Friday, February 10, 2012

VanderBears: Jay Cutler Now and Bill Wade Then

Current Bear fans know some of the former Vanderbilt University players who play in navy blue and burnt orange. Although the injury bug has disrupted their play, the Bears have four talented former Commodores on the team.

Fans know that Jay Cutler and Earl Bennett were Commodores--it seems natural that this passer-receiver combination is one with great chemistry. Injuries to both players this past year prevented the tandem from reaching it's potential, but the combination has been one of the highlights of the Bears passing game the past few seasons.

Chris Williams is another former Commodore, but unfortunately his 2011 season was cut short as well. Then there is D.J. Moore starting nickelback who also played at Vandy. And fans will also remember former Commodore Hunter Hillenmeyer who played linebacker for the Bears before retiring last spring due in large part to multiple concussions.

Bill Wade in 1963

But Bears ties to the Vanderbilt Commodores goes back a ways. Many older fans remember the very tough and determined Bill Wade who led the Bears to an NFL Championship in 1963.

Bill Wade was an outstanding quarterback at Vanderbilt University--set school passing records, and was selected SEC Player of the Year in 1951. Ruggedly handsome, his photo graced the front cover of Look Magazine in its September 1949 Issues. He served for two years in the Navy before he joined the Los Angeles Rams who had made Wade their top pick in the bonus draft. The Bears acquired Bill Wade the established pro quarterback 51 years ago in 1961. Wade took the Bears to the NFL Championship in 1963. He scored both Bear touchdowns on quarterback sneaks in the 14-10 defeat of the Y.A. Tittle-led New York Giants.

Today's fan would recognize the qualities of the 1963 Bears Team--tough hard nosed defense (ranked among the 10 best Bears defenses of all time in some places) with an offense that featured a tough former Vandy QB. Bill Wade fit well into the Bears team persona. He was tough, resilient and when he ran, he was not likely to slide--opposing defenders had to take him down like a running back.

Wade's Softer Side

Bears Senior Director Patrick McCaskey, grandson of George "Papa Bear" Halas, recalls Wade being especially kind and attentive.

“When I was seven, I started going to Bears training camps with Papa Bear George Halas. Bill Wade taught us how to play quarterback. After the Bears two-a-day practices, Bill Wade tutored me in the fundamentals of quarterbacking. Before each session, he would reach down on the ground and find a four-leaf clover. That would mean we would have a good workout.”[Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout by Patrick McCaskey]

Although he played for the Bears during a period when the Bears defense dominated, Wade's numbers were impressive. In his 13-year career, Wade attempted 2523 passes, completed 1370 for 18,530 yards, giving him a 54.3% completion rate and 124 touchdowns.

Yet, Another Side of Wade

It might surprise football fans today to know that the NFL was not without its devout players throughout its history. Bill Wade did a little quiet evangelizing a long time before Tim Tebow came along. In 1962, Wade’s “Quarterback for Christ” (pamphlet) was published with the American Tract Society. In Wade’s Tract, he describes his faith and his commitment to Christ. Wade also uses sports metaphorically saying that we must “exercise ourselves spiritually to win our everyday battles.”

Bears fans should never forget our first former Commodore Quarterback, Bill Wade.

Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of  Pillars of the NFL: Coaches Who Won Three or More Championships, The 10 Commandments of Baseball: An Affectionate Look at Joe McCarthy's Principles for Baseball (and Life), Public Bonehead, Private Hero: The Real Legacy of Baseball's Fred Merkle, Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout, and Maddie Takes the Ice. Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout by Patrick McCaskey includes the author's stories of Christian athletes (like Bill Wade), coaches and ordinary people who have been an inspiration.