10 Best Late-Round Draft Steals in Bears History

Bob Warja@@bobwarjaSenior Writer IJanuary 27, 2012

10 Best Late-Round Draft Steals in Bears History

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    Did you know that in the 16th round of the 1947 draft, the Chicago Bears took an End by the name of Verne Gange? Yes, that Verne Gagne.

    Gagne, the 16-time world wrestling heavyweight champion, was the 145th selection in the '47 draft, and at the age of 83 actually killed a man while in a Bloomington, Minnesota health care facility.

    (That has nothing to do with the Bears, but I thought it was interesting.)

    In researching for this article, I took a look at every single draft pick that the Chicago Bears made from 1936 through 2011. While the vast majority would make up a who's who of who's not, there are a few gems.

    Meanwhile, some guys should have made it based on their nicknames alone. For example, there was a Gerry "Bones" Weatherly; Wally "Wah-Wah" Jones; Wilton "Hook" Davis and Floyd "Breezy" Reid.

    They even drafted Walt Dropo, who later played 13 seasons in MLB and won the 1950 American League Rookie of the Year award with the Boston Red Sox.

    And who can forget Leon "Muscles" Campbell, Ed "Buckets" Hirsch and Edgar "Special Delivery" Jones?

    There were guys named Pilgrim, Lincoln and Heavens. There were also players who seemed born to play football, like Sturdy, Stonebreaker and "Bear" French.

    I also found a guy I graduated high school with, Mark Zavagnin, a LB drafted by the Bears in 1983.

    Heck, they even drafted Charlie Brown in 1966.

    Even when adding up all the good ones, I couldn't find more than a couple of truly great players. Still, the players listed in this slideshow turned out pretty well all things considered.

    So, without further ado, I present to you the all-time Bears late round success stories. 

10. Roland Harper, 17th Round, 1975

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    Although he was drafted in the final round of the 1975 NFL Draft, Harper wound up as the Bears' starting fullback that season. He was the 420th player selected, so for him to even make a team is pretty amazing.

    Admittedly, his stats weren't great, but you have to keep in mind two things. First, he was such a late round pick that he has to be on this list. Second, he blocked for Walter Payton.

    He led the way and opened up holes for Sweetness, and he ranks sixth on the Bears' all-time rushing list with 3,044 yards and 15 TDs on 757 carries in seven seasons.

    His post-career is a mixed bag. He started a company that built the sky boxes at Soldier Field. However, he was also sentenced to two years probation and one year of house arrest for mail fraud.

9. Doug Plank, 12th Round, 1975

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    Plank had a short career, mainly due to all of the vicious hits he made during his eight seasons—all played with the Bears.

    In fact, he was such a terror that he became one of Buddy Ryan's favorite players. Ryan named the legendary "46" defense after Plank's jersey number.

    After being drafted out of Ohio State, Plank was the first Bears rookie to lead the team in tackles. One of the hardest hitting safeties in the game, Plank coached after his playing career was done.

8. Mark Bortz, 8th Round, 1983

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    Bortz was part of one of the NFL's best offensive lines and played in Super Bowl XX with Chicago.

    Despite being the 204th player selected in the '83 draft, Bortz went on to play in two Pro Bowls.

    Bortz was part of one of the best draft classes of all-time, with seven starters produced. Tom Thayer and Jimbo Covert were also drafted for the O-line that year.

    Bortz holds the Bears record for most playoff appearances with 13.

7. Ed O'Bradovich, 7th Round, 1962

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    It's ironic that O'Bradovich is on the same list as his radio partner, Doug Buffone. They currently host a popular post-game show on "The Score," WSCR, in Chicago.

    "OB" was one tough, fierce defensive end who, like Buffone, is severely underrated. He played his entire career with the Bears.

    His most memorable moment was an interception in the 1963 NFL Championship game to lead the team to victory.

    He retired at 31, but in 10 seasons he recovered 13 fumbles.  He's OB, dammit.

6. Harlon Hill, 15th Round, 1954

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    Hill was the NFL’s rookie of the year in 1954, its most valuable player in 1955 and a three-time All-Pro selection (1954–1956)—not bad for a 15th round pick.

    He is the namesake of the Harlon Hill Trophy, an award in college football for the MVP in Division II.

    Hill played with the Bears from 1954 to 1961 and with the Steelers and Lions in 1962. He was a left end and a DB. He had two seasons with more than 1,000 yards receiving and three times averaged more than 23 yards per catch.

    He also scored 11 or more TDs in two seasons. Keep in mind they only played 12 games in those days.  

    Hill's career was cut short by injury, and he later became a high school principal in Alabama.

5. Doug Buffone, 4th Round, 1966

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    Does the fourth round count as a late round pick? Well, since I'm the judge, yes it does. Meanwhile, there is no disputing how good Mr. Buffone was. Like our next candidate on the list, he could make a solid case for entry into the Hall of Fame.

    "Big Doug," as he is known in his radio career in Chicago, was a terrific linebacker who played in the shadow of the legendary Dick Butkus.

    Buffone played 15 seasons for the Bears, retiring in 1980 as the all-time leader in games played. He recorded more than 1,200 tackles, going over the 100-tackle mark in seven seasons.

    Buffone also had the honor of serving as defensive captain for eight seasons. Despite a plethora of great Bears linemen over the years, no one had more interceptions than this man (24).

    They didn't record sacks in all of the seasons he played, otherwise there is no telling how many he would have had. But he does hold the Bears record for most sacks in a season (18 in 1968).

    Did you know—Buffone was the last active player to have played for George Halas.  After his playing career, in addition to radio, he was one of the co-founders of the Arena Football League.

4. Joe Fortunato, 7th Round, 1952

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    Fortunato played 12 seasons for the Bears (1955–1966). As a linebacker, he made the Pro Bowl five times and was named to the NFL 300 Greatest Players team.

    This is a player who probably should have made the Hall of Fame when you look at his playing career. A member of the 1950s All-Decade Team, Fortunato wasn't so fortunate when it came to the voting for a spot in Canton.

    He was a member of the 1963 NFL Championship squad. After his playing days, he went on to coach for two season with Chicago, and wore No. 31 with the Bears.

3. George Blanda, 12th Round, 1949

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    Blanda was signed by the Bears for $600 in 1949, an amount George Halas demanded back when he made the team. He was mostly a QB and placekicker, though he also spent time on defense, playing linebacker.

    An injury made Halas stop using Blanda as a QB, so he retired in 1958. But he came back with the Houston Oilers in 1960 and he went on to lead them to the first two titles in AFL history.

    Blanda led the league in passing in 1961 and 1963. His 36 touchdown passes in 1961 were the most ever thrown by any NFL/AFL quarterback in a single season up to that point.

    That mark, also tied by Y.A. Tittle, would stand until 1984.

    He won three championships in his career. He was a five-time AFL All-Star and a two-time All-Pro. He played in his last game at age 48, kicking a 41-yard field goal in the AFC Championship Game.

    Blanda was one of only three players to play in four different decades, and he holds the record for most extra points kicked. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1981.

2. Richard Dent, 8th Round, 1983

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    Dent was the 203rd player selected in the 1983 draft. He lasted until the eighth round, yet went on to have a Hall of Fame career.

    He was the MVP of Super Bowl XX and was a five-time All-Pro. Dent finished his career with 137.5 sacks, which at the time of his retirement ranked him third all-time.

    But perhaps his best performance came in the infamous Super Bowl Shuffle.

    "The sackman's comin', I'm your man Dent. If the quarterback's slow, he's gonna get bent. We stop the run, we stop the pass, I like to dump guys on their ass! We love to play for the world's best fans, you better start makin' your Super Bowl plans!"

    It was a close battle between Dent and the No. 1 guy on my list. In the end, however, I chose Dent as No. 2.

1. Danny Fortmann, 9th Round, 1936

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    To find the greatest late round draft pick of one of the NFL's original teams, you only need to look at far as their first draft. Though the great Roland Harper, the 420th player selected in 1977, must be mentioned.

    Fortmann was drafted in the ninth round of the 1936 draft, and he was the fourth from last player selected.

    The story goes that Bears owner George Halas drafted Fortmann because he liked the sound of his name.

    From 1938 until his final year in 1943, he was named First Team All-Pro and was named to three Pro Bowls.

    He was also selected on the NFL 1930s All-Decade Team. The Bears won three championships over this time.

    After Fortmann retired, he became the team doctor of the Los Angeles Rams was 17 years and was a famous surgeon.

    Fortmann is not only a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he is also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. This puts him first on my list of best Bears late round picks.