The NFL off-season is often a time to look back and examine the best a team ever had to offer. If given the chance, what sort of all-time roster could the Chicago Bears assemble?
Quarterback – Sid Luckman, Jim McMahon, Jay Cutler
Like it or not, the inescapable fact is that Sid Luckman remains the only quarterback in Chicago Bears history in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His backup would be Jim McMahon, who piloted the iconic 1985 team to a Super Bowl while the highly talented but as yet underachieving Jay Cutler would ride the bench behind them.
Running Back – Walter Payton, Gale Sayers, Matt Forte
There is probably no richer history in Chicago sports lore than the running back position. Walter Payton of course is the gold standard, having held the all-time rushing record for a number of years and leading the team to its only Super Bowl. Gale Sayers revolutized the game with his amazing speed, agility and open field running. The hard part is finding that third pair of legs with so many good choices like the Galloping Ghost Red Grange, George McAfee or even the often overlooked Neal Anderson. In the end though, the many abilities of current star Matt Forte would be too hard to pass up.
Fullback – Bronco Nagurski
Is this really any surprise? Nobody terrorized defenses in his heyday quite like Bronco Nagurski. He was big, physical, surprisingly fast and never went down on first contact. Nobody epitomized smash mouth football better than him.
Wide Receiver – Brandon Marshall, Harlon Hill, Curtis Conway, Marty Booker, Johnny Morris, Willie Gault
Not until recently did the wide receiver position get the attention it deserves for the Chicago Bears. Already Brandon Marshall is carving a niche in team history as one of the best. He’s joined by a collection of solid contributors like speedsters Willie Gault and Harlon Hill along with sure-handed gamers like Curtis Conway, Marty Booker and Johnny Morris. It’s not as star-studded as other teams, but it doesn’t lack for skill.
Tight End – Mike Ditka, Emery Moorehead
It’s so easy to forget that before he became Da Coach, Mike Ditka had slugged his way to a Hall of Fame career as a tight end. He changed the way the position was played with his ability to both block and receive. Ironically a player he coached joins him in the lineup in Emery Moorehead. While not as prolific as Ditka was on the stat sheet, Moorehead was a vital piece of the Bears offense in the 1980s both as a blocker and pass catcher.
Offensive Tackle – Jimbo Covert, Ed Healey, George Connor, James “Big Cat” Williams
A perfect blend encompasses the offensive tackle history for Chicago from blind side stonewall Jimbo Covert who dominated in the ’80s to old school stars like Ed Healey and George Connor who showcased the grit and toughness of Bears football. The same can be said for James “Big Cat” Williams who went from a no-name defensive lineman to becoming a Pro Bowl right tackle.
Offensive Guard – George Musso, Dan Fortmann, Mark Bortz, Stan Jones
It’s no different at the guard position either. Guys like George Musso, Dan Fortmann, Mark Bortz and Stan Jones all have the same thing in common. They had great success paving the way for Bears running backs and winning games and establishing an identity that hasn’t died for almost a century.
Center – Bulldog Turner, Olin Kreutz
How appropriate it would be if Olin Kreutz and Bulldog Turner ended up on the same team. They were probably two of the meanest, nastiest centers of their respective eras and were also among the best leaders.
Defensive End – Doug Atkins, Richard Dent, Julius Peppers, Alex Brown, Trace Armstrong
Here is where it gets scary. No tradition in the NFL can probably match the tradition of defense in Chicago. Can one imagine having to face a three-man rotation of Doug Atkins (Hall of Fame), Richard Dent (Hall of Fame) and Julius Peppers (soon-to-be Hall of Fame)? If that didn’t make quarterbacks quake enough, adding Pro Bowlers like Alex Brown and Trace Armstrong only make it worse.
Defensive Tackle – Dan Hampton, Tommie Harris, Wally Chambers, Steve McMichael, William Perry
Dominating on the edges wouldn’t be enough of course. The Chicago Bears were every bit as good on the interior. Dan Hampton reached the Hall of Fame as a defensive tackle. Tommie Harris was unblockable for a three-year period in the mid-2000s while Wally Chambers and Steve McMichael made a living hurting quarterbacks. Add in the massive bodied and massive personality of William “Refridgerator” Perry to help stop the run and that front can win games by itself.
Outside Linebacker – Otis Wilson, Wilbur Marshall, Lance Briggs, Joe Fortunato
If that weren’t impressive enough, the linebacker tradition gets even deeper. Otis Wilson and Wilbur Marshall terrorized quarterbacks from the outside. Joe Fortunato is a forgetten gem who helped the Bears win a championship in 1963 during an 11-year career. Lance Briggs has reached seven Pro Bowls and been a model of consistent excellence since entering the league in 2003.
Middle Linebacker – Dick Butkus, Brian Urlacher
Here of course is where it gets tough. The true sense of great in Chicago Bears defensive lore rests at middle linebacker. No other team has more names in the Hall of Fame at the position. The arguments about who would make the all-time team would be endless. Looking at it as objectively as possible, it would have to include Dick Butkus. Not only was he the most feared player in league history, he was also so good too, reaching eight Pro Bowls in nine seasons. The hard part was finding his backup. Right at the top would have to be fellow Hall of Famers Mike Singletary and Bill George, but this argument must be made in the context of era-breaching ability. Could those two play in the 21st center. Yes, but at their customary levels? Perhaps not. Meanwhile Brian Urlacher showcased a speed, athleticism and strength combination that teams really hadn’t seen before. He has that ability to play in any decade and with eight Pro Bowls is bound to reach the Hall of Fame eventually. That is why he earned the second spot behind Butkus.
Cornerback – Charles Tillman, Donnell Woolford, Bennie McRae, Dave Whitsell, Tim Jennings
Another area of the Bears roster replete with talent but not very much star power. Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings shattered the only mold recently by reaching four combined Pro Bowls in a three-year span. Donnell Woolford was a staple during the rather quiet ’90s era, reaching a Pro Bowl and snagging 36 interceptions. Bennie McRae was one of the critical pieces to the 1963 championship team and snagged 27 interceptions. Dave Whitsell was the man who played across from him, ending his career with 46 interceptions.
Safety – Mark Carrier, Gary Fencik, Mike Brown, Richie Petitbon, Dave Duerson
Before recently the safety position was greatly respected among Bears fandom, well represented by Pro Bowlers like Mark Carrier and Mike Brown and brought to a peak in the 1980s by Gary Fencik and Dave Duerson. Richie Petitbon, before he became a great coach, was an All-Pro who commanded the back end of the ’63 team and snared 48 career interceptions.
Punter – Bobby Joe Green
There are a few names who deserve consideration on this list but the fact is Bobby Joe Green remains the only punter in Chicago Bears history to reach a Pro Bowl.
Kicker – Kevin Butler
He set an NFL record for points as a rookie while helping the Bears to their only Super Bowl title in 1985 and is the all-time leading scorer in team history.
Long Snapper – Patrick Mannelly
At the age of 39 he is the longest-tenured player in team history at 239 games played. Patrick Mannelly couldn’t have accomplished that without being a good player.