The Chicago Bears Centennial Scrapbook that chronicles the franchise’s first 100 years is an absolute masterpiece that’s a definite must-have for all Bears fans.
I’ve followed the Monsters of the Midway closely for almost 50 years (I’m much older than my boyish good looks would indicate) and there are entertaining anecdotes and amazing artifacts in the Centennial Scrapbook that I’ve never heard or seen.
One highlight in the book co-authored by longtime Chicago football writers Don Pierson and Dan Pompei is a ranking of the top 100 players in Bears history. I feel the two Hall of Fame writers did an excellent job on the list, which no doubt was a daunting task given that the Bears have had so many great players over a 100-yard period. (Their 28 Hall of Famers are the most from any NFL team.)
A list like this spawns impassioned debate on sports radio, at the corner bar and around the office water cooler, with seemingly everyone offering their opinions. So I figured I’d join the crowd and give you four of my takes on the list.
Ranking best Bears of all time: Nos 1-25
Ranking best Bears of all time: Nos. 26-50
Ranking best Bears of all time: Nos. 51-75
(1) Quarterbacks Sid Luckman (No. 4) and Jay Cutler (No. 85) are ranked exactly where they deserve to be.
I’ve seen and heard comments from some fans on social media and on the radio questioning why Luckman is ranked so high and Cutler is so low.
Handpicked by none other than George Halas to help the Bears revolutionize pro football with the “T” formation, Luckman quarterbacked the Monsters of the Midway to four NFL championships in seven seasons in the 1940s. He was voted All-NFL five times, was named league MVP in 1943 and was selected to the NFL All-Decade Team for the 1940s.
Just imagine if Luckman had accomplished those feats in a more recent era, like in the 1970s or ‘80s. He may have even challenged Walter Payton for the coveted No. 1 spot on the list. Even playing when Luckman did, I probably would have ranked him ahead of Bronko Nagurski at No. 3 behind Payton and legendary middle linebacker Dick Butkus.
Cutler supporters argue that he should be ranked higher because he owns all the Bears’ all-time passing records. But I disagree. The Bears haven’t exactly had a litany of All-Pro quarterbacks, and Cutler played at a time when most passers throughout the league posted bigger numbers than their predecessors in previous eras. In eight seasons with the Bears, Cutler was never considered among the best players at his position.
(2) My biggest disagreement with the list is that star middle linebacker Brian Urlacher deserves to be higher than No. 14.
Urlacher was not only a dominant generational player but the face of the Bears franchise for more than a decade. With his incredible combination of speed, size and power, he did things we’ve never seen an NFL middle linebacker do, which is one reason he was inducted into the Hall of Fame last summer in his first year of eligibility.
Urlacher started 180 of 182 games played with the Bears, recording a franchise-record 1,779 tackles, 41.5 sacks, 22 interceptions, 16 fumble recoveries and 11 forced fumbles. He was named the 2000 NFL rookie of the year and the 2005 NFL defensive player of the year. He was voted first-team All Pro four times and selected to eight Pro Bowls.
Urlacher helped the Bears win four division champions and one NFC title, enabling the franchise to reach the Super Bowl in 2006 for the first time since 1985. If I were constructing the list, I’d probably rank Urlacher No. 8 or 9.
(3) I agree with the rankings (and the order) of the three Hall of Famers on the famed 1985 Super Bowl championship defense, Dan Hampton (No. 11), Richard Dent (No. 12) and Mike Singletary (No. 15).
Hampton played all 12 of his NFL seasons with the Bears from 1979-90. He was voted to four Pro Bowls—two at defensive end and two at defensive tackle—and named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 1980s.
Hampton ranks third in Bears history with 82.0 sacks. His value to the franchise was evident throughout his illustrious career, but especially in 1989 when the Bears opened 4-0 with him before stumbling to a 2-10 record after he had sustained a season-ending injury.
Dent made just as much as an impact. Playing 12 of his 15 NFL seasons with the Bears, he registered a franchise-high 124½ sacks and was named the Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XX.
Dent led the NFC with a Bears-record 17.5 sacks in 1984 before recording a league-leading 17 sacks in 1985 in helping the franchise win its first NFL title in 22 years. Dent registered 10 or more sacks in five straight seasons from 1984-88 and in eight of 10 years from 1984-93.
Singletary was voted to 10 Pro Bowls, the most in Bears history. He was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1985 and ’88 and was voted to the league’s All-Decade Team for the 1980s. His 172 starts are the second most by a defensive player in Bears history and he finished first or second on the team in tackles in each of his final 11 seasons.
(4) Tackle Jimbo Covert (No. 13) and center Jay Hilgenberg (No. 18) both were key members of some of the best offensive lines in NFL history with the Bears in the 1980s, but I think they should swap spots on the top 100 list.
This is not a knock on Covert, who was a great player. But Hilgenberg performed at the same level as his teammate, but for a slightly longer period of time. The Iowa product started seven consecutive Pro Bowls, which is proof to me that he dominated his position and deserves to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
Hilgenberg may be the most underrated player in Bears history. He joined the team in 1981 as an undrafted free agent and was named first-team All Pro five times in 11 seasons while appearing in 163 games with 130 starts.
In nine seasons with the Bears, Covert played in 111 games with 110 starts. He was voted to two Pro Bowls, named first-team All-Pro twice and selected to the NFL All-Decade Team for the 1980s.