing in it,” Frutig recalled from Vero Beach, Fla., where he has lived in retirement after working and raising a family in the Detroit area. “I remember getting tackled, and I remember tackling. I remember catching a pass. Things like that.”

It was the best game of Frutig’s brief N.F.L. career. With the start of World War II, weeks after those playoffs, Frutig was in the Navy, playing football at the naval training center in Corpus Christi, Tex. He went through pilot training and became an instructor.

Frutig returned to Green Bay after the war. By then, he had a young family and wanted to be closer to home in Michigan. Besides, he said, “I never liked Curly Lambeau, and Curly Lambeau never liked me.”

Frutig was sent to Detroit and played 15 games for the over two seasons. He found jobs in advertising, working accounts for the major auto manufacturers, and spent a couple of seasons as an ends coach at Washington State, under Forest Evashevski, a former Michigan teammate. Ultimately, Frutig took a job with Maritz, a marketing and travel-incentive company. He coordinated contests, mostly for General Motors executives and dealers, which allowed him and his wife to travel the world. He held the job until retirement, more than 20 years ago.

The Frutigs had three children. One, , is an author of more than a dozen gardening books.

Frutig kept few mementos of his playing career. Dorothy Frutig said her husband burned old clippings from his days at Michigan and in the N.F.L. She once found a deflated football in the garage that named him as player of the game. She pointed it out, and did not see it again.

But the Frutigs received a photograph of that 1941 Packers team a few years ago. It is one football memento that remains.

Siegal, born about three months before Frutig in 1918, grew up in Larksville, Pa. He went to Columbia and played end for quarterback Sid Luckman, who was drafted second over all by the Bears in 1939. Siegal was drafted in the 17th round by football’s .

But he did not really want to be a football player. He wanted to be a dentist. He enrolled at the dental school at Northwestern and joined Luckman with the Bears.

For a student, he was a pretty good football player and was named to successive Pro Bowls from 1940 to ’42.

“It was a great experience,” Siegal said. “Halas was a great man to play for. I was with a winner. I was a youngster when I finished up college. Let’s see, I was 20 years old, I guess, when I went with the Bears. It was an honor to play for the Bears. Halas was a great man. The coach and the boss.”

In 1943, Siegal earned his dental degree and was sent to the Bainbridge naval training center, a sort of wartime boot camp in Maryland. He coached football and served as a base dentist.

After the war, he returned home to Pennsylvania and maintained a dental practice until he retired about 22 years ago. He and Emily, an ardent football fan who died in 2009, raised three children.

“I’m lucky,” Siegal said. “I’m a lucky fellow. I’ve had a good life.”

Come Sunday, Siegal and Frutig plan to be in front of their televisions, rooting for their old teams. Millions of others will be watching, too. But only two men can say they were there, playing, the only other time the Bears and the Packers met in the playoffs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.