The Game Before the Money Podcast takes a look at Bill McColl playing for George Halas and the Chicago Bears of the 1950s while enrolled in medical school in Episode 55.
Bill McColl Stanford Football and Med School
Bill McColl had many college offers and ultimately chose to attend Stanford on a football scholarship. He was very serious about his studies and wanted to become a doctor. McColl chose to focus on football and his education more than the social aspects of college.
The NCAA didn’t allow freshmen to play varsity football at the time, but McColl immediately jumped into Stanford’s starting lineup as a sophomore under head coach Marchy Schwartz, in 1949. McColl played both offense and defense for Stanford. Prior to the 1949 season, The Santa Cruz Sentinel called Bill McColl “One of the cleverest pass catchers to trod the sod this way in recent years.”
McColl played a major role on Stanford’s 1951 football team that played in the 1952 Rose Bowl.
Getting Drafted by the Chicago Bears
McColl was enrolled in pre-med at Stanford, and he was already a first-year med student after his senior season ended. Mccoll said he let NFL teams know that, and George Halas of the Chicago Bears understood. Halas selected McColl in the third round of the 1952 NFL Draft.
McColl said, “I wrote everybody and told them that I wasn’t going to play football unless I could keep up my medical studies, and Halas was the only one who accepted that. He called me and said, ‘You know, I think we can work it out.'”
McColl says that George Halas kept his word. He allowed McColl to prioritize his medical studies amidst his NFL career.
George Halas Keeps His Word
McColl told me what he told George Halas: “When I signed my contract with Halas, I said if medicine and football ever conflicted I’d have to be able to stick with the medicine. And so he said yes. I missed a lot of meetings and so forth. But one time, just before we were going to play the Rams, he said, “No, it’s really important to come (to the meeting) because we’re playing the Rams the next week.’ I said, ‘But George, you promised.’
“And he said, ‘Yes, I did. You don’t have to come.'”
More Chicago Bears Legends Had Med School Agreements
Dan Fortmann had a similar arrangement with Halas and the Bears. Fortmann also graduated from the University of Chicago’s Medical School. A 1943 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Fortmann had played the 1943 season while he was a doctor in residence at Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh. Fortmann missed football practice during the week and flew to play games for the Chicago Bears on Sundays.
Halas also worked out an agreement with John Siegal to attend dental school at Northwestern during the 1940s.
Some of the Monsters of the Midway were also the medical practitioners of the Midway!
Bill McColl Retires from Football
The 1959 season was Bill McColl’s eighth and final season in the NFL. He played sparingly in his final season and retired from pro football to practice medicine after finishing med school and his orthopedic residency. After retiring from football, Dr. McColl went to Korea to do missionary work as a doctor.
“Once I finished my education, I decided to spend two years over in Korea just after the Korean War, as a medical missionary of the Presbyterian Church. I did a lot of work with leprosy, which was one of the problems in Korea. I was also working in a hospital, a general hospital. Then there (also) was a special children’s hospital and I did orthopedics, did operations, and so forth.”
His Son Followed in His Footsteps
Another interesting fact about Dr. McColl is that one of his sons also played football at Stanford and in the NFL — and he also became a doctor. Milt McColl played linebacker for Stanford, and according to sports-reference.com, he played in 11 games in both the 1979 and 1980 seasons. He then played for the San Francisco 49ers, under Bill Walsh.
Bill McColl said, “He (Milt McColl) got accepted into Stanford Medical School the same week that he made the 49ers.”
Now that is one heck of a week! Even better for Milt, the 49ers won the Super Bowl during rookie season. Milt McColl won two Super Bowls with San Francisco. He also played one season with the Raiders.
Like his father, Milt McColl balanced med school with playing in the NFL. Both Bill McColl and Milt McColl played eight seasons in the NFL.Embed from Getty Images
Looking for a great NFL history book? Check out The Game Before the Money: Voices of the Men Who Built the NFL available at — Amazon.com – Barnes and Noble – University of Nebraska Press
Like football history? Listen to our podcast! Most episodes include stories from former NFL, AFL and college football stars.