Looking back, some of the largest icons in NFL history are often the ones that can be overlooked. All franchises have had their fair share of historic players, but who were the best of the best? Here, we discuss the four most iconic players to step on the field. We continue our series with the Chicago Bears:
Honorable Mentions: Sid Luckman, Gayle Sayers, Mike Singletary
LB Dick Butkus (1965-73)
Over his nine-year career with the Bears, Butkus continued to uphold a historic presence at the linebacker position. He was the third overall selection in the 1965 NFL Draft, and turned down a more lucrative deal to play for the Denver Broncos in the AFL.
In his rookie season, Butkus totaled six interceptions and picked up five forced fumbles. He reached Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors on eight occasions, and accumulated two Defensive Player of the Year awards as well. Despite never appearing in a postseason game, Butkus belongs on the Mount Rushmore for Chicago.
LB Brian Urlacher (2000-12)
With the ninth overall selection in the 2000 NFL Draft, the Bears chose a Hall of Fame talent in Brian Urlacher. He spent his entire career in Chicago, totaling eight Pro Bowls and being named to four All-Pro teams. In addition, Urlacher was honored as part of the Hall of Fame All-2000’s Team.
Urlacher managed to compile nine different seasons in which he totaled 100+ combined tackles. He finished his career with 1,046 solo tackles; which ranked ninth in NFL history. He is one of only 13 players in the history of the league to reach 1,000 tackles.
TE Mike Ditka (1961-72)
Selected in the first round of the 1961 NFL Draft, the Bears took one of their most iconic players in franchise history. Ditka managed to make an immediate impact, winning the Rookie of the Year award after compiling 1,076 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. He reached the Pro Bowl in each of his first five seasons, and was part of the 1963 Super Bowl roster.
After retiring, Ditka took over the Bears as a coach in 1982. Just three years later, Chicago reached another Super Bowl and maintained one of the most complete defenses in NFL history. He finished his coaching career with a record of 106-62.
RB Walter Payton (1975-87)
Regarded as one of the best players of all-time, Payton was one of the most elusive players at his position. There was a chip on his shoulder coming out of Jackson State, as Payton was taking over the role that Gayle Sayers retired from. Just three years into his career, he was named NFL MVP after totaling a league-high 2,121 scrimmage yards and 14 rushing touchdowns.
Payton was a foundational piece during the Bears’ 1985 Super Bowl run, as he won the NFC Offensive Player of the Year award that year. His 16,626 career rushing yards marked an NFL record up until 2002 (Emmitt Smith). He is likely on the NFL’s all-time Mount Rushmore, let alone the one for the Chicago Bears.