Yesterday we looked at some of the greatest players to ever don a Chicago Bulls jersey. Today we move from the basketball court to the gridiron in part one of our look at some of the best Chicago Bears players of all time. Hopefully, the NFL season can start as planned in September, and we can once again enjoy (or shake our heads) at the Monsters of the Midway taking the field.
Walter Payton: Few can argue that the man known as Sweetness should not be at the top of any list when it comes to the all-time best Chicago Bears players. Payton spent 13 seasons as a running back for the Bears, and his highlight reel is second to none when it comes to greatness on the gridiron. The nine-time Pro Bowl selectee and Pro Football Hall of Famer is the NFL’s second all-time leading rusher and ranks in at number four for rushing touchdowns scored. Of course, Payton played a massive role in the Bears’ 1985 season, which led to their last Super Bowl championship. The football great retired in 1987 after rushing for a minimum of 1,200 yards in 10 of his 13 seasons. Sadly, Payton passed away in 1999 from bile duct cancer. His greatness will forever be remembered in the Windy City and throughout the world.
Dick Butkus: From 1965 to 1973, the Chicago-born Butkus gave offenses’ throughout the league nightmares as a linebacker for the Bears. Drafted as the third overall pick in the 1965 NFL Draft, Butkus quickly proved to be a master of mayhem on the field, continually forcing turnovers, intercepting passes, and causing numerous fumbles thanks to his bear-like tackles. Butkus is considered the gold standard when it comes to the middle linebacker position. After his 1973 retirement, Butkus made a second career for himself acting in television and movies.
Gale Sayers: The fan-favorite halfback and return specialist made a massive impact upon signing with Bears in 1965. In Sayers rookie season, he scored an NFL-record 22 touchdowns and 2,272 all-purpose yards. Sayers followed up his amazing rookie campaign by leading the NFL in rushing with 1,231 yards in only his second year. Knee injuries sidelined Sayers over the next few seasons. Still, he made a comeback in 1969, leading the league once again in rushing with 1,032 yards. More injuries led to his retirement in 1972. Non-football fans most likely know of Sayers via the movie Brian’s Song, which depicted the friendship between Sayers and teammate Brian Piccolo throughout their playing days until Piccolo’s death in 1970 due to cancer.
Mike Ditka: Before he was Da Coach, Mike Ditka was a powerhouse tight end for the Bears. Drafted fifth overall in the 1961 NFL Draft, Ditka earned Rookie of the Year honors for his 12 touchdowns and 58 receptions. In 1963, he was part of the Bears championship team (a precursor to the Super Bowl). Ditka ranks first in the tight end position in Chicago Bears history before being traded to the Philadelphia Eagles in 1967. Of course, Iron Mike went on to coach the Bears starting in 1982 and led the team to their last Super Bowl win in 1985.
That does it for part one of our list of greatest Chicago Bears. Tune in next week to see the next round of players who helped make Chicago the football town that we all know and love.
ERIC KAPLAN AND DEAN’S TEAM CHICAGO