Monday, September 29, 2014

Golden Chicago Bears Who Could Play Today

There have been some recent discussions on former Chicago Bears from the past who could play in today's bigger, faster game.  Certainly several of the "Golden" Bears pop out at you when you read about their playing careers.  I'd define these Golden Bears as those who played 50 years ago and beyond (Sayers and Butkus are just a little too young for this discussion). 

Speed and Size 

Most people look at speed and size as two traits that separate modern players from players of the past.  Here are some Golden Bears who would probably be able to play today.


Red Grange


When Red Grange, the "Galloping Ghost,"  played in his early pro career, he was a superstar running back.  As a youth, he could play any sport that came his way and he was fast and allusive on the football field.  He was a not a big back, but he was not a small man either for a running back--about 5-foot-11--an inch taller than Walter Payton.  If you watch the old grainy dark film on Grange, you can see how fast he was--seemingly moving at a different speed than everyone else.  He could also change direction very fast, he had tremendous hip movements that fooled defenders,  and with a minimum amount of effort he was able to throw off tacklers with his arms.  Grange used everything he had when he ran.  George Halas thoughts on Red Grange.  

Grange was used up pretty fast as runner in professional football.  Injuries forced him to adjust and he ended up playing as a defensive back, where he was very good.  In some ways, Grange was a modern athlete before his time.  He had many lucrative endorsements and starred in a few silent movies including 

 Bronko Nagurski



Bronko and His Wife Eileen in 1936, Hennepin Cty. Library
Back when players lined up on defense and offense, there was Bronko Nagurski.  Nagurski was a one-of-a-kind fullback and linebacker who played in the 1930s.  “Bronk” had the size, strength, and speed of modern fullbacks coupled with the toughness of a freight train.  When he felt like he wasn't making enough money playing football, he quit and became a professional wrestler--he could travel and wrestle several night a week.  For a while, he wrestled and played football. 

The great poetic sports writer Grantland Rice thought Nagurski could play any position and there was no question that when the Bears needed something extra and Bronk put his mind to it, there was no man on earth who could stop him--it's that simple.  Not only would Nagurski make the team, he'd be a star today.

George Trafton


Trafton played center on offense and defense in the earliest years of the Bears.  He was innovative--he centered the ball with one hand on offense when most everyone else used two hands and he roamed around on defense.  But he was remembered for his toughness more than anything else.  His own teammate Red Grange said he was "the meanest, toughest man alive." According to his Hall of Fame biography,  one writer once joked that Trafton was strongly disliked in every city in the NFL with the exception of Green Bay and Rock Island.  In those places "he was hated."

 Sid Luckman


Sid Luckman was a football genius who was able to run the complex modified T Formation that the Bears used in the 1940s.  Luckman had two seasons in which he threw for over 2,000 yards and two more in which he threw for over 1,500.  He was the number one quarterback in passing yards and touchdowns in three seasons.  He was 6-foot and 200 pounds--a good size in his time and big enough now although not today's prototype.  I think the Hall of Famer would have found a good spot in today's NFL. 

"Jumbo" Joe Stydahar 


Joe Stydahar would not be challenged so much by size in today's game although he might move down one position on the line from tackle to guard.  The Pro Football Hall of Famer played from 1935 to 1946, but served in the war in 1943-1944.  The 6-foot-4, 233 pound tackle was powerful and fast.  The Bears won several championships during his time with them.  Halas selected Joe Stydahar in the first college draft in 1936.  Playing for West Virgina, not many people had heard of him at the time, but once he suited up for the Bears it didn't take long for everyone to recognize his value. 

George Connor

George Connor
Hall of Famer George Connor played tackle and linebacker on the Bears from 1948-1955.  The Adonis-like muscleman starred on both offense and defense--he played several positions on the line and linebacker.  According to Coach Halas: “He parlayed leadership and intelligence and fine ability into one of the great careers of our time!" When the Bears had to stop a powerful Philadelphia Eagles running attack in 1949, Connor, who was an agile and fast 6-foot-3 and 240 pound tackle, was moved to linebacker by Halas and staff.  His success there helped establish a larger prototype for that position.




George McAfee

 Hall of Famer George McAfee was an all-around great back who could run as well as receive; pass when called upon; and return kickoffs and punts.  As a defensive back, he had 25 interceptions.  He was always a threat to score whenever and wherever he got his hands on the ball.  No one will know how good McAfee would have been because he served in the military during his prime playing years, age 24-26. When he wasn't off to war, he played during the 1940-1950 Era. McAfee was a 6-foot 180 pound halfback, kick returner, and a defensive back.  McAfee was a break-away threat who scared the opposition every time he touched the ball.  Halas called him “one of the best players to every wear a Bear uniform.”


George Musso

George Musso, Hall of Fame lineman, played from 1933 to 1944.  At 6-foot-2 and 270 pounds, Musso was one of the most intimidating linemen on the Bears and served as team captain for nine years.  Musso was mammoth for his time and would fit right in today on the line.  

Clyde Bulldog Turner


The Bears won championships in 1940, 1941, 1943 and 1946.  One man who was an essential part of these championship wins was Clyde” Bulldog” Turner.  Turner was 6-foot-2 and 232 pounds.  He was the Bears center during the heyday of their modified T Formation with the gifted and intelligent Sid Luckman at quarterback.  Turner was an excellent blocker and versatile enough to fill in for other lineman at guard or tackle if needed.  On defense, Turner was known as a tough fast linebacker who had a nose for the ball.  Turner could play center today, he was tall enough, but he'd have to bulk up another 40 lbs.  

Rick Casares


Rick Casares was a very interesting and tough player.  He was 6-foot-2 and 226 pounds and had been a golden gloves boxing champion. Needless to say, he was one very tough guy.  Casares played with the Bears from 1955-1964.  He lit up the league in 1956 as the top rusher with 1,126 yards, the most touchdowns with 14, and the most rushing touchdowns with 12.  He would hold many rushing records for the Bears until the arrival of Walter Payton.

Doug Atkins


Doug Atkins
Atkins is one of the greatest Chicago Bears in the long franchise history. In today's parlance, Atkins would be called a "freak"--his extreme physical size was coupled with superb athletic skills that are rarely associated with someone of his physical type. Atkins went to the University of Tennessee to play basketball, but he was so strong and so superb an athlete that he was recruited for football. Even at 6-8, he was limber enough to be a high jumper.  Atkins size and athletic skills served him well on the Tennessee football field and he was named All-America in 1952. The Tennessee Volunteers went 29-3-1 and were crowned national champions in 1951 with Atkins at defensive end.  

After wreaking havoc on Tennessee opponents, Atkins went on to play professionally. Pro Football Hall of Famer Doug Atkins played in the NFL for 17 seasons. He is one of those athletes from the 50s-60s era who at 6-8, 257+ lbs. could play defensive end today. His play combined allusiveness, power, speed, and determination.

Bill George


Bill George
Bill 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, which morphed under his ingenuity into the middle linebacker position. George was a ferocious competitor and feared throughout the league and was the first of the great Bears middle linebackers. George was known for his tenacity and strength. He played for the Bears from 1952 to 1965.  Those who remember George have no doubt that he could be in the lineup today. 

Roosevelt Taylor


Rosey Taylor was a defensive back from Grambling who played for the Bears over 8 seasons and never missed a game.  He snagged 9 interceptions in the 1963 championship year.  He was 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds.  He was fast and returned kickoffs in his first season.  A fast durable safety who would fit in today. The Bears could use Rosey Taylor today.




 

George Blanda

Young George Blanda
 George Blanda is the Hall of Fame quarterback/kicker who had long "careers" with three different pro football teams. George Blanda spent 10 seasons with the Bears from 1949-1958.  He played quarterback, kicker, and occasionally linebacker for the Bears.  Halas believed Blanda’s strength was in kicking, but Blanda liked to play quarterback as well.  Blanda retired and then restarted his career, playing seven seasons with the newly formed AFC Houston Oilers and an incredible nine more seasons with the Oakland Raiders. With Houston, Blanda was the top rated quarterback in yards (1961, 1963)  and completions (1963-1965) during his stay there.  There is not much of an argument that Blanda could play in the modern era because essentially his career began over 50 years ago and lasted to the mid-70s.  Although 43 years old in 1970, Blanda filled in nicely as the Raiders' quarterback and led them into the post-season.



Mike Ditka


Mike Ditka, Hall of Fame tight end, had size, power, skill, and desire.  The 6-foot-3, 228 pound Ditka impressed football opponents with excellent receiving skills, the strength of an interior lineman, and the running ability of a halfback.  He played for the Bears from 1961-1966 and returned as head coach in 1982 to lead the Bears to their Super Bowl XX championship. There is little doubt that Ditka would make the grade today. 


Others Who Fit or Don't Fit 


There are several other Golden Bears who could have found a roster spot in modern times.  There are a few others who are Hall of Famers, but whose size might have made it very difficult today. 

Danny Fortmann is a Hall of Fame player who may not have found a roster spot in the modern game because of his size. Fortmann was undersized when he played as well.  He would likely be a player today who would move to another position, but that's a different argument for another post.  Fortmann was a 6-foot, 210 pound guard and linebacker in the late 1930s and early 1940s.   

John Paddy Driscoll was a contemporary of George Halas who was an excellent quarterback, halfback, drop-kicker, and punter.  Driscoll, later went on to a tremendous coaching career.  Driscoll was 5-foot-11 and only 160 pounds.  So to play today, he would either have to gain some weight or focus on kicking and punting.  Driscoll played in the days when drop kicks were used rather than placekicks; he had a 50 yard drop kick field goal. 

Ed Healey was a 6-foot-1 guard who weighed in at 207 pounds.  While playing for Rock Island against George Halas's Bears in 1921, Halas's  man could not handle Healey and Halas arranged to acquire his services.  He was not nearly heavy enough for a lineman today.  Again, like Fortmann, Healey was skilled and may have found a place somewhere else.





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