Thursday, September 11, 2014

Bill George, Chicago Bears First Great Middle Linebacker

Most football fans are too young to remember Bill George. His name doesn’t come up in a lot of conversations these days, but he was a one of the best and a trend-setter. George was born in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, a coal mining region about 60 miles southwest of Pittsburgh. George came from Lebanese stock and was 6-foot-2 and a very solid 237 pounds.  He played his college ball at Wake Forest University as a defensive tackle.  George competed in the Southern Conference Wrestling Championships as a heavyweight and won the league title three consecutive years even though the school had no wrestling program. He was drafted in 1951 and played middle guard for the Bears in 1952. He was a ferocious competitor and feared throughout the league. George was known for his tenacity and strength. He played for the Bears from 1952 to 1965.  

In those days, the middle guard was usually positioned at the line. On a pass, he would make contact with the offensive center and then drop back and cover. George decided that the contact was slowing him down and so on a passing play, he would drop back before the play was underway. In this way he was able to fill the space better and disrupt the shortest of passes in the middle. George’s middle guard position morphed into what we call today the middle linebacker.

The middle linebacker quickly became a position that required all the defensive skills rolled into one: excellent sure handed tackling, pass rushing, pass defense, shedding blockers, quickness and speed---and extreme toughness to take a beating and dish one out. The unique central position on the field, several steps back of the line, also gave the middle linebacker a fine vision of the field. The middle linebacker became the field general that “quarterbacked” the defense.

Bill George was an eight-time Pro Bowler who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1974. He was key member of the Bears great 1963 Championship team. Sadly, Bill George died in a car crash in 1982. 

Bill George is a colorful Bears' great that fans should know and appreciate.

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