Building a legacy with their bear hands – top 7 Chicago Bear players in history

September 9, 2014

The Chicago Bears have been one of the most successful teams in the NFL ever since their inception in 1919. In that time they have won eight NFL championships, one Super Bowl, four conference and eighteen division titles. They have had more players inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame than any other team.


It is a franchise seeped in history and has produced some of the best football players in the history of the game. That is what got us thinking about the greatest of the greats as far as the Bears are concerned. We went to work and narrowed the field down to 7 players who have had the biggest impact on the franchise.


So here goes it:


1.George Halas (1919-1983)


We could keep talking for days on end and it still wouldn’t be enough to truly appreciate the genius that was George Halas. Born in 1895, Halas was not only instrumental in the formation of the Chicago Bears but was also involved in the creation of the NFL. Having previously played professional baseball for the New York Yankees, Halas left for Decatur after an injury. He joined the A. E. Staley Company where he was a sales representative. He began to play on the company’s baseball team as an outfielder. Shortly afterwards, he was made the player-coach of the football team.


Halas went on to represent his team in the American Professional Football Association, which later became the NFL. He then moved his team to the Chicago area and the legacy of George Halas was born. He played for for ten years and won an NFL championship. He was managing and coaching the team at the same time, which makes his achievements all the more impressive. Halas finally retired as a player in 1930.


He remained with the team as a coach till 1967 and during that time, led the Bears to six NFL championships, a regular season win record and three division titles. He created the T-formation that revolutionized football and was named coach of the year twice. During his tenure, the Bears posted only six losing seasons.

George Halas was inducted into the Football Hall of Fame and his shirt number was retired by the Chicago Bears. He was also selected for the NFL 1920s team of the decade. He passed away in 1983 leaving behind a legacy that all Bears fans can be proud of.


2.Bronko Nagurski (1930-1937, 1943)


He would have been an imposing man in any era of football but back in 1930, Nagurski was a monster. Born in 1908, he was spotted by a University of Minnesota football coach while plowing a field. He was signed and went on to become one of the best college football players in history. He was number one in rushing and was an All-American fullback who helped his team win the Big Ten Conference championship.


He signed with the Bears in 1930 and led them to one of the most successful periods in the team’s history. With Nagurski in the team, the Bears won multiple division titles and three NFL championships in 1932, 1933 and 1943. He was selected four times as an All-pro and was picked for both, the NFL’s 50th anniversary all-time team as well as their 75th anniversary all-time team. The Bears retired his jersey number and he was one of the first Bears to be inducted in to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In his time with the Bears, Nagurski won every title that could be won and will forever be known as one of the best football players in history


3.Sid Luckman (1939-1950)


Considered by many Bears fans as the best quarterback in the team’s history, Sid Luckman’s career statistics back that claim with some style. Born in 1916, Luckman was more than just a very respectable college football player. He came third in the Heisman Trophy selection and was inducted in to the College Football Hall of Fame.


Halas had been perfecting his revolutionary T-formation and he felt that Luckman was the perfect quarterback to fit into the system. He personally convinced Luckman to join the Bears and then went about shaping the entire team around his new quarterback. The formation changed football and Luckman became the engine that got it running to perfection.


The Bears team of the 40s reaped the benefits of the T-formation as they ran riot in the league. They won four NFL championships and Luckman was selected as a first team All-Pro five times. He was the first person to record seven touchdown passes in one game and also the first player to have a 400 yard passing game. He led the league in average passing yards for a record seven years and is second in individual career passing yards for the Bears. He also holds the Bears record of being one of only two players to have won an NFL MVP award. His jersey number was retired and he was selected in the 1940s all decade football team as well.


He is still considered as one of the best passers football has ever seen. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1965. Luckman passed away on July 5th1998 but his legacy lives on to this day.


4.Bill George (1952-1965)


Bill George was a second round draft pick for the Chicago Bears who went on to become one of the best players in the history of the game. Born in 1929, George epitomized the defensive nous that the Chicago Bears would eventually be famous for. He single handedly revolutionized the formation of the defensive line in a football team.


Playing as a middle guard in the standard 5-2 defense, George improvised during one game and dropped back to create the 4-3 defensive formation. His influence on the team and his innovative new formation, lead the Bears to an NFL championship in 1963. The franchise eventually retired his jersey and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He also made it to the list of the hundred greatest football players in history and was picked in the All-Pro first team eight consecutive times from 1955 to 1963.


George’s new-look defense was a start of something special and the entire football fraternity will forever be grateful to him for that.


5.Mike Ditka (1961-1966)


A man who personifies what it means to be a Chicago Bear, Mike Ditka was arguably the greatest tight end the game has ever seen. Born in 1939, he was offered a scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh for his prowess on the football field. Ditka was adept at playing as a linebacker, a tight end and as a punter.


He was drafted by the Bears and George Halas decided his best position would be as a tight end. Ditka joined the NFL after a stellar college football career where he led his team in receiving for three straight years. He was also selected for the College Football All-America team in his last season.


In his rookie year, Ditka played as a tight end but decided to use slightly different tactics as opposed to a traditional tight end. The tight end position was supposed to be for tackling but Ditka added another dimension to his play. In his first season Ditka was crowned Rookie of the Year as he led his team in touchdowns, catches and yards. He scored 12 touchdowns, a Bears record for a rookie season, ran 1076 yards and made 56 catches. He made it to the All-NFL  first team and was a Pro-Bowl in his first year with the Bears.


In his six years with the team, Mike Ditka redefined the role of a tight end as he combined his tough tackling with catches and touchdowns. He made the All-NFL in each of his first five seasons. He won the NFL championship as well and recorded 316 catches, 4503 receiving yards and 45 touchdowns during his Bears career. Ditka also went on to lift a Super Bowl as a coach with the Chicago Bears. This makes him one of only two people to have won an NFL championship as a player, assistant coach and head coach. It also makes him the only person to have won an NFL championship with the same team as a player and a coach. He was directly involved the last two times the Bears made it to a championship game.


Ditka was inducted in to the College Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His number was retired by the Bears and he won numerous ‘coach of the year’ awards as well. “Iron Mike” is rightly considered to be one of the most influential Bears in history.


6.Dick Butkus (1965-1973)


Dick Butkus was perhaps one of the best linebackers in Bears and NFL history. Born in 1942, Butkus was  a student at the University of Illinois. Even at college it was plain for everybody to see what a talent Butkus really was. Playing primarily as a center and a linebacker, Butkus won a string of accolades during his college days. In 1963 and 1964 he was the selected as an All-American after a unanimous decision and also became the Big Ten MVP of the year.


He was chosen as the player of the year by the American Football Coaches Association in 1964. Butkus came sixth and third in the 1963 and 1964 Heisman Trophy voting. He is considered to be one of the best college football players in history. His number was retired by the university and he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.


In 1965 Dick Butkus was drafted by the Chicago Bears as one of their top three picks. He was selected to the Pro Bowl eight times and was the First Team All-Pro selection six times. He won the defensive player of the year award twice and was also picked in the NFL team of all time to celebrate the league’s 75th anniversary. He also made it to the NFLs 60s and 70s football teams of the decade. Butkus came at number ten in the greatest players of all time and was inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979.


Dick Butkus spent his entire career with the Bears and with 1020 tackles, 22 interceptions and 27 fumble recoveries at the end of his football career, he is surely one of the best players the Chicago Bears have ever had.


7.Walter Payton (1975-1987)


Walter Payton has been cited by many, including Mike Ditka, as the greatest player in the Chicago Bears history and the greatest running back in football. Born in 1954 he attended the Jackson State University where he set numerous records including rushing for 65 touchdowns and 3600 yards. He made it to the All-American team and was inducted in to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1996.


He was drafted by the Chicago Bears in 1975 as their fourth pick in the first round but his performances were below par for the first season. Determined to improve his form, Payton put in the hard yards and worked on his game. The hard work paid off and Walter Payton announced himself to the football world in style.


He led his team to a Super Bowl victory and a conference title. He was named the NFL MVP in 1976, 1977 and 1985 seasons. He also picked up the offensive player award twice. Payton had six first team All-Pro appearances and was selected to the Pro-bowl nine times. He was selected in the NFL’s team of the decade for both the 1970s and 1980s and also made the NFL all-time football team.


Payton set numerous records in a prolific career like most consecutive seasons (4) leading the league with rushing attempts, most seasons (10) with 300 rushing attempts and most yards (1,125) gained in a season at home. He also notched most yards (525) from scrimmage in back-to-back games, most seasons (10) with 1500 or more yards from scrimmage out of which 4 were with 2000 or more yards.


Payton was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993 and his jersey was retired by the Bears as a sign of respect. He died on November 1st 1999, from cholangiocarcinoma at the age of 45 but not before leaving behind a legacy that will be cherished by everyone associated with football.


So this is our list of the Top 7 greatest players in Chicago Bears history. Let us hear your thoughts on it.

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