As the second oldest team in the NFL behind only the Cardinals, the Chicago Bears are among the most storied franchises in North American professional sports. With a history that has spanned over a century, there are bound to be plenty of eventual legends, including many Hall of Fame members to make their way through Chicago.
Out of the hundreds of people to don a Chicago Bears uniform, which ones rank among the best? It’s hard to narrow it down to just a handful, but we’ve picked the five best in Chicago Bears’ history. First, we’ll take a look at some of the members that almost made the list.
Honorable Mentions: Sid Luckman, Bill George, Brian Urlacher, Mike Singletary, Dan Hampton, Lance Briggs, Steve McMichael, Richard Dent
5. Mike Ditka
While most people from younger generations think of Mike Ditka as a coach or analyst, many forget that he was a tremendous player for the Bears, as well. Ditka was drafted with the fifth overall pick in 1961, playing his first six NFL seasons for the Bears. The tight end was an NFL Champion and four-time All-Pro in Chicago before ending his playing career with the Eagles and Cowboys.
Following his retirement, Ditka went into coaching with Dallas and remained there for nearly a decade before returning to the Bears sideline as the head coach. Ditka would win Super Bowl XX with one of the best football rosters ever assembled. Adding that to his playing career made Ditka a Bears legend.
4. Sid Luckman
Sid Luckman would change the game of football forever thanks to his passing ability during the first half of the 20th century. After attending Columbia, Luckman was drafted second overall by the Bears in 1939, and he played his entire career with the team. Luckman won four NFL Championships during that time, dominating the NFL.
Luckman led the NFL in passing three times and was a six-time All-Pro selection. His number 42 was retired by the Bears after his retirement, finishing with 137 touchdowns and nearly 15,000 career passing yards in an era where that was unheard of.
3. Gale Sayers
Known as the “Kansas Comet,” Gale Sayers didn’t have the longest career, but he put on a heck of a show during his NFL career. The fourth overall pick out of Kansas by the Bears, Sayers would play for seven seasons in Chicago, two of which he led the NFL in rushing yards.
Sayers set the rookie record for rushing touchdowns with 22 and is one of just three players to ever score six times in one game. Sayers was a five-time All-Pro selection who has his number 40 jersey retired by the Bears and was named to the NFL’s 100th Anniversary All-Time Team.
2. Dick Butkus
One of the most recognizable faces and, of course, names in the NFL belongs to Dick Butkus, the hardnosed linebacker that was a hometown hero. After growing up in Chicago, Butkus attended the University of Illinois and became the third overall selection in the 1965 NFL Draft. Butkus spent his entire career with the Bears and was a Pro Bowl selection in all but one of them.
Butkus was also an eight-time All-Pro and two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year. His number 51 jersey is retired by the Bears, and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year on the ballot.
1. Walter Payton
Many consider Walter Payton to be not just the greatest Chicago Bear of all time, but one of the greatest NFL players, too. “Sweetness” played all 13 of his NFL seasons with the Bears, and was an eight-time All-Pro that set a then-NFL record for career rushing yards with 16,726. Payton also won a Super Bowl (XX) and the Most Valuable Player Award (1977).
Perhaps the greatest part of Payton’s legacy is winning the NFL Man of the Year Award. Due to his philanthropic efforts, the award was named after Payton and is one of the most prestigious honors given by the NFL each year.