Chicago Bears: Top 25 Bears in Franchise History

Timothy HockemeyerCorrespondent IIAugust 19, 2011

Chicago Bears: Top 25 Bears in Franchise History

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    It's a daunting task to pick just the 25 best players in the long and rich history of the Chicago Bears.  Ordering those 25 players is even more agonizing.  Where Does Sid Luckman sit on this list?  Or Gale Sayers?  Or Dan Hampton?  How do you include players who haven't made the Hall of Fame over those enshrined in Canton?

    In the end, it comes down to personal opinion, but in the end, I think I came up with a fair list that snubbed some players others would have included but encompassed what I believe to be the best group for the job.

    I considered basing this list by position, giving one player to each of the 22 offensive and defensive positions and allowing for a kicker, a punter and a long snapper.  But then, that left out so many other positions that I just couldn't find a way to do it without failing to include a position that might belong as well.  For example, you would want to add a kick returner to the mix.  But what about a nickelback, h-back, fullback, gunner and slot receiver? 

    So in the end, we're just going to look at greatness.  Players who contributed to the team in such a manor that they deserved to be in the top 25 of all time.

    Notably absent are the honorable mentions:

    Jim McMahon, Jim Covert, Olin Kreutz, George Trafton, George Musso, George Blanda, Joe Stydahar, George Conner, William Lyman, Neal Anderson, Doug Plank, Gary Fencik and James "Big Cat" Williams.

    Now, on with the show!

No. 25: MLB Brian Urlacher

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    Brian Urlacher is the prototype.  He is the ideal that teams look for in a coverage linebacker.  But he is also so much more.  

    Want to know how important Urlacher is to the Bears team? In 2004, Brian missed seven games battling injures over the season.  The Bears lost all seven games, but managed a 5-4 record in the games he played.  

    And the Bears defense has been stingy to opposing offenses for the better part of the last decade, but when Brian missed all of 2009 with a dislocated wrist, the Bears allowed the sixth most points in franchise history.  That was the first and only time since 2003 that the Bears ranked in the bottom half of the league in points allowed.

No. 24: FB Rick Casares

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    Rick Casares is the forgotten great among running backs in Chicago.

    Casares was a five-time Pro Bowl and one time All-Pro fullback who was the Bears all-time leading rusher when he retired, as well as being the team's all-time scoring leader for non-kickers.  

    He's still the Bears third-leading rusher behind Walter Payton and Neal Anderson and he's still third in non-kicker scoring behind the same two players.

No. 23: T/G/DT Stan Jones

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    Stan Jones remains one of the most respected offensive linemen in the history of the game.

    Interestingly enough, Jones is also credited at the first player to use weight training to improve his conditioning, thus helping to usher in the modern player model.

No. 22: DE Richard Dent

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    Those doors tried to keep him out.  But like so many offensive tackles over the years, they shivered and shook, and tried to swing his way.  But they could not impeded his path.  Long overdue, 2011 saw the Sackman the hallowed halls of Canton.

    Dent is the Bears all-time leading sack artist and their '85 Super Bowl MVP.  After his illustrious career ended, Dent had been elected to four Pro Bowls, was a five-time All-Pro and a two-time Super Bowl Champion.

No. 21: HB/WR Johnny Morris

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    Johnny Morris came into the league a HB, but in the Bears T-Formation, he was spread out to what would become known as the flanker spot and his success there helped begin the evolution of the modern passing attack.

    In 1964, Morris put up 1200 receiving yards, 93 receptions—then an NFL record—and 10 TDs in arguably the best single season receiving effort in Bears history.

No. 20: KR Devin Hester

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    Hester is the best return man in NFL history. 

    His 14 total return TDs are a record.  He's also the only person to return the opening kickoff in a Super Bowl for a touchdown.

    His ability to change field position without even touching the ball has benefited the Bears for five seasons.

    Devin Hester is ridiculous.

No. 19: C Jay Hilgenberg

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    Jay Hilgenberg was the cornerstone of the Bears line in the '80s.  

    The seven-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro headed the unit that made possible the best Bears offense of the modern era and that opened holes and created rushing lanes for arguably the greatest running back ever.

No. 18: DE/DT Dan Hampton

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    The "Danimal" was a pass rushing animal that made the rest of the line better.

    Dent may have had more sacks, but Hampton was true monster who arguably facilitated much of what Dent was capable of doing.  

    Dan was a complete defensive linemen who could rush the passer, defend the run and drop into coverage.  Hampton was actually a Pro Bowl alternate at DE and at DT both in 1986.  It is thought that his versatility actually cost him postseason honors.

    Also noteworthy is that the Bears graded out Hampton as the team's best defender in 1988, the same year that Mike Singletary won Defensive Player of the Year honors.

No. 17: WR Harlon Hill

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    Harlon Hill was a fantastic receiver for Chicago.

    He was voted to three Pro Bowls and was a two-time All-Pro.  

    In his rookie season, Hill recorded 45 receptions for 1124 yards, 12 touchdowns and an insane by today's standards 25.0 yards per reception.  Harlon actually retired with a 20.2 yard per reception average, as well as 40 TDs.

No. 16: Football Player Paddy Driscoll

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    Why did I call Paddy's position "Football Player" in the slide title?  Driscoll, a member of the 1920's All-Decade Team, was a jack of all trades of the highest order.

    He was a good runner, a fine quarterback and a feared defender.  Driscoll was also a great punter and a record holding drop-kicker.

    He later went on to become the Bears head coach, as well.

    Pinning Paddy down to just one or two positions wouldn't accurately describe him.

No. 15: T Ed Healey

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    Ed Healey captured Papa Bear's eye after he, while playing with the Rock Island Independents, dominated the Bears.  

    Halas set out to sign the tackle and the rest is history.  Halas often called Healey the most versatile tackle in history.

    Interesting fact: Ed once chased his own teammate 30 yards to tackle him after he ran the wrong way following an interception in 1924, saving the game for the Bears.

No. 14: G Danny Fortmann

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    How luck can play into the game is sometimes fascinating.  

    George Halas nabbed Dan Fortmann in the final round of the first NFL Draft because he didn't recognize a single player left and liked the sound of Fortmann's name.

    Fortmann would go on to be a Hall of Fame signal-caller for the offensive line and a diagnostic genius on the defense.

    Another bit of luck?  Fortmann was on the fence about playing football at all.  He wanted to finish medical school.  

    But Halas convinced him he could do both and he did, graduating from the Chicago School of Medicine.  Halas allowed him to miss practice in the summer to attend, and continued to make time for his future Hall of Famer to work his internship and residency after graduation.

No. 13: MLB Mike Singletary

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    Mike Singletary was arguably the best middle linebacker of the '80s and he was the emotional receiver of arguably the greatest defense of all time.

    A 10-time Pro Bowler and seven-time All-Pro, Singletary's wild eyes hid the brilliant defensive mind behind them.

No. 12: C/LB Clyde "Bulldog" Turner

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    The Bears lucked into another Hall of Fame player in the Bulldog.  

    The Lions were so sure that they had talked Turner into turning down other NFL teams' offers that they didn't even bother to draft Clyde.  The Bears nabbed him up in the first round and signed him.

    Turner was the best center of his era, and played linebacker with the best of them, leading the league in 1942 with eight interceptions.  He also served as the team's emergency running back on one occasion, rumbling for a 46 yard touchdown in that game.

    The Lions mistake gave the Bears a keystone player that helped them dominate the league in the '40s.

No. 11: MLB Bill George

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    Bill George may or may not have created the middle linebacker position, but he certainly innovated the spot.

    Recognized by many as the first true middle linebacker, the nine-time Pro Bowler and seven-time All-Pro would be the first in a string of great MLBs in Chicago history.

No. 10: DE Doug Atkins

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    Frankly, Doug Atkins scared the hell out of people.  Offensive players knew not to piss him off, or they would suffer for it.

    For this writers money, Doug Atkins was the best defensive end to ever play the game.  He was a freakish athlete in his time and many today look at old film and relay that he isn't polished like today's DEs.  But technique wasn't taught then the way it is today, and to be even more fair, many of the techniques that are taught today are evolutions of things Atkins did naturally.

    Were Atkins to have been taught modern technique, there likely wouldn't even be a discussion over who the greatest defensive end was.

No. 9: TE and Head Coach Mike Ditka.

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    Ditka is Ditka.  

    He was a truly dominant HOF tight end in his playing days and the only head coach to take the Bears to a modern era championship.

    Love him or hate him, Ditka displayed his greatness as a player and a coach.

No. 8: HB George McAfee

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    Red Grange once called McAfee "the most dangerous man with the football in the game."

    How much more really needs to be said of this Hall of Fame rusher?

No. 7: QB Sid Luckman

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    Sid Luckman was the league first successful T-Formation quarterback.  

    In that role, he led the Bears to a 73-0 stomping of the Redskins in the most lopsided victory in NFL history and in the championship game, no less.

    He also threw for a record seven touchdown in a 56-7 victory over the Giants in 1943.

    Without Luckman, the T-Formation may never have been as successful for the Bears or in the league and the way offense is played may have evolved much differently.

No. 6: FB/LB/T Bronko Nagurski

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    Nagurski was the definition of power runner.  But he was also so much more.  He was an elite blocker in his era and an able passer who was largely responsible for two championships, including a pass to Red Grange against the Portsmouth Spartans (later to become the Detroit Lions) for a TD that sealed a league title for the Bears in 1932 and two TD passes—including the game winner—in the first official league championship game.

    Nagurski was a complete player, excelling on the defensive side of the ball, as well.

    He left the Bears to pursue a more lucrative pro wrestling career in '38.  But Nagurski returned to Chicago to help the team during World War II and led the team to another title in '43, scoring the go ahead TD in the championship game.

No. 5: RB Gale Sayers

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    Gale Sayers might be considered the inarguable best rusher of all time had injuries not derailed his career.

    He was the best elusive running back in history before his first career threatening knee injury.  He returned without his blazing speed and agility, so he transformed himself into an elite power rusher.  But that also ended in a knee injury.

    But his short time shouldn't be held against the Kansas Comet.  Because the time he gave us was among the most exciting in football history.

No. 4: MLB Dick Butkus

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    Dick Butkus is 69 years old and I'm still afraid of him.  He was easily the most feared man to ever grace the gridiron.

    But just touching on his viciousness is to ignore his skill in folly.  Butkus was the best linebacker to ever play the game.  Some will even argue that he is the best football player to ever play the game.

    He was known as a ferocious tackler and the bane of quarterbacks and ball carriers everywhere.  But he was also fantastic in coverage, intercepting 22 passes over his nine year career.  To put that in perspective, Brian Urlacher is considered the prototype model for the coverage linebacker of the future, and in his 11 seasons, he's intercepted three fewer passes than Butkus did in nine.

No. 3: RB Walter Payton

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    What can be said about Sweetness?  He was a great player on the field and a greater man off of it.

    An inhuman mix of speed, power, elusiveness and intelligence, Walter Payton retired the league's all-time leading rusher.  And while he finished his career behind a great offensive line, he spent most of his years finding his own way behind some very bad offensive lines.  To make matters worse, for the majority of his career, he was the only threat on his team and defenses knew it.  Yet he still dominated them.

    What was arguably the greatest rusher the league has ever known most proud of on the field?  His blocking.  That was the thing about Payton.  He was a complete player in an era of specialists.  He could run over you, through you and around you.  But he could also throw touchdown—he still holds the league record for most TDs thrown by a non-quarterback— and he could level a defender whether he was carrying the ball or blocking for his quarterback.

    He truly was Sweetness personified.

No. 2: HB/TB/BB/DB Red Grange

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    Red Grange is credited with making the NFL popular.  He was that good.

    Named the best player in college football history by ESPN, Grange is also arguably the best player in football history.  

    His elite speed and agility netted him a $100,000 paycheck for 19 games from Papa Bear in an era where players were generally making in the area of $100 a game.

    Grange is credited with saving the New York Giants when he drew 65,000 fans to watch him and his Bears beat the Giants in 1925.

    Grange was the game's first superstar and headlined the first class to enter the Hall of Fame.

No. 1: The Legendary George "Papa Bear" Halas

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    He was the original.  He helped found the league.  He coached the Bears for 40 season.  He played like an animal.  He helped to save the NFL, the Giants and Packers franchises.

    He was a fantastic player, a solid business man, a great coach and had an eye for talent like nobody else.

    He was Papa Bear.  And without him there would be no Bears and, almost as likely, no NFL. 

    Who could top that?

    Now it's your turn, ladies and gentlemen.  Love the list?  Tell us why.  Think the order is all screwed up?  Take a shot at giving us yours below.  Think someone was snubbed—and it was nearly impossible not to snub some of the best players ever in a limited list for a team with 27 Hall of Famers—then tell us all about it below.  Sound off!