The Best Chicago Bears Players of All Time

Bob Warja@@bobwarjaSenior Writer IOctober 24, 2011

The Best Chicago Bears Players of All Time

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    The Chicago Bears have a long and storied tradition. In fact, they have the most Hall of Fame players enshrined in Canton, and the most retired jersey numbers.

    The Bears are a charter member of the NFL. "Papa Bear" George Halas started the league, and his name is on the NFC Championship award.

    Recognizing that, ranking the greatest Bears of all time is a daunting task.

    For one thing, "Da Bears" have more than 25 Hall of Fame players. So, how can this author include players that are not enshrined, yet are deserving of being included on this list?

    Well, I'll tell you how—it's called having guts; something that Halas would have appreciated.

    That said, I am going to give you my list and yes, it will include a couple of players at the expense of Hall of Famers.

    But hey, I call 'em as I see 'em. So here we go.  

    Photo credit

25. Steve McMichael

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    No, "Mongo" is not a Hall of Famer, and he may never be. Still, he was an underrated yet extremely vital part of the best defense of all time. That has to count for something.

    OK, "arguably" the best defense of all time. But political correctness aside, the inside rush created by McMichael and Dan Hampton allowed Richard Dent to free up to go chase the QB and also made Mike Singletary's job a bit easier.

    In short, his toughness and his intimidation on the line was one of the hallmarks of the great Bears defense, and while he will always be overshadowed by the likes of Hampton, Dent and Singletary, this Bears fan will never forget his contributions.

    There were other underrated pieces of that '86 defense who may never make the Hall—guys like Otis Wilson, Wilbur Marshall and Gary Fencik—but I'll take Mongo on my list of 25 as a symbol of what this defense was all about.

    McMichael was a true team player, not concerned about his own stats but just wanted to beat the opponent and beat him badly. Not bad for a player the Bears picked up off the scrap heap, having been released by the New England Patriots.

24. Jim Covert

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    I'm going out on a limb here since Covert is not currently a member of the Hall of Fame. But I do believe "Jimbo" will get there someday, and I definitely feel he belongs there.

    He was the leader and best player on a truly great offensive line.

    The Bears led the league in rushing a record-setting four consecutive seasons during Covert's time, from 1983-1986, which tied the all-time mark, set by the 1939-42 Chicago Bears.

    Covert was named 1985 National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) NFC Offensive Lineman of the Year, the same year the team went on to win Super Bowl XX.

    During Covert’s career, he was named to an All-Pro team four straight years (1984-1987), a first- or second-team All-NFC selection four times (1985-1987, 1990), and a first- or second-team All-NFL selection three times.

    Covert was a consensus All-NFL and All-Pro pick in 1985 and 1986. He was selected to two Pro Bowls in 1985 and 1986. In 1986, he was selected as the Miller Lite NFL Offensive Lineman of the Year.

23. Brian Urlacher

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    No, Urlacher is not yet a Hall of Famer, and there isn't even any certainty that he ever will be. I think he will, but regardless of where you fall on that debate, he is the greatest Bear of the current generation.

    He has been the face of the Bears since his arrival in 2000.

    He has played in a defense that does not allow him to rush the passer very much, so he may not get the sacks.

    But he has had great speed and thus, has been able to cover receivers in the Cover 2 defense. You often see him pedaling back to provide coverage, even though he may outweigh his guy but quite a bit.

    Urlacher won the NFL Rookie of the Year award in 2000, He has been elected to seven Pro Bowls and won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award in 2005.

    He has been a five-time All-Pro and owns the Bears record for most tackles in a season (153, 2002).

    Urlacher is the Bears all-time career leader in tackles.

22. Paddy Driscoll

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    Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1965, Driscoll was a three-way threat on offense and great on defense. He was a QB and a halfback who drop-kicked 50-yard field goals, he scored 27 points in one game and was the very essence of a "franchise" player.

    Paddy was so good at so many different things on the football field, I just find it hard to leave him off this list. Punting, kicking, running and throwing—Driscoll could do it all.

21. George Musso

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    It's difficult to compare players from previous generations, but Musso was one of the Hall of Fame defenders on the team nicknamed "Monsters of the Midway"—and he played on both sides of the ball!

    Musso, the first player to win All-NFL at two positions—tackle (1935) and guard (1937)—played in seven NFL championship games and was the Bears captain for nine seasons.

    Musso stood 6'2" and weighed 262 pounds, and that made him one of the biggest players during the 1930s and 1940s.

    Interesting tidbit: Musso played against two future presidents of the United States, Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford.

    Does he look a little like Babe Ruth to you? Hey, Ruth's real first name was George. You don't think...?

    Nah, couldn't be.

20. Joe Stydahar

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    Stydahar was the first ever draft choice of the Bears in 1936. He was another of the two-way stars of the "Monsters of the Midway" teams.

    He was scared of nothing and was very big by the standards of the day, and he possessed tremendous power and ridiculous speed.

    Stydahar wore No. 13 and refused to wear a helmet. When he played, the Bears often were champs. Starting with his rookie season, he was a fixture at the tackle spot for seven years until he was called into the U.S. Navy following the 1942 season.

19. Richard Dent

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    The sack man cometh, and cometh to the Hall of Fame he did last year.

    Sure, he was the beneficiary of a truly outstanding defense that freed him up to go get the quarterback, but you can't take away his production nor his ability to simply take over big games.

    As an example of coming up big in prime time, Dent was the Super Bowl XX MVP with three tackles, 1.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. In the two playoff games against the New York Giants and Los Angeles Rams leading up to the Super Bowl, he was credited with nine tackles and 4.5 sacks.

    Not bad for an eighth-round draft choice!

    His 137.5 career sacks at the time of his retirement ranked third all-time behind Reggie White and Bruce Smith.

18. Stan Jones

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    This guard and defensive tackle played in seven consecutive Pro Bowls and was one of the first NFL players to use weight training as part of his regimen.

    Jones was big, strong and fast, and missed only two games in his first 11 seasons. He was also one of the smarter players of his era.

    Jones switched to defensive tackle permanently in 1963.

17. Ed Healey

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    Healey was considered by George Halas to be one of the toughest and most versatile player he ever saw, and that is good enough for me.

    Healey played against Halas, and Papa Bears liked him so much he bought him for $100. That was the first player-sale ever in NFL history.

    He dominated his opponents with his strength and skill, and was all-league five of his eight seasons.

    Healey had good speed and once chased down a teammate and prevented him from running the wrong way for a TD for the other team, bringing him down just short of the wrong goal line after intercepting a pass.

16. Sid Luckman

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    Some may think that Luckman was kind of equal to being "the tallest midget"—in other words, the best at his position, but since the Bears have had such an awful history at QB, it didn't really mean a lot.

    Oh, but anyone who thinks that would be very wrong, my friends. You have to remember that in those days, teams simply did not pass the ball a lot so Luckman's accomplishments cannot be measured by just statistics.

    Yet even his stats were great. Tied for most TD passes in a game (seven); three-time league leader in TD passes; averaged 8.4 yards per attempt, second best all-time; 1943 performance of 13.9 percent touchdown rate (best ever in a single-season), and his 10.9 yards per attempt is second all-time; first ever 400-yard passing performance and 28 TDs in a season was a record that lasted for many years.

    Yes, his overall numbers, particularly his TD to interception rate, may not be impressive. But in addition to the records I described above, he was the QB in the 73-0 1940 title game and was the 1943 MVP.

    Luckman led the NFL in yards per attempt an NFL record seven times, including a record five consecutive years from 1939 to 1943.

    A winner? Well, he led the "Monsters of the Midway" to championships in 1940, 1941, 1943 and 1946.

15. Dan Fortmann

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    Fortmann was a first- or second-team All-NFL every season of his career. A Phi Beta Kappa scholar, he even earned a medical degree while playing in the NFL.

    This two-way star was a tremendous blocker and a deadly tackler. Fortmann called the signals for the offense, and what he lacked in size he made up for in intelligence, often diagnosing the other team's plays during games.

    From 1936 to 1943, his “Monsters of the Midway” teams won three NFL championships and took divisional titles on two other occasions, with Fortmann being the best at his position.

14. Mike Singletary

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    "Samurai Mike" was the heart of the 1985 defense and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998.

    He was either the first- or second-leading tackler on the team in each of his last 11 seasons with the Bears, and that was one of the greatest defenses ever.

    Singletary was an All-Pro eight times, 1983-1989 and 1991. He was an All-NFC selection nine straight years, 1983-1991, and was selected to 10 consecutive Pro Bowls.

    Singletary was the defensive Player of the Year in 1985 and 1988. He amassed an impressive 1,488 career tackles, 885 of which were solo efforts. A constant force on defense, he missed playing just two games, both in 1986.

13. George Trafton

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    Trafton was a Hall of Fame center for the Decatur Staleys (now known as the Chicago Bears) from 1920 to 1921 and 1923-1932. He is credited as being the first center to snap the ball with one hand.

    He was a two-way star nicknamed "The Brute" and was the top center of the 1920s. According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame website, "six times during his 12 seasons, he was named to various all-league teams. He also earned, and most observers of the day say rightfully so, a reputation as rough player who was not afraid to get into an on-field scrap."

    Red Grange once called Trafton the “meanest, toughest player alive.”

12. Dan Hampton

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    During "Danimal's" tenure in Chicago, the defense ranked No. 1 in the NFL in allowing the fewest rushing yards, the fewest rushing touchdowns, the fewest total yards, the fewest points and inflicted the most sacks.

    Unless you believe in coincidences, the Pro Football Hall of Famer, elected in 2002, was pretty damn great.

    Hampton always had double coverage on him. In fact, I believe that the inside pressure and attention caused by Hampton and McMichael were one of the main reasons that Dent was able to get so many sacks.

    Hampton was arguably the best defensive player on the 1985 Super Bowl champs, one of the best defenses in NFL history.

    He endured 12 knee operations—six on the left and six on the right—but through it all he always came to play.

11. Bronco Nagurski

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    Nagurski was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a charter member on Sept. 7, 1963.

    He was the symbol of power football back in the 1930s—he didn't do fancy moves, he simply ran over the opposition.

    Meanwhile, he was as complete a player as you will ever find. He was a great blocker and tackler in addition to his prowess as a runner.

    He even passed for touchdowns. He would fake a plunge, then step back a yard or two, jump and lob a pass to a waiting receiver.

    When Nagurski didn't get the contract offer he wanted, he retired to become a professional wrestler. 

    But when the war weakened the team, he came back as a tackle, and even helped out at his old fullback position and helped the Bears win the championship. 

    He was the only player in NFL history to be named All-Pro at three non-kicking positions. Nagurski was named a first- or second-team All-NFL in seven of his first eight seasons.

10. George Connor

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    During his eight-year career (1948-1955) with the Bears, Connor was named to the All-NFL team at three different positions: offensive tackle, defensive tackle and linebacker.

    In 1952 and 1953, he was named all-league on both the offensive and defensive teams.

    A knee injury cut his career short in 1955, but he was great at three positions and not many players can claim that.

    He was the first of what became a standard for NFL linebackers, being big and fast.

9. Bill George

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    It has been alleged that George was the first true middle linebacker in football and, inadvertently, the creator of the 4-3 defense.

    He called the Bears' defensive signals for eight seasons and played in eight consecutive Pro Bowls.

    George was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1974.

8. Bulldog Turner

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    A six-time All-Pro center and a steady linebacker, Clyde "Bulldog" Turner intercepted four passes in five NFL title games. Teammate George Musso once said of Bulldog: "Who knows what kind of player he would have been if he ever got to rest during a game?"

    Among his accomplishments, Turner was a great blocker, a terrific pass defender and a perfect ball-snapper with the speed of a halfback. He led the NFL with eight interceptions in 1942 and was All-NFL seven times.

    Turner anchored four NFL championship teams and intercepted four passes in five NFL title games.

7. Red Grange

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    "The Galloping Ghost" was a charter member of both the College and Pro Football Hall of Fame. In 2008, he was named the greatest college football player of all time by ESPN.

    And did you know he founded the rival AFL in 1926?

    Also, after a bad injury, he converted to being an outstanding defensive back and was one of the defensive heroes of the 1933 NFL Championship Game.

6. Doug Atkins

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    Atkins was a fierce defender who was known for using his immense size and agility to his advantage.

    With the Bears, Atkins was a first-team All-Pro selection in 1958, 1960, 1961 and 1963, along with being a starter in the Pro Bowl in eight of his last nine years with Chicago.

    Atkins wreaked havoc on opponents as a devastating pass rusher, and other players just tried not to get him angry, for he played even better when he was mad. In fact, he used to go at it with George Halas, and eventually, Halas moved him to New Orleans.

    But after Atkins retired following the 1969 season, Halas openly admitted, “There never was a better defensive end.”

5. Mike Ditka

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    You may have heard of "Da Coach."

    But long before he won a Super Bowl as the Bears head coach, Ditka was a great tight end who was a pioneer in the league as not only a devastating blocker, as tough as nails, but also a terrific pass catcher.

    Ditka was the first tight end elected to the Hall of Fame.

    Now he is an icon in Chicago. He could probably run for mayor and win; that's how popular he remains to this day.

    He has a line of cigars, kick-ass wine and popular restaurants. He is a commentator and brilliant motivational speaker. He has been an outspoken advocate for retired players rights.

    Many young people simply know him from Saturday Night Live skits, but he was one hell of a football player back in the day.

4. Gale Sayers

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    "The Kansas Comet" records include most touchdowns in a rookie season (22 in 1965), most touchdowns in a game (six, tied with Ernie Nevers and Dub Jones), highest career kickoff return average (30.56) and most return touchdowns in a game (two, tied with many players).

    Injuries cut short his career, but he was probably the most amazing runner in pro football history.

    Of all of the running backs I've seen in my lifetime, only Barry Sanders had the moves and cuts that Sayers had.

    He was not only a great back, but a terrific return man.

    Since his football career ended, he cured his stutter problem and has become a success in the IT business.

    And I challenge you to watch "The Brian Piccolo Story" without a tear in your eye.

3. George Halas

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    How can Papa Bear make this list?

    Well, he wasn't known as a great player, but he did play, and he helped form the damn league, so there.

    Impact on football? All you need to know is that the Hall of Fame is located on George Halas Drive.

    Halas coached the team for 40 seasons; only six of his teams finished below .500, and his 324 wins stood as the record for almost three decades. He also played end for nine seasons.

2. Dick Butkus

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    Butkus was simply the greatest linebacker of his generation and one of the best linebackers of all time.

    He is synonymous with linebacking and he has been one of the faces of the franchise.

    He was mean and nasty. He hit hard and didn't apologize. He tried to take players' heads off. Yes, it was a different game back then.

    He was very athletic for the time, and other players were downright afraid of him.

    Butkus was also selected the 70th Greatest Athlete of the 20th Century by ESPN, the ninth-best player in NFL history by The Sporting News and the fifth-best by the Associated Press.

1. Walter Payton

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    "Sweetness" retired as the greatest running back of all time in terms of yardage.

    Mike Ditka described Payton as the greatest football player he had ever seen. And an even better person.

    That's good enough for me.

    Payton once held the NFL record for most career rushing yards, touchdowns, carries, yards from scrimmage, all-purpose yards and many other records.

    He twice won the MVP award, was a nine-time Pro Bowl selection and voted him the fifth greatest player of all-time.

    The greatest regret I have is that he didn't score a TD in the Super Bowl. The Bears instead elected to give the ball to William Perry, a.k.a., "The Fridge".

    Still, he was such a great player even when the team wasn't very good. His workouts are legendary.

    "The Hill" he climbed was something that even tough guy Dan Hampton called an "inspiration".

    He tragically died too young, and despite what any book says about him, he will always be my hero.