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State

Chicago Bears fight song still endures

Wire Services Some details of ditty shrouded in mystery BY MIKE RAMSEY COPLEY NEWS SERVICE CHICAGO - Not every fan can remember all the lyrics, but the triumphant strains of "Bear Down, Chicago Bears" are more prevalent than ever as the Monsters of the Midway prepare to take the field in Super Bowl XLI. Thanks are due to prolific songwriter Al Hoffman (1902-1960), who is credited with penning the punchy fight song under the alias of Jerry Downs in 1941. The circumstances of Hoffman's creation, however, remain murky more than 60 years later. Some may assume that New Yorker Hoffman - who typically collaborated with other composers - was dubious about the Bears ditty and thus used a fake name. But his great-nephew, musician and writer Josh Max, offers another possible explanation: Uncle Al wrote the song anonymously on a dare, to show he still had his musical chops. Hoffman doesn't loom as large today as some of his Tin Pan Alley contemporaries, but the Russian-born songwriter's career spanned 30 years. His catalog includes "If I Knew You Were Coming, I'd Have Baked a Cake," "Papa Loves Mambo" and the once-ubiquitous "Mairzy Doats." That novelty song is still recorded today, usually for children's records, said Philip Black, manager at a New York firm that holds rights to about 30 Hoffman works. "If you were a successful songwriter in those days, you probably wrote with Al Hoffman," Black said. In the world of film, Hoffman also contributed to some Disney soundtracks, including the song "Bibbidy-Bobbidy-Boo" for the 1950 animated feature "Cinderella" and "Whale of a Tale," which actor Kirk Douglas sang in 1954's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." Norman Gimbel, Hoffman's surviving partner on "Whale," characterized his late colleague as a "crackerjack songwriter" who was good at coming up with titles. "He was very sweet, very helpful and a great idea man," Gimbel said. Max, Hoffman's great-nephew, said he learned only about two years ago that his relative wrote "Bear Down, Chicago Bears," as he researched his relative's career. He said Adele Drake - the wife of one of Hoffman's collaborators, Milton Drake - maintained that her husband prodded Hoffman into creating it. "Milton said, 'You're just living off your name,"' Max recounted. "Al said, 'I tell you what I'll do - I'll write a song under a pseudonym and see if we can sell it."' Max said Drake, the partner, set some conditions: "'Write a football song, and you can't write it about New York. Write it about some town you never heard of - or Chicago."' "Al did it all by himself," the great-nephew said. "He sent it to whoever they sent it to, and they loved it, and they started using it." Alas, Internet references to Hoffman's creation are not as colorful or detailed. The song was introduced the year after the Bears flattened the Washington Redskins 73-0 in the 1940 national championship. His lyrics refer to the Bears' victory "crown" and the team's "T-formation" - a then-innovative offensive strategy of lining up running backs behind the quarterback. The song technically is credited to late Bears executive Edward McCaskey in a 1960s-era copyright, said Mark Spier, whose company, Larry Spier Music, became the publisher. Spier agreed, however, that Hoffman was the father of "Bear Down, Chicago Bears" and said the writer probably sold the property to the football organization. The composition still generates royalty income. Cellular ring-tone sales alone have yielded $1,000 to $2,000 annually, Spier said. He said the songwriting royalties are remitted to Bears Care, the team's charitable arm. 'Bear Down, Chicago Bears' lyrics Bear down, Chicago Bears, make every play clear the way to victory; Bear down, Chicago Bears, put up a fight with a might so fearlessly. We'll never forget the way you thrilled the nation with your T-formation. Bear down, Chicago Bears, and let them know why you're wearing the crown. You're the pride and joy of Illinois, Chicago Bears, bear down.

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