In close calls, I gave the benefit of the doubt to present-day players, but I can’t overlook the men who began the Bears' legacy, and helped grow the game.
This list includes starters and honorable mention candidates.
Until Jay Cutler or someone else breaks Sid Luckman's records for career yards and touchdowns, Luckman gets the nod as the Bears' top signal caller. Still tied for most touchdown passes in a game (seven), Luckman guided the Bears to four NFL titles in the club’s heyday run in the 1940’s.
Jim McMahon—Had he been able to stay healthy, the Bears would have won more than one Super Bowl. Still, his package of mobility, charisma, leadership, and play-making ability earn him a spot here.
Bill Wade—Quarterbacked the Bears to the 1963 NFL championship. Two-time Pro Bowler (1962-63) during five-year stint with Chicago.
Erik Kramer—Kramer holds the Bears record for highest career passer rating (80.7), and owns their single-season records for attempts, completions, touchdowns, and passing yards.
No tough choices here, as arguably the greatest football player in NFL history, the late Walter Payton, embodies the spirit and tradition of the Chicago Bears. A gifted athlete who worked to get every last ounce of his talent, Payton did it all.
He was a punishing runner who lacked great speed but made up for it with a rare combination of strength, balance, vision, and determination. Payton ran over, through, and around tacklers.
He also excelled as a receiver, was a devastating blocker, threw eight touchdown passes, and could fill-in capably as a emergency punter, or quarterback, which he did when injuries ravaged the position.
His numerous records don’t begin to tell the story. Emmit Smith may hold the NFL record for rushing yardage, but Payton is its rightful owner.
Then there's Gale Sayers. That Sayers finishes second to Payton is a testament to Payton’s greatness, no slight to Sayers. The “Kansas Comet” burst onto the scene as quickly as two knee injures forced him into early retirement at the age of 29.
Blessed with a magical blend of speed, vision, and quickness, Sayers could cut on a dime and rates as the greatest open-field runner in the game’s history.
Rick Casares—Played 10 years with the Bears (1955-64), and held team records for career rushing yardage and touchdowns until Payton eclipsed them.
Neal Anderson—Had the misfortune of following Payton, but a solid runner and receiver who never quite achieved his due recognition. Second-leading rusher in Bears history. Selected to four Pro Bowls.
Willie Galimore—Running style compared to former Detroit Lion Billy Simms. A mixture of speed and quickness, nicknamed “The Whisk.” Pro Bowler in 1960. Died in tragic accident with teammate Bo Farrington during Bears training camp in 1964.
George McAfee—A standout during the Bears glory days of the 1940’s, McAfee was known for his dazzling speed, and big play ability.
Bronco Nagurski—A legendary figure who dominated games with his brute strength. Keyed powerful running game that was the hallmark of Bears early championship teams.
Ken Kavanaugh is a somewhat obscure choice, but his 10-year career from 1940-50 helped him set Bears records that still stand today, including most career touchdown receptions, highest average gain in both season/career, and tied for most single season touchdown catches.
Next is Dick Gordon, who was overshadowed of the very weak Bear teams of the late 1960s through early-70s. Gordon led the NFL in receptions in 1970, and was a two-time Pro Bowler.
Harlon Hill—The NFL’s rookie of the year in 1954, and MVP a year later in '55, Hill was a three-time All-Pro during his seven-year Bears stint (1954-1961).
Dennis McKinnon—Part of the one-two receiving punch in the Bears' Super Bowl season and beyond. Sure-handed, tough, and a fearless punt returner.
Johnny Morris—Glue-fingered receiver, who's probably better known for being a CBS analyst on Bears games in the late 1970s-80s. Pro Bowler in 1960, All-Pro 1964.
Marty Booker—His first stint was better than his second with the club, but Booker still rates high on the team's receiving charts.
Mike Ditka—Long before he was "Da Coach," Ditka established the tight end position as a receiving option, and was the first player at that spot elected to Pro Football’s Hall of Fame. Named rookie of the year in 1961 and a five-time Pro Bowler.
Emery Moorehead, George Halas, and Greg Latta.
Jimbo Covert, and George Connor.
Link Lyman, John Tait, Keith Van Horne, Joe Stydahar, and George Musso.
Stan Jones, and Mark Bortz.
Tom Thayer, and Danny Fortmann.
Clyde “Bulldog” Turner, Mike Pyle, Olin Kreutz, and George Trafton.
Richard Dent, and Doug Atkins.
Ed O’Bradovich, Mike Hartenstine, Alan Page, and Bill Hewitt.
Dan Hampton, and Steve McMichael.
Jim Osborne, Tommie Harris, Fred Williams, and Stan Jones.
Dick Butkus was the most intimidating defensive player ever, while Mike Singletary provided intensity and leadership that was just what the Bears defenses of the 1980s needed.
Bill George also can't overlooked due to his production, long-time career, and his Hall of Fame selection.
Doug Buffone, Larry Morris, Wilber Marshall, Joe Fortunato, Otis Wilson, Brian Urlacher, and Lance Briggs.
Roosevelt Taylor spent eight years with the Bears that included two Pro Bowl appearances in 1963 and 1968. Meanwhile, JC Caroline posted a solid 10-year Bears career that also saw action at running back.
Leslie Frazier, Mike Richardson, Charles Tillman, Donnell Woolford, Bennie Mcrae, and Alan Ellis.
Gary Fencik was the club’s all-time interception leader, and number one in total tackles. He was also the defensive captain and leader of Bears defenses in the 1980s. Not to be outdone, Ritchie Pettibon was a five-time All-Pro. Leader in Bears deep patrol during the decade of the 60s.
Mark Carrier, Todd Bell, Dave Whitsell, Harold “Red” Grange, Doug Plank, Dave Duerson, and Mike Brown.
Bob Parsons was durable and consistent, and gets extra points for holding for Bob Thomas’ kick in the icy Meadowlands that gave the Bears the win over the New York Giants in the 1977 finale, and a spot in the playoffs after a 14-year drought.
Bobby Joe Green, Brad Maynard, and Chris Gardocki.
Robbie Gould, Jeff Jaeger, Bob Thomas, Jack Manders, George Blanda, Mac Percival, and Roger LeClerc.
Gales Sayers, Dennis McKinnon, Steve Schubert, and RW McQuarters.
Gale Sayers posted the highest career kickoff return yardage average (30.56) for the Bears.
Cecil Turner, Ron Smith, Glyn Milburn, and Danieal Manning.
George Halas, of course. The Papa Bear, and founder and patriarch of the NFL.
Mike Ditka is underrated as a coach. He used his motivational tools to inspire a Bears team that was young and talented, but didn’t know how to win. As a result, the Bears dominated the then NFC Central during the mid 1980s to early-90s under his watch.