The Chicago Bears are a professional football team from Chicago, Illinois. The Bears are part of the NFC North Division of the NFL (or, of the National Football Conference in the National Football League). The Chicago Bears are one of only … see full wiki
Such is the history and importance of the Chicago Bears that I have had to mention them in almost every review I've written of the NFL so far. One of the charter members of the NFL, and the second-oldest professional football team in the league, the Bears stand head and shoulders above almost every other team in the league in terms of history, prestige, and tradition. Chicago is very proud of its Bears, and the city sees them as a reflection of its hard work ethic and blue-collar toughness. (At least it thinks it does, but Chicago these days is so far removed from tough or blue-collar that its incessant bragging about how tough and blue-collar it is is the only thing keeping that image alive. As I said constantly when I lived there, they're tough and blue-collar because they keep telling themselves that.)
The Bears are not, however, a permanent resident of Chicago. They began life in 1919 as the Decatur Staleys in Decatur, Illinois, a small city in central Illinois, southwest of the great Chicagoland area. They were started by the AE Staley food starch company, which is how they got that old name. The company hired George Halas and Edward Sternaman in 1920 to run the team, and turned over full control in 1921, when they relocated to Chicago and became the Chicago Staleys. Halas wasn't the founder, although the official team and league records say he is. In 1920, the team paid a $100 franchise fee to become a charter member of the NFL. In 1922, Halas was given some nice new digs at Wrigley Field, and in return he promised to name the team after the baseball team that played there, the Cubs. But Halas also took note of the fact that football players seemed to generally be larger than baseball players, and in that spirit, he decided that if his hosts were Cubs, his bigger players should be called Bears!
From there, the Bears immediately ranked among the league's elite. They were competitive, and in 1925 they made headlines when they signed football's first true superstar: Red Grange, AKA The Galloping Ghost. With Grange on the payroll, Halas then took the Bears on a 17-game barnstorming trip across an American landscape that scoffed at the idea that professional football was played at a higher level than college football. (The Bears went 11-4-2 in those 17 games.) That trip impressed a lot of people and provided a serious financial boon to teams in a debt-ridden league.
Although Grange wasn't around for the last few years of the 20's, he returned in 1929 and was joined by his new teammate, Bronko Nagurski, as they led the Bears to four Championship games and two titles. Inthe late 1930's, Halas visited University of Chicago football coach Clark Shaughnessy to figure out a new way to approach the offense and the position of quarterback. What they came up with was the t-formation, many of whose key innovations are still in extremely widespread use today, even though the pure t-formation is now obsolete. To run the T, Halas drafted Columbia quarterback Sid Luckman and turned the T into a high-powered, time-wasting scoring machine which defeated the Washington Redskins in the 1940 Championship game 73-0 and opened the path for the Bears's first dynasty, from 1940 to 1946, when the Bears went to five Championships and won four of them. After those years, the Bears middled for the next few decades, but they still managed to capture their conference in 1956 and win the title in 1963. Then came the absolute nadir of Bears history: The 1970's.
In the 1970's, the Bears were atrocious. They fielded players like Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers at the same time, drafting Walter Payton in 1975, and still totally sucking. In the 80's, things were still looking low, but by then the Bears had started rebuilding. GM Jim Finks was finding A-grade talent while Bill Tobin exercised his knack for grabbing overlooked talent in the draft, and defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan created a revolutionary new defense called the 46, or the Bear. In 1982, legendary Bears tight end Mike Ditka was hired as coach, and a mean, snarling Bears team emerged and took back the NFL.
The 1985 Bears still hold a special place in the hearts of Chicagoans. They are the only Bears team to ever win the Super Bowl. They cut through their first 12 opponents, beating them all by a combined score of 456 to 198, including one memorable three-game stretch in which they outscored their opponents 104-3. They handed the Dallas Cowboys the worst loss in their history, smashing them 44-0. They lost only one game all season, to the Miami Dolphins. In the playoffs, they shut out the New York Giants 21-0. In the NFC Championship, they shut out the Los Angeles Rams 24-0. (One of the Rams coaches later admitted that the 1985 NFC Championship was the only game he ever went into knowing he had no chance.) In the Super Bowl, they rolled up 46 points against the New England Patriots, which was at that point a record for points scored and margin of victory. Although the Patriots drew first blood in the form of a field goal, the only other points they scored in that game came from a face-save touchdown late in the fourth quarter. During the 1985 fiasco, the Bears also found time to record a rap record called "The Super Bowl Shuffle" and turn some of their players like Walter Payton, Mike Singletary, Jim McMahon, and William "Refrigerator" Perry into national pitchmen. They are still widely regarded as the finest single-season team in NFL history. (And frankly, they still should have been even if the 2007 Patriots had closed their perfect season. They were an overrated team with a shitload of defensive holes which good teams had been exploiting all season, and are actually not even the best team to ever LOSE the Super Bowl.)
The Bears dominated through to the 90's, but dropped off again, having only occasional good seasons. With Dave Wannstedt as head coach, the Bears had a couple of 9-7 seasons, and Dick Jauron brought them to a 13-3 year amidst a bunch of terrible years. In 2004, current Bears coach Lovie Smith was hired. His current record as Chicago's head coach is 63-49, good for third place in the all-time Bears coach pantheon. Under his tenure, the Bears have ended the divisional reign of the Green Bay Packers, and won three division titles and one NFC Championship.
The Bears have notched over 700 wins in their history, a feat which only they have achieved. They hold the NFL record for the number of Hall of Famers fielded, at 27. Their all-time roster includes some of the NFL's great luminaries: Red Grange, Mike Ditka, Dick Butkus, Gale Sayers, Walter Payton, and Mike Singletary. The current team is led by linebackers Brian Urlacher - who will go into the Hall once he hangs up his cleats - and Lance Briggs, who is also a strong candidate for that honor. Their current kick returner, Devin Hester, is unquestionably the greatest special teams player since Buffalo played the amazing Steve Tasker (who should be in the Hall of Fame), and very likely the greatest special teams player in history. He holds the NFL record for return touchdowns, and has a number of good years left.
Despite the offensive innovations the Bears are historically responsible for, they're known primarily as a smash-mouth, run-and-defense-first team. The 27 Hall of Famers from Chicago only include one quarterback, Sid Luckman, who isn't likely to draw breathless comparisons to Otto Graham or Joe Montana or Johnny Unitas or any of the other transcendent quarterbacks from anyone other than Bears fans. After Luckman, their greatest, most iconic quarterback is Jim McMahon, who pretty much lucked into that position and is more of a right place right time quarterback than anything else. He was the 1985 team quarterback, and he was gutsy, but he ultimately became an unremarkable journeyman who played for six other teams. Quarterbacks for the Bears are in fact so collectively bad that if you visit Chicago and suggest there is a curse on Bears quarterbacks, no one will laugh. They've never had a 4000-yard quarterback. Their current quarterback, Jay Cutler, was expected to be a keystone after being a standout in Denver, but he's been pretty sporadic. (He's also wrongfully perceived as a wimp because he sat out the 2010 NFC Championship after a very nasty knee injury. Because Bears fans apparently think he wanted to watch the most important game of his life, which would have taken him to his ultimate goal, from the sideline.) Their 2006 Super Bowl run was directed under center by Rex Grossman, an otherwise excellent thrower who can't seem to grasp the concept of game management. When Cutler was injured last season, he was replaced by Caleb Hanie, possibly the worst quarterback I've ever seen. Yes, worse even than Trent Dilfer.
The true greats of the Bears have shined on defense. Dick Butkus is mentioned alongside Lawrence Taylor as one of the league's golden name linebackers, and Mike Singletary is a top ten name too. Richard Dent is in the Hall of Fame at defensive end. Bill George played alongside Butkus, Bulldog Turner helped anchor the 40's dynasty, and even Red Grange and Sid Luckman stood out as cornerbacks. Bears running backs read like the roster of an NFL legends team: Red Grange, Bronko Nagurski, George McAfee, Gale Sayers, and Walter Payton. Particularly those last two, both of whom are frequently evoked in running back conversations beginning with the words "the next..." Sayers was known as the light speed demon, and is now known as the only guy in the league willing to try to denounce Devin Hester. Payton was known as the all-around workhorse back who would do a bit of everything - including rack up the all-time record for rushing yardage, which he held until Emmitt Smith broke it in 2002.
The Bears are rivals with the Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, and Detroit Lions. They have the most hate for the Packers, who live in northern Wisconsin. The two teams are first and second in the number of league titles won. The Packers have more titles (13 as opposed to nine) but the Bears have more overall victories and lead the all-time series between the two. The Bears also have an established rivalry with the Arizona Cardinals, with whom they shared their city until 1960, and this rivalry decided quite a few of the NFL's early title contests. Naturally, it's very cooled these days, although it can come back every now and then. The most notable recent game between the Bears and Cardinals was in a 2006 Monday Night Football game in which Arizona ran up a 23-0 halftime lead, only to lose the game in spite of preventing the Bears from scoring any touchdowns on offense. The meltdown resulted in Arizona's coach giving one of the most humorously indecipherable speeches ever heard - the now-famous "They're Who We Thought They Were!" speech.
The Bears are also a constant staple of pop culture. The most notable form of this has been the classic TV movie Brian's Song, a very popular drama chronicling the friendship between Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo. Piccolo helped Sayers rehabilitate after a devastating knee injury, and the two became friends and stayed friends as Piccolo later lost a battle to lung cancer. The movie was originally released in 1971 and starred Billy Dee Williams and James Caan. In 2001, the movie was remade with Mekhi Phifer and Sean Maher. In the 1980's and 90's, Bears fandom became a staple of Saturday Night Live, as Bill Swerski's Superfans became a recurring sketch which introduced the phrase "Da Bears!" to the world outside Chicagoland. The sketch featured George Wendt, a Chicago native, as host of a talk program in which Mike Ditka could do no wrong. The sketch usually showed the show's cast members eating sausage and drinking beer, and one of them having a Bears-induced heart attack. Wendt reprised his role just before the 2006 Super Bowl, in which the Bears played against the Indianapolis Colts. There are many TV shows which are based in Chicago, and on many of these shows the Bears are the household favorite. The classic sitcom That 70's Show also makes a lot of Bears references, since the characters live in Wisconsin and cheer for the Packers. Brian Urlacher once made an appearance on Entourage, and Mike Ditka's fiery, blunt personality has made him a popular media favorite.
The Bears can or did at one point lay claim to a lot of NFL records. Walter Payton was once the all-time NFL rushing leader. He was surpassed in 2002 by Emmitt Smith, and Lions fans contend that Barry Sanders (third all-time rushing) could have broken it a lot sooner and blown it completely out of proportion had he played his remaining good years. (I believe that myself.) George Halas holds coaching records for most seasons coached with a ridiculous 40, which resulted in his record 324 career victories as coach. Return specialist Devin Hester holds the record for return touchdowns, with 18 and counting. The Bears have over 700 wins as a team, which is unsurpassed, and nine titles, a record surpassed only by Green Bay. The 1940 title game set the records for biggest blowout, most points, and widest margin or victory.
Though the Bears struggled last season - finishing 8-8, third in their division - the sight of their navy and orange uniforms and iconic C logo is always welcome among Chicagoans who love their team and appreciate the sense of history and tradition they hold. While the winters in Chicago are notoriously difficult, you'll always find people at Soldier Field, bearing down themselves in what is called Bear Weather coming off the harsh Lake Michigan environment, ready to watch their team smash and grind any unlucky opponent that has the misfortune to play against them this week. They are one of the league's truly great teams, and if my hypothetical no-team fan likes trench football, he won't find any team where that mentality has been better exhibited than with the Monsters of the Midway.