Chicago Bears football

Chicago Bears football (Photo by PJiiiJane on Shutterstock)

Chicago is known for its delicious deep-dish pizza, beautiful Lakeshore Drive, and passionate sports fans who love cheering for their hometown teams such as the Cubs, Bulls, and, of course, Da Bears. The Bears are one of the oldest teams in the National Football League (NFL) and the team has been playing football in Chicago for well over 100 years. Undoubtedly, the Bears have had some legendary players come through the organization, and the team has more Hall of Fame inductees than any other franchise in the NFL. However, only a handful of players can be called the best Bears players of all time. 

But, before we dive into the list, let’s look at the lengths fans are willing to go to watch their favorite sports teams play in person. A recent study found that the average sports fan is willing to travel to see their favorite team play in person. A survey of 2,000 self-identified sports fanatics examined the lengths people are willing to go to in order to watch their favorite sports team play in person. The survey found that the average fan is willing to travel a whopping five hours and 48 minutes plus spend $762.20 on tickets just to see their favorite team play live. Sounds like a great way to spend a vacation in Chicago and watch the Bears play at Soldier Field at the same time. 

Unfortunately, fans of the Chicago Bears haven’t seen a Super Bowl championship since the team won Super Bowl XX (20) in the 1985 NFL season. The lack of winning could have some fans thinking the team is cursed. Chicago fans know all about curses, but a recent study suggests that over half of sports fans are superstitious. A survey of 2,400 American sports fans found that 62 percent of fans have blamed themselves for their team’s loss. Furthermore, nearly 40 percent of those fans feel like a family member is bad luck and has even asked that person to leave on game days. Of course, if you’re from Chicago and your family member is a Packers fan, then you’ve probably made them leave already. 

So, which players are considered the greatest in franchise history? StudyFinds did the research, consulting 10 football and sports-related websites in an effort to bring you a list of the best Bears players of all time. Our list comprises the five most frequently listed football legends from across these sites. Think your favorite Bear was snubbed? Feel free to share your thoughts with us in the comments section below! 

Walter Payton statue outside of Soldier Field, home to the Chicago Bears
Walter Payton statue outside of Soldier Field, home to the Chicago Bears (Photo by Hendrickson Photography on Shutterstock)

The List: Best Bears Players of All Time, According to Experts 

1. Walter Payton (1975 – 1987)

Easily topping the lists of the best Chicago Bears players of all time is none other than “Sweetness,” Walter Payton. He is widely regarded as one of the best running backs in the history of the NFL, and one of the most legendary names to ever come through the Chicago Bears organization. 

“Sweetness. Walter Payton’s legendary career leaves him with a reputation as the greatest Bear—and one of the greatest players ever in professional football. Payton played 13 years in the NFL and ran for over 1,000 yards in 10 of those seasons. Over his career, he was selected to nine Pro Bowls and was named first-team All-Pro seven times along the way. At the time of his retirement in 1987, he held NFL records for rush yards and touchdowns. Both records have since been broken, but Payton still holds virtually every running back–related record for the Bears’ franchise,” explains Sports Illustrated

Payton is responsible for some of the best runs in NFL history. Sweetness revolutionized the running back position by leaping over defenders en route to the endzone. Payton would get a head of steam and catapult himself over the “scrum” of linemen and land gracefully in the endzone. 

“‘Sweetness’ retired as the NFL’s all-time leading rusher (16,726) and rushing touchdown scorer (110). He played in 198 out of a possible 199 career games and posted at least 100 rushing yards in 77 of those contests. A five-time first-team All-Pro, Payton won the 1977 MVP award and earned a Super Bowl trophy after the 1985 campaign. One of the greatest NFL players of all time, Payton was arguably a better person, and the league’s Man of the Year Award is named in his honor,” adds Pro Football Network

Payton could catch, run, and throw for touchdowns. In fact, he holds the record for most touchdown passes by a non-quarterback (eight). “Payton was drafted out of Jackson State and was touted as a generational running back. To put it simply, he proved the analysts right. In 1977, Payton was a one-man wrecking crew and walked away with NFL MVP for leading the league in scrimmage yards and carrying the Bears to the playoffs. After some struggles through Payton’s tenure early in his career, the 1985 Bears went 15-1 thanks to their smashmouth offense and all-time great defense. They went on a dominant playoff run and beat the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, 46-10, cementing their status as the greatest team of all time,” writes Yardbarker

2. Dick Butkus (1965 – 1973)

Next up on the list of the best players in Chicago Bears history is the living legend, Dick Butkus. This middle linebacker was responsible for some of the biggest hits in NFL history. Butkus was as feared a linebacker as there ever was, and this NFL Hall of Famer could single-handedly destroy an opponent’s offensive gameplan with one big tackle on the ball carrier. 

“Speaking of intensity, no player in league history was more intimidating than Dick Butkus, who set the tone for what it meant to play in the middle of the Bears’ defense. The original Monster of the Midway made more bone-jarring tackles than anyone else during his era and was just as skilled at defending the pass, evidenced by his 22 career interceptions,” explains The Sportster

Butkus was enormous compared to other players. The Bears drafted Dick Butkus from the University of Illinois, so he’s somewhat of a homegrown player. “Butkus was selected to eight Pro Bowls and was all-league six times. In his rookie season, Butkus led the Bears in tackles, interceptions, forced fumbles, and fumble recoveries, and regularly led the team in these categories throughout his career. Butkus recovered 27 fumbles in his career, an NFL record at the time of his retirement. He was one of the most feared players of his era and even appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1970 with the caption ‘The Most Feared Man in the Game.’ He had one of his most productive seasons in 1970 with 132 tackles, 84 assists, 3 interceptions and 2 fumble recoveries. He was forced to retire after multiple knee injuries in 1973,” adds The Grueling Truth

“Dick Butkus was never afraid to lay the hammer down on someone, which quickly made him a fan favorite with the Bears. As violent as Butkus was on the field, he was also a textbook tackler that rarely missed tackles. Butkus only played nine years in the NFL, but he still is considered one of the best linebackers in the league’s history. Butkus’s best season was in 1965 as a rookie when he had five interceptions. He finished his career playing in 119 games, picking off 22 interceptions, and recovering 27 fumbles,” furthers Clutch Points

3. Mike Singletary (1981 – 1992)

Another middle linebacker, “Samurai” Mike roamed the turf at Soldier Field for over 10 seasons, and his name will forever be etched in Chicago Bear lore. “He called the shots in the middle of the Bears’ defense on their famous 1985 squad. He earned the Defensive Player of the Year award for his efforts, but that was only one of his countless accomplishments, as he was also selected to a franchise-high ten Pro Bowls and named an All-Pro eight times. Samurai Mike’s piercing glare struck fear into the hearts of opposing offenses throughout his career, and he was one of the most intense players in league history,” writes The Sportster

Mike Singletary attends the Bart Starr Awards, 2017
Mike Singletary attends the Bart Starr Awards, 2017 (Photo by Jamie Lamor Thompson on Shutterstock)

Samurai Mike was one intense dude on the football field, hence the nickname. Still, he was perhaps the most passionate player that Bears fans have ever seen. His awareness and willingness to make a play on the football separated Singletary from other linebackers of his era. 

“Known as the ‘Heart of the Defense’ during the Bears’ 1980s success, Singletary is perhaps more synonymous with the ‘Monsters of the Midway’ than any other Chicago player. He won the Defensive Player of the Year award in 1985 while leading the Bears to a Super Bowl win and won DPOY again three years later. A 10-time Pro Bowler, Singletary only missed two games over the course of his career,” adds Pro Football Network

Singletary was an extremely smart football player, and when opposing quarterbacks saw his intense eyeballs light up, they knew they had made a mistake. As a player, he was a great leader, which eventually led him into coaching

“Singletary was the motivational leader of the 1985 Bears defense. Thanks to him, the Monsters of the Midway were back and better than ever. He was passionate about the game of football and demonstrated a high football IQ and determination. In the golden era of the Bears, Singletary was calling the shots on defense. The two-time AP Defensive Player of the Year is remembered as [one] of the greatest linebackers of all time. After his playing career ended, he became a coach,” explains Yardbarker

4. Mike Ditka (1961 – 1966)

The next player on the list of the best Chicago Bears of all time is synonymous with the team – “Iron” Mike Ditka. Mike Ditka might be best remembered for being the head coach of that all-time great 1985 Bears team, but “Da Coach” is one of the best tight ends in NFL history and that all started playing for the Bears. 

“Mike Ditka, commonly known as Da Coach, played a huge role for the Bears’ organization. Ditka was picked five overall by Chicago in the 1961 NFL Draft, went on to win Rookie of the Year and then set the franchise record with 12 touchdown receptions as a rookie. Ditka made the Pro Bowl in his first five seasons with Chicago and was first-team All-Pro in four of them. He was named second-team All-Pro in his last two seasons with the Bears. He also holds the team record for touchdown receptions in a game with four,” explains Sports Illustrated

Mike Ditka was as tough as they came as both a player and a coach. Still, Iron Mike was a gifted athlete, and he was one of the first pass-catching tight ends. Until then, tight ends were used mostly as blockers in the run game, and extra offensive linemen if you will. Players like Mike Ditka and Ozzie Newsome helped the tight end position evolve into what it is today – a versatile offensive weapon.   

“The best Bears head coach in history not named George Halas, Ditka was also an outstanding tight end. Although he only spent six years in Chicago before moving on to the Eagles and Cowboys, Ditka was dominant during his time in the Windy City. He won the Offensive Rookie of the Year award in 1961 and averaged a 62-918-8 receiving line over his first four seasons with the Bears before becoming the first tight end elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame,” writes Pro Football Network

Again, Ditka really broke the mold for tight ends. He was a pioneer at the position. However, most fans remember Ditka as the coach of one of the greatest NFL teams in history – the 1985 Bears. Simply put, Ditka is a winner. 

“Ditka and Tom Flores are the only people to win an NFL title as a player, an assistant coach, and a head coach. Ditka, Flores and Gary Kubiak are also the only people in modern NFL history to win a championship as head coach of a team he played for previously. Ditka was the only person to participate in both of the last two Chicago Bears’ championships, as a player in 1963 and as head coach in 1985. He is known by the nickname ‘Iron Mike,’ which he has said comes from his being born and raised in a steel town in Pennsylvania,” notes The Grueling Truth

5. Brian Urlacher (2000 – 2012)

Rounding out the list of the best players in Chicago Bears franchise history is another first-ballot Hall of Fame linebacker – Brian Urlacher. Like Butkus, Urlacher was a big linebacker who could make plays on the football in space. Urlacher was a high draft pick of the Bears and he led the tough Bears defenses of the early and mid-2000s. 

“For 13 seasons, Urlacher was the heart and soul of the Bears defense. The stats don’t really jump off the page for Urlacher, but for a middle linebacker, it’s about more than just the stats. He did finish his career with 1,779 tackles, 41.5 sacks, and 22 interceptions. He was named to the Pro Bowl eight different times and first-team All-Pro four teams. In 2005, he was also named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Back in 2018, Urlacher was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame,” explains Clutch Points

Urlacher was a physical specimen on the football field. However, it wasn’t until Urlacher was paired with long-time Bears head coach Lovie Smith that his full potential was reached. Smith brought in a Tampa 2 defensive scheme that allowed Urlacher to freely roam all over the field, truly utilizing his speed and size. 

“Speaking of physical freaks, Brian Urlacher was just about as imposing as a middle linebacker could be. The six-foot-four, 255-pounder played safety while at the University of New Mexico, and it showed, as he had the speed to keep up with receivers down the seam. Likewise, he also played with an intensity against the run that few players could match. Urlacher manned the middle of Chicago’s Tampa 2 defense for 13 years and maintained the level of greatness expected from the position. The eight-time Pro Bowler had virtually no weaknesses in his game and is one of the greatest middle linebackers in league history,” notes The Sportster.  

Urlacher was known for making big interceptions and having the ability to take turnovers back the other way for defensive touchdowns. Once the Bears surrounded Urlacher with a few more defensive playmakers, he led the Bears to the Super Bowl one year after earning a Defensive Player of the Year Award.  

“Urlacher introduced himself to the NFL by winning the 2000 AP Defensive Rookie of the Year award. The eight-time Pro Bowler was a dynamic playmaker who disrupted plays on a down-by-down basis. He was the last player you’d want to get hit by. Besides Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, no one was better at the position in the mid-2000s. Urlacher won the 2005 AP Defensive Player of the Year award. The following season, he led the Bears to the Super Bowl, where they lost to Peyton Manning’s Indianapolis Colts. He also took the team to the 2010 NFC Championship Game, a heartbreaking loss to the Green Bay Packers, their arch nemesis. He retired in 2012 and was a first-ballot Hall of Famer,” explains Yardbarker

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2 Comments

  1. Ronald E. Roden says:

    Clearly, Gayle Sayers is one of the 5 best Chicago Bears of all time. While his career was cut short, the beauty, grace and explosive nature of his performance was second to none.

    1. DeWALTer White says:

      Agreed. I love Urlacher but but Sayers should be ahead of him.