Ranking the top 100 players across all of the NFL’s lengthy history seems like an impossible task. But the folks at The Athletic are giving it a whirl, comparing players across decades and across positions to determine who is the best of the best. The list is being slowly rolled out— as of July 13 they’ve only revealed players 90-100, but among those 10 players towards the end of the list are two legendary Bears. Coming in at No. 96 is Hall of Fame tight end and iconic coach Mike Ditka, while Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary slots in a few spots ahead at No. 93.
Both guys certainly deserve to make the cut. In Ditka’s case, he revolutionized the tight end position when he came out of Pitt, as he not only blocked just as well as an extra lineman, he was a legitimate pass-catching threat. Of course, he remains one of the toughest players the league has ever seen, too.
“At his finest, he was as punishing a two-way tight end that ever lived,” Dan Pompei wrote. “He once scored four touchdowns in a game against the Rams in 1963. He caught 13 passes in another, versus Washington one season later. He dislocated his shoulder and wore a harness during the 1964 season, but he still caught 75 passes — more than any other player in the league besides his teammate Johnny Morris.”
“He was the meanest, toughest rascal in the league, and I’ve got the dent in my head to prove it,” Steelers safety Clendon Thomas told the Pittsburgh Press via the Athletic’s writeup. “Anytime you came near Ditka, you had to expect forearms and fists. You came away bruised. He was mean, but he was also as talented as anyone I ever lined up against.”
Then there’s Singletary. In a defense filled with superstars— and widely regarded as the best defense in NFL history— Singletary stands out as the unquestioned leader.
“He may have been the quietest man in that Bears locker room, but nobody had more presence,” Pompei said. “Many players are called ‘leaders,’ but there have been few leaders in the history of pro football as influential as Singletary. When a teammate started to drift, when an ego started to infringe, when a priority veered, or when an internal conflict threatened, Singletary always was there — just like he always was there in the hole when a running back came with everything he had, often to be dropped without gaining an inch of satisfaction.”
“If you’re looking for one person who epitomizes a leader, a captain, a professional football player, there’s no doubt it’s Mike Singletary,” Bears guard Tom Thayer said via the Athletic.
In addition, Singletary was one of the most dedicated and prepared players in the league.
“Singletary was one of the first players in the league to buy a high-end Beta video system to play game tape in his home,” Pompei said.
“I’ve had opposing coaches tell me after a game that they believe I know their offense better than most of their players do,” said Singletary in his autobiography via the Athletic. “I just might. They ask me if I’ve been reading their playbook. I tell them no. I didn’t read the book. I saw the movie.”
Of course, he hit really, really hard too.
“There was an intensity with Mike Singletary like you saw with no one else,” said Joe Theismann via the Athletic. “You saw the fire in his eyes and the passion in his eyes.”
Ditka won one NFL Championship with the Bears, and a Super Bowl with the Cowboys. He was named Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1961, made five Pro Bowls and was a two-time First-Team All-Pro.
Singletary won one Super Bowl with the Bears. He was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year twice, earned 10 Pro Bowl honors and was a seven-time First-Team All-Pro.