COMMENTARY | I will admit, I am nervous about this.
We are in the middle of March Madness and brackets are in vogue. Making a bracket to determine who the greatest Chicago Bear of all time is seems like fun in theory, but is painful in practice.
The Chicago Bears are such a storied franchise that picking the greatest players in their history is daunting. A few great players didn't make the cut. I know for a fact that I will be hearing it in the comments because Dan Hampton didn't make it.
That being said, I have figured out who I think are the eight greatest players to don a Bears uniform and seeded them accordingly. They are as follows:
1. Walter Payton
2. George Halas
3. Mike Ditka
4. Dick Butkus
5. Mike Singletary
6. Gale Sayers
8. Devin Hester
The first round matchups will be as follows:
Payton (1) vs. Hester (8)
Butkus (4) vs. Singletary (5)
Halas (2) vs. Urlacher (7)
Ditka (3) vs. Sayers (6)
Let's get started.
Walter Payton vs. Devin Hester
I don't think I need to say who wins this matchup, so I will instead take the time to defend my inclusion of Devin Hester.
Hester is the best returner ever. No one in the NFL is scarier to kick to and for good reason. He holds the NFL record for most special teams return touchdowns and he is still lightning fast.
That being said, there is no upset here. Sweetness wins easily. Hester might be the best special teams player ever, but Walter Payton is the best running back ever. I think that is all that needs to be said.
Dick Butkus vs. Mike Singletary
This one is a bit closer. Butkus and Singletary were both dominant middle linebackers. Both are Hall of Famers. Both are great Chicago Bears. Singletary won more than Butkus, but a middle linebacker is rarely the guy who decides games for a team.
I give the nod to Butkus, because he set the precendent for what it is to be a great Chicago Bears middle linebacker. The identity of being a hard nosed, defensive minded, grind it out football team goes back to Butkus, even if his Bears teams were not as successful as Singletary's. The lineage of great Bears linebackers starts with Butkus, so he moves on in a close one.
George Halas vs. Brian Urlacher
George Halas was in the Hall of fame before the Super Bowl was even played. That speaks volumes. Urlacher crumbles at the feet of Papa Bear.
Mike Ditka vs. Gale Sayers
This is probably the hardest first-round matchup. The biggest knock against Iron Mike is that he wasn't a career Bear as either a coach or a player. However, he was the head coach of arguably the greatest football team of all time. He also revolutionized the tight end position.
Ditka caught 56 passes in his rookie season with the Bears and became the first tight end to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. He was also a part of the Bears for their last two championships (1963 as a player, 1985 as head coach).
Gale Sayers was electric for the Bears for his first few seasons with the team. He is a two time rushing champion, four time Pro Bowler and five time All Pro. He still holds the NFL record for touchdowns scored by a rookie with 22. Sayers' biggest downfall is that his career was ended prematurely by knee injuries.
Ditka broke new ground as a pass catching tight end and is one of the most beloved personalities in the history of Chicago sports, not just the Bears. He gets the nod in a close one.
The end of Round One gave us no major upsets. What does Round Two have in store?
Round Two Matchup: Walter Payton vs. Dick Butkus
This is really, really hard. I am going to come out and say right now that Walter Payton moves on.
Walter's speed, toughness and agility while running the football are unmatched. He makes running the football look like art. As I said earler, he is the best player to ever play running back.
Butkus is great. This video is a must watch if you like people hitting other people really hard. By all accounts, he was dominant and feared.
It is harder for me to definitively say that Butkus is better than say Ray Lewis or Lawrence Taylor. In fact, I don't even completely know if I made the right choice by picking him over Singletary.
Payton was the best player to ever play his position. If Walter would have played Gale Sayers in the first round, I wouldn't have thought twice. This distinction gives Walter Payton the victory.
Round Two Matchup: George Halas vs. Mike Ditka
Ditka and Halas are probably better known as being coaches than they are as players.
Simply put, I have no frame of reference for George Halas. The game that he played has changed so much from the game that even Ditka was playing.
I watch Mike Ditka playing football and it makes more sense to me. It is hard for me to connect to the way the game was played before World War II. Before Ditka, tight ends were primarily blockers. After Ditka, the tight end became a valuable weapon in the modern NFL offense.
If this were about the greatest figures in the Bears organization, Halas would get the nod. In this case, I have to go with Ditka, because his accomplishments as a player lead to the proliferation of Tony Gonzalez, Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham. He gets the shot to face Sweetness in the championship.
Championship Matchup: Walter Payton vs. Mike Ditka
Again, this bracket is to determine who the best players in Bears history are.
I could give you stats, numbers and all the other accomplishments of Walter Payton forever and ever and ever. Or I could just give you this. Watch that video and understand that this is the way that a running back is supposed to operate.
Most of what I could say about Ditka I said in his last matchup. He was a fantastic player, but even he once said that Walter Payton was the greatest football player that he had ever seen, but even greater as a human being.
Mike Ditka would pick Walter Payton as being the better player in this case. I think I will go with Iron Mike on this one.
The Greatest Chicago Bear of All Time: Walter Payton
Tyler Emken is a journalist and sports enthusiast out of central Illinois.