It seems that every franchise has one position that they’re known for. The Green Bay Packers have quarterbacks, the Dallas Cowboys have offensive linemen, and the Chicago Bears have linebackers. Dating back to even before the “Monsters of the Midway” days, the Bears have always been known for having hardnose linebackers.
Along the way, several linebackers have made the Pro Football Hall of Fame as members of the Bears. But which ones truly stand out as the best of the best? It was tough to narrow it down to just five, but most would agree that these five men are the best linebackers in the storied history of the Chicago Bears franchise.
Honorable Mentions: Lance Briggs, Wilber Marshall, Khalil Mack, Doug Buffone, Otis Wilson, Ron Rivera, Roquan Smith.
5. Joe Fortunato
Joe Fortunato spent his entire NFL career with the Chicago Bears, playing for just over a decade between the 1950s and 1960s. Fortunato was a seventh-round pick that attended both VMI and Mississippi State and ended up playing well above his draft position. Fortunato was a Pro Bowl selection five times, as well as a four-time All-Pro from 1962 to 1965.
Still at the top of his game in 1967, Fortunato suffered an unfortunate knee injury that ended his career early. Somehow, Fortunato was not inducted into the Hall of Fame despite his accolades, which included being named to the 1950s All-Decade Team. He went on to become an assistant coach with the Bears following his playing career before leaving football in 1969.
4. Bill George
Joe Fortunato wasn’t the only great linebacker for the Bears during the 1950s and 1960s. Bill George was also an all-time great, sharing the same defense. George was a second-round selection out of Wake Forest in 1951 and played almost every one of his 15 seasons with the Bears (he finished in 1966 with the Rams).
During that time, George helped the Bears win the NFL Championship while also being named to the Pro Bowl and First-Team All-Pro squad eight times. He was named with Fortunato to the All-Decade Team of the 1950s, except George was enshrined in Canton as part of the 1974 class and had his number 61 retired by the Bears.
3. Brian Urlacher
There’s only one linebacker on the list that played after 1992, and that’s Brian Urlacher. The modern-era pick of the list, Urlacher was drafted out of New Mexico with the ninth overall selection at the 2000 NFL Draft by the Bears and became the Rookie of the Year. Urlacher went on to be the Defensive Player of the Year five years later and was a five-time All-Pro.
Urlacher was an easy selection for the 2000s All-Decade Team for voters, and he finished his 13-season career (all with the Bears) with 1,361 tackles, 41.5 sacks, and 22 interceptions.
2. Mike Singletary
Some younger NFL fans might only know “Samurai” from his coaching days, Mike Singletary was a force as a linebacker for the Bears during almost the entirety of the 1980s. Singletary was an early second-round pick from Baylor, hopping from one Bears team to another in 1981. Singletary made the All-Rookie Team and was one of the decade’s top linebackers alongside the likes of Lawrence Taylor.
Singletary won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award twice and was named to eight All-Pro Teams thanks to his 1,4899 career tackles and 19 sacks. The 1990 NFL Man of the Year was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998, three years after he was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame.
1. Dick Butkus
Of course, nobody embodies Chicago Bears football quite like Dick Butkus, and many consider him to be the greatest linebacker of all time, period. Butkus was the third overall pick, and the Chicago native got to stay home and spend his entire career with the Bears which spanned from 1965 to 1973.
During that time, Butkus was an All-Pro in every season except his final one and made two different All-Decade Teams. The Bears obviously have retired Butkus’ number 51, and he became one of the faces of the league for many years. In 1979, he was rightfully inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.