A handful of years back, this writer was tasked with compiling the 100 best Chicago Sports Arguments. Those ranged from Gale Sayers vs. Walter Payton (more on that momentarily) to the stupidest word in Sports (“overachiever” – no such thing). In the course of the undertaking, the mythical All-Time Bears offensive and defensive teams were assembled.
Now with the Bears marking their 100th season, the task is to take another look at those two teams and present the All-Century teams updated. Many selections stood up to further scrutiny, a few were tweaked.
Longtime colleagues Don Pierson and Dan Pompei launched list-mania with their Top 100 list and have followed that with their all-time offensive and defensive units.
Fortunately, your humble and faithful narrator is able to fix some of their calculations.
A caveat: Lists like these – like rosters and actual lineups – require some flexibility as well as some creativity. Does the team stay strictly position-specific? Or, as a team would do, are Selecting the All-Time Chicago Bears Century Defense involves both, for reasons that’ll become immediately evident.
DE Doug Atkins
Arguably the single greatest defensive lineman in franchise history. Bears history is replete with Atkins tales, but this writer will add one of his own, recalling Atkins once hurdling New York Giants Hall of Fame left tackle Roosevelt Brown when Brown was, not on the ground, but dropping into his pass-blocking set. Atkins who’d gone to Tennessee on a basketball scholarship, finished second in the SEC in the high jump and was pure and simple an athlete for any age.
Atkins was a right end. But because of his physical strength and size, in addition to this team determined to start ostensibly its four best defensive linemen, Atkins is being placed, not to the quaterback’s blind side, but at left end, allowing the front to have its best individual pass rusher at right end.
DE Richard Dent
The Colonel almost missed the ’85 season in a contract contretemps similar to the one that cost Todd Bell and Al Harris their rings. Dent went to four Pro Bowls and finished his career with 124.5 sacks in 170 Bears games. What’s forgotten is that Dent played in the range of 265 pounds and was a force setting the edge and turning offenses back inside, ultimately “earning” the right to rush the passer, which nobody did any better.
DT Dan Hampton
The leader in a discussion of the best all-around defensive lineman in franchise history, Hampton was defensive player of the year in 1982 at defensive tackle and the left end on the ’85 defense, and earned two Pro Bowls each at end and tackle. His dropping down inside from end to on the center’s nose was the critical starting point for the ‘46’ defense, based on the premise that he could not be single-blocked. With 25 sacks in his first 48 games, a gimme anywhere on the front four.
DT (tie) Link Lyman/Steve McMichael/George Musso
My original pick was Musso, a Hall of Fame lineman who played guard, tackle and defensive tackle. But Lyman pioneered the notion of a shifting defensive lineman and was a five-time All-Pro, albeit in a smaller time. And McMichael, Dan and Don’s pick, was an every-down D-tackle at 270 pounds. All three here were, coincidentally, 6-foot-2, McMichael and Musso were 265-270, and to suggest that McMichael was somehow tougher than two guys who played sans facemasks doesn’t fly.
MLB Dick Butkus
Next question, please.
WLB Brian Urlacher
‘54’ was a college safety whose NFL career included 41.5 sacks and 22 interceptions, and saw Urlacher redefine what a middle linebacker could be and do. The eight-time Pro Bowl’er could cover and he could blitz, and the coaches and I are moving Urlacher to weakside linebacker because we already have the greatest single linebacker in NFL history ensconced in the middle. The two pure outside linebackers who lose out here are Wilber Marshall, whom Hampton called the best pure football player on the ’85 defense, and Joe Fortunato, who was a five-time Pro Bowl’er and named to the 1950’s All-Decade team.
But Urlacher changed position when he came into the NFL, and he’s changing positions here on the All-Century Bears team. The thought of ‘54’ working in space on the weak side… .
SLB George Connor
Connor was this observer’s SLB pick more than a decade ago and still is. At 6-3, 240 pounds, Connor fit the template for a linebacker in any era. He was All-NFL five times, including 1951 and 1952 when he was All-Pro on both offense and defense. Dan and Don had Connor as their pick for the spot as well, and it’s not clear if there’s really even a close second.
CB Charles Tillman
While Tillman was in his early career years, the pick was between Allan Ellis and Donnell Woolford, with the edge to Ellis. No more. Tillman intercepted 36 passes, most by any Bears cornerback, and returned eight of those for touchdowns. Add in 42 forced fumbles and the standard is set for what a cornerback can be, both in coverage and run support.
CB J.C. Caroline
Nickel CB George McAfee
Caroline was a difficult call over George McAfee (Dan and Don’s pick opposite TIllman), so your humble and faithful narrator bailed and didn’t decide.
Both Caroline and McAfee played multiple positions, making their performances at cornerback even more noteworthy, and McAfee had 25 interceptions in an era when the NFL was 65:35 run:pass ratio. Both played offense and defense as well as special teams; both were 6 feet tall. Caroline was my initial pick and remains the starter, though, but every team needs three starter-grade corners and the All-Century team has them with Tillman, McAfee and Caroline.
SS Gary Fencik
Gave considerable thought to Rosie Taylor, who led the NFL with 9 INT’s in a 14-game schedule for the ’63 champions. But coaching legend Don Shula called letting Fencik go from the Miami Dolphins “the biggest personnel mistake I ever made.” Fencik’s 38 interceptions are the most in franchise history, part of his franchise-best 50 career takeaways, all the more remarkable because Fencik was an underrated hitter and a tactician/master strategist out of the Mike Singletary mold.
FS Richie Petitbon
Mike Brown was a competitor for the spot, and Todd Bell is in any discussion of best strong safeties. Petitbon is a whole different level, though. He had 5 picks in ’61, 6 in ’62 and 8 in ’63. His 37 total interceptions trail only Fencik and he, too, accomplished those in a 10-year Bears career of two 12-game seasons and eight of 14.