10 Chicago Bears who were 'one-season wonders'
In a sports sense, what defines a “one-season wonder?”
Is it, statistically speaking, one great season followed by several mediocre ones? Or simply one solitary out-of-this-world game? Is it a fantastic rookie season followed by a never-ending sophomore slump? It could be all of those.
But “one-season wonder” may not be the pejorative term you may be thinking. It could be, literally, the one season an athlete had playing for a team—which was bookended by either a trade of a free agency pickup/release. Or, perhaps, it could be the one astronomical season in a well-defined, well-landmarked career.
For our purposes, it’s all of the above.
We’re taking a look at the top-10 Chicago Bears who had one shining (season-long) moment.
They were monsters in their day-- or year. And perhaps we’re greedy to think of what might have been.
No. 10: James Allen (2000)
Allen played sparingly for the Bears in 1998 and 1999 but broke out in 2000, starting 15 games while racking up 1,129 yards and three touchdowns. But he lost his starting running back job to rookie Anthony Thomas in 2001. However, Allen did have one memorable game that year. In a home game against Cleveland, he caught a Shane Matthews desperation heave as time expired. Mike Brown later put Browns fans out of their misery with a game-ending pick-six. Allen’s final season came the following year in Houston.
No. 9: Nathan Vasher (2005)
Was Vasher one of the best fourth-round picks in team history? The ’05 Bears fan would say “absolutely!” He led the NFC in interceptions that year (8) and was arguably known more for what he did in Week 10 on special teams against the 49ers. He set the record for the longest NFL return TD when he took a Joe Nedney missed field goal 108 yards to the house. It helped earn him first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl nods. But his starts-- and production-- tailed off in subsequent years.
No. 8: Mark Anderson (2006)
Anderson, a fifth-round draft pick out of Alabama, flat-out dominated in his rookie season despite starting only one regular season game. His 12 sacks, primarily in a pass specialist role, set a Bears rookie record. He also recorded a sack and a forced fumble in the NFC Championship game against the Saints. He started 14 games the following season but couldn’t recapture the magic. He had only nine total sacks in three subsequent Bears seasons and was released in 2010.
No. 7: Mark Carrier (1990)
It’s not like Carrier was the epitome of a “one-season wonder,” especially when you consider he made three Pro Bowls with the Bears. He makes the list because of how gaudy his ’90 numbers were. He racked up 10 (!) interceptions, five forced fumbles and 122 combined tackles— all career highs and it catapulted him to Defensive Rookie of the Year. Later seasons were modest by comparison. He also played for the Lions and Redskins and then became a positional coach for several NFL teams.
No. 6: Jim Miller (2001)
The 2001 team was full of debatable one-season wonders (David Terrell, Fred Baxter and Anthony Thomas come to mind) but we’re giving the nod to Miller, who was 11-2 in his games as a Bear that season. He tallied 13 touchdowns and nearly 2,300 passing yards. But, he separated his shoulder in a playoff game against the Eagles and Chris Chandler claimed the starting quarterback spot in 2002. Miller has thrived in a broadcasting/analyst role, which includes years at NBC Sports Chicago.
No. 5: Todd Bell (1984)
This is both a what-if and a one-season wonder. Bell, in his only Pro Bowl season, started all 16 games and picked off four passes to help the ’84 Bears get to the playoffs. But a contract dispute kept him out of the 1985 season— and apart from one of the greatest defenses in NFL history. He rejoined the team in ’86 but a hamstring injury dealt another blow to his comeback. He played linebacker for the Eagles (’88-’89) before a serious leg injury (against the Bears, no less) brought his career to an end.
No. 4: Rex Grossman (2006)
After battling injuries his first three seasons, Grossman put it all together in 2006 (cue head coach Lovie Smith: “Rex is our quarterback.”). The former Florida Gator passed for 3,193 yards and 23 touchdowns as the Bears became Super Bowl bound. But inconsistent play followed him in 2007 and it led to him losing the starting job to Brian Griese, then Kyle Orton. After he left the Bears, he had a nondescript year in Houston and then gained a modest career bump with Washington in 2011, passing for over 3,100 yards again.
No. 3: Erik Kamer (1995)
Kramer bounced around between the NFL and CFL in his early years but his golden season with the Bears in the mid-90s was nothing short of astonishing. He amassed 3,838 passing yards and 29 touchdown passes— both are still Bears records. The team started 6-2 but lost five of six to diminish any playoff hopes. He passed for over 3,000 yards again in 1997 but only accumulated 14 passing TDs. But back to ’95: he scored four touchdowns in one game (Week 4 at Rams), just like another famous Chicagoan—Polk High’s Al Bundy. He basked in the spotlight with fellow Bears Raymont Harris and Curtis Conway.
No. 2: Marcus Robinson (1999)
Here’s why he’s No. 2 on this list— his 1,400 receiving yards for the ’99 Bears are nearly double his second-best output in that category. His high-flying ability helped reel in nine touchdowns. And he did all of this in a reserve role his first five games and having three different QBs throw to him (Shane Matthews, Jim Miller, Cade McNown). Robinson missed his rookie season (1997) before torching the competition in Europe the following year, where he led the league in receiving yards and won MVP honors. It set the stage for a magical 1999.
No. 1: Rashaan Salaam (1995)
Another tale of triumph and tragedy. The 1994 Heisman Trophy winner out of Colorado made an immediate impact on the Bears, rushing for 1,074 yards and 10 touchdowns. But on-and-off-the-field issues (fumbles, injuries and marijuana use) plagued Salaam. Nothing loomed over him more than the pressure of being a Heisman Trophy winner. He was released by the Bears in 1997 and only played in two more NFL games. He took his own life in December 2016.