10 best linebackers in Chicago Bears franchise history
The Chicago Bears are known for their historic defenses, and it's the linebackers who are the enforcers of that unrivaled legacy. This Top 10 list consists of those players who exclusively played linebacker. Sorry Clyde “Bulldog” Turner, playing center for the ‘Beloved” disqualifies you from this category.
10) Doug Buffone (1966 - 1979)
“Doug Buffone never had to apologize. He was what the game was meant to be.”
-Chet Coppock, Chicago sportscaster
Though he never became an NFL champion, Buffone was arguably the best of three Bears outside linebackers (himself, Joe Fortunato and Otis Wilson) for a 30-year stretch (1955 to ‘87). He holds the franchise record for most interceptions (24) by a linebacker. Unfortunately, he also has the ignominious honor of playing for five head coaches (George Halas, Jim Dooley, Abe Gibron, Jack Pardee, and Neill Armstrong). Buffone’s 186 games played ranks fifth in team history.
9) Larry Morris (1959 - 1965)
“He was the kind of player a coach dreams about. He had size, speed, and desire.”
- Hall of Fame Head Coach Sid Gillman via "Legends: Georgians Who Lived Impossible Dreams" by Gene Asher
Morris, known as the “Brahma Bull,” was the MVP of the ‘63 Championship game against the N.Y. Giants. His 61-yard interception helped turn the tide, favorably, for a Chicago team that trailed early in the contest. Morris was one of the best blitzing linebackers of his day. He played on a defense that led the NFL in 11 of 19 defensive categories, while finishing second in the other eight, according to Sports Illustrated.
8) Joe Fortunato (1955 - 1966)
“That danged Fortunato never makes a mistake, and moreover, he never hits you easy.”
- Unnamed opponent reported by George Stickler - Chicago Tribune
Eliminating mistakes was Fortunato’s belief in succeeding at playing winning football. During his career, the Bears had a 90-60-6 record, made two playoff appearances and won the 1963 NFL Championship. He was part of a formidable trio of linebackers which included Bill George and Larry Morris. Oddly, this five-time Pro Bowler is the only member of the 1950’s all-decade team, not in the Hall of Fame.
7) Wilbur Marshall (1984 - 1987)
“I can still see the lick Marshall put on Ferguson. My God, I thought he’d killed him.”
- Hall of Famer and former Bears Head Coach, Mike Ditka via "America’s Game: The 1985 Chicago Bears | Super Bowl XX"
Wilbur Marshall was born to play linebacker. He was a brilliant blend of intelligence, power, speed and pure athleticism. He played both outside and inside linebacker, and was athletically fast enough to cover wide receivers. Marshall had a standout year in 1986, recording 106 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 5 interceptions and 2 defensive touchdowns. The three-time Pro Bowler is one of only five players with 40 sacks and 20 interceptions, according to the Chicago Tribune.
6) Otis Wilson (1980 - 1989)
“I felt the full and complete wrath of Otis Wilson - and he was my teammate.”
- Former Bears DB Doug Plank via "If These Walls Could Talk: Chicago Bears: Stories from the Chicago Bears sideline, locker room and press box" by Otis Wilson and Chet Coppock
During Wilson’s eight years with Chicago, the Bears were 74-46, had four playoff appearances, and won Super Bowl XX. An unrelenting, ferocious tackler, Wilson was the main blitzer in the dreaded 46 defensive scheme. Wilson, along with Mike Singletary and Wilbur Marshall, formed the “Bermuda Triangle,” and for three seasons terrorized offenses while posting a 40-7 win/loss record.
5) Lance Briggs (2003 - 2014)
“When I think about outside linebackers…, I think Lance was definitely more dominant and more impactful.”
- Packers Quarterback Aaron Rodgers via The Athletic
Arguably one of the most versatile outside linebackers of his generation, Briggs was a true three-down defender. His sideline to sideline athleticism coupled with a quick, decisive intellect, gave him game-breaking ability across the gridiron. Playing in the famed “Tampa Cover-2” scheme, the seven-time Pro Bowler stuffed the run, dropped into coverage, forced turnovers and made sacks. Nicknamed “Big Time,” this playmaker scored six defensive touchdowns during an extremely productive career.
4) Bill George (1952 - 1965)
“...the smartest defensive player I ever coached.”
- Hall of Fame Head Coach George Allen via the Chicago Tribune
An intelligent and instinctive player, George became the first “true middle linebacker” in league history. In a game against the Eagles, he stood up from his “middle guard” position in the traditional five-man defensive front, and moved several steps behind the line. Two plays later he picked off the first of his 18 career interceptions, innovating the 4-3 defensive formation. A key member of the 1963 Championship squad, George, a Hall-of-Famer, is also part of the 1950s all-decade team.
3) Mike Singletary (1981 - 1992)
“He had a great nose for the ball, had a great feel for the game.”
- Former Packers Quarterback Lynn Dickey via "Black & Blue" by Bob Berghaus
Singletary was a consummate pro and missed only five games in 12 seasons. “Samurai Mike” was Defensive Player of the Year twice (1985, 1988), and his 10 consecutive Pro Bowls is a team record. A true field general, Singletary marshalled the fabled 46 Bears defense to an overall record of 18-1 and a Super Bowl XX victory. A Hall-of-Famer and member of the 1980s all-decade team, he impressively led a Bears defense that finished first or second in five-straight seasons (‘84 - ‘88).
2) Brian Urlacher (2000 - 2012)
“You need to know where Brian is… everything you hear about him is absolutely true.”
- All Pro Quarterback Peyton Manning via Delice Coffey
A freakishly gifted athlete at 6’4” and 258 pounds, Urlacher is the first Bears player to return a 90-yard fumble and 85-yard interception for touchdowns. He retired as the franchise’s all-time leading tackler, and is one of only two Bears (Mike Singletary) to receive the NFL Defensive POTY award. Additionally, he’s also one of five players in league history to be awarded both Defensive Rookie and Player of the Year accolades. A member of the NFL’s 2000s all-decade team, Urlacher is the only Bear of his generation to make the Hall of Fame, so far.
1) Dick Butkus (1965 - 1973)
“...every time he hit you, he tried to put you in the cemetery, not the hospital.”
- Hall of Fame DE Deacon Jones via the Chicago Tribune
A 1970 Sports Illustrated cover labeled him “The Most Feared Man in the Game,” and the NFL Network describes him as “…the most feared tackler of all-time.” Even today, Butkus is the gold standard by which all NFL middle linebackers are measured. The Hall-of-Famer was named Defensive Player of the Year (DPOTY) in 1969 and 1970, made eight straight Pro Bowls, and was on the 1960s and 1970s all-decade teams. Unfortunately, pro football’s most iconic defensive force never played in the postseason.