|This was the first Chicago Bear Championship team, when the team name was the Staleys|
This post details the elaborate history of the Chicago Bears American Football Club. The franchise is a charter-member of the National Football League and have played in all of the league's eighty-seven seasons. Throughout that span they have created a legacy in professional American football comparable to the New York Yankees in professional baseball. The Bears have captured nine NFL Championships – eight NFL Championships and one Super Bowl – second most all-time behind the Green Bay Packers. The franchise has also recorded more victories then any other franchise with 700, retired the most uniform numbers with thirteen, and have the most members in the Pro Football Hall of Fame with twenty-six.
The club has played in over a thousand games since becoming a charter member of the NFL in 1920. Through the 2010 season, they lead the NFL in overall franchise wins with 704 and have an overall record of 704–512–42 (going 722–530–42 during the regular season and 18–18 in the playoffs).
Early years: The formation of the league and Bear domination (1920–1946)
On September 17, 1920, 13 team representatives met in Canton, Ohio to create a new football league. In the interest of ticket sales and crowning a yearly champion, they decided to form the American Professional Football Association. On October 3, 1920, the Decatur Staleys played their first NFL game.
The Decatur Staleys
George Halas, then the player-coach of A.E. Staley's Decatur Staleys, was among the driving forces of this meeting, which gave birth to what exists now as the NFL. In their first season as part of the Association, the Staleys won 10 games, all by shutouts, but lost the first league championship to the Akron Pros, who finished the season unbeaten at 8–0–3. There was no official scheduling in the 1920 season, which accounted for the difference in the number of games played that season.
The Bears and Cardinals split the 1920 series, with the home team winning in each. In the Cardinals 7–6 victory over the Staleys in their first meeting of the season, each team scored a TD on a fumble recovery, with the Staleys failing their XP try. George Halas' 1920 Staleys went on to a 10–1–2 record overall, 5–1–2 in league play. The 1920 Akron Pros were the first ever league champions, they finished with an 8–0–3 record, 6–0–3 in league play, ending their season in a 0–0 tie against the Decatur Staleys. Thus, the Racine (Chi) Cardinals defeat of the Decatur Staleys earlier in the 1920 season meant that the Pros could simply play not to lose; they wisely did and became champions.
However, if the '20 Bears had not lost to the 1920 Cardinals, they would have gone into that fateful game with an 11–0–1 record, 6–0–1 in league play. The game would have literally been the first championship game as well as the first playoff game. The actual game in 1920 was not because the Buffalo All-Americans (9–1–1 in '20, 4–1–1 in league play, they outscored their opponents 258–32, losing only to the Canton Bulldogs 0–3), Staleys and Pros would have each had one loss had the Staleys won. Each team likely would have played more games (as it was allowed under the rules in those days) to allow teams to settle parity at the top of the standings.
The 1920 Racine (Chi) Cardinals did not allow that to happen though. They took one from their cross-town rivals and at the end of the season that one game meant George Halas and the Decatur Staleys would have to wait one more year to collect the first of their league championships as the 1921 Chicago Staleys. It meant that the 1920 Akron Pros could play for a tie and still be assured of being the first ever league champions. Moreover, it meant that the Bears and Cardinals were rivals and always would be rivals.
First years in Chicago
The Staleys moved to Chicago from Decatur, IL in 1921. Halas, who was given the team and $5000 by Staley to keep the name Staleys for another year, made the move. In the 1921 season, the Chicago Staleys finished first in the league and captured their first league championship.
In 1922, Halas changed the team name to the Bears to reflect baseball's Chicago Cubs, the team's host at Wrigley Field. Over the next few years, the Bears were ranked among the elite teams in the NFL, but could never capture an NFL Championship because the league did not have a playoff system. Instead it had a somewhat controversial scheduling formula, which led to uneven standings and controversial champions. The highlight of the decade was George Halas's unprecedented move to sign Red Grange for $100,000 in 1925. In 1925, professional football was viewed negatively by Americans, as most Americans loved college football which they saw as a pure sport. Halas, though, took the Bears on a 17 game road trip across America to highlight Grange. The tour began on Thanksgiving at Wrigley Field as the Chicago Cardinals held the Galloping Ghost to just 36 yards in his professional debut, the city rivals battling to a 0–0 tie. However, during the tour that continued through January 31, the Bears posted an impressive 11–4–2 record.
This road trip impressed many Americans, boosting the prospects of many debt-ridden teams such as the New York Giants. Grange left the Bears after a contract dispute in 1926 and moved to establish his own league, the first incarnation of the American Football League. That league folded after one season and Grange's New York Yankees were admitted into the NFL. Grange injured his knee in his first game against the Bears in 1927 and was forced to sit out the 1928 season. He returned to Chicago in 1929, but the Bears ended the decade with a losing season as Halas retired as player and coach of the Bears and appointed Ralph Jones as his successor.
|Team photo of the league champion 1932 Bears team.|
The Bears of the 1930s were remembered for being led by a ferocious tandem of Bronko Nagurski and Red Grange, playing in the newly established NFL Championship Game four times and claiming the league title twice.
After completing the 1930 season with a record of 9–4–1, the Bears and Cardinals played in the first indoor football game on December 15 at Chicago Stadium in a charity game for those affected by the Great Depression. Due to the size limitations of the indoor arena, the length of the football field was only 80 yards. The Bears beat their city rivals 9–7. In the 1932 season, the Bears and Portsmouth Spartans tied for first place in the league. The teams played an "unofficial" championship playoff game, held on December 18 at Chicago Stadium. The Bears won the game 9–0 and captured the NFL Championship before 11,198 fans.
The popularity of the game prompted the NFL to institute various rule changes for the 1933 season, including the splitting of the league into two geographical divisions and the establishment of an officially scheduled championship game to determine the NFL champion.
In 1933, George Halas made his return to coaching the Bears. Halas led the Bears to win the first ever Western Division title and the first ever NFL Championship Game. The Bears again captured the championship in a nail biter against the New York Giants, 23–21 as Red Grange made the game-winning tackle. In 1934, the Bears dominated the league and finished 13–0, but were denied perfection, losing 30–13 to the Giants in the NFL Championship, what became known as the "Sneakers Game."
The Bears would play in the Championship game two more times in the decade, losing both of them. In 1935 and 1936, the Bears remained somewhat competitive, but failed to qualify for the Championship Game. In 1937, the Bears made a return trip to the NFL Championship, but fell short as Sammy Baugh and the Redskins won, 28–21. In 1938, the Bears fell off the NFL map, with a record of 6–5. The Bears finished off the 1930s on a down note, losing twice to the Green Bay Packers in 1939.
During the late 1930s George Halas and University of Chicago football coach Clark Shaughnessy collaborated on a revolutionary approach to the offense and the quarterback position. The result was the T-formation offense and the first evolution of the modern quarterback. A complex scheme that required an athletic player with quick decision skills led Halas to recruit Columbia University quarterback Sid Luckman. He turned the position into an engine for a high powered and time-consuming scoring machine.
Dynasty: Monsters of the Midway
|1946 Chicago Bears Championship Team|
From 1940 to 1946, the Bears were considered a dynasty. In these years, the nickname Monsters of the Midway was first attributed to the Bears. In this span, the Bears went to 5 championships and won 4 of them. This is despite George Halas temporarily leaving the organization to serve in World War II, from 1943 to 1945.
In the 1940 NFL Championship, Halas introduced his T-formation offense, with Sid Luckman at quarterback. This formation shocked and confused the Redskins all day as the Bears won 73–0, an NFL record that stands to this day. The T-formation was soon widely copied at the college and pro levels.
In 1941, the Bears and Packers battled to a 10–1–0 tie for 1st place in the Western Division. Since the teams split their two regular season match-ups, which turned out to be each team's only loss of the season, a one-game playoff was set up. The Bears won 33–14, moving on to rout the Giants 37–9 in the NFL Championship.
In 1942, the Bears started the season off well before Halas departed for World War II. His handpicked successors Hunk Anderson and Luke Johnsos ran the team for the next three years until Halas returned. The Bears finished the regular season 11–0 and played the Redskins in the Championship game. The Redskins spoiled the Bears attempt at a perfect season; with a 14–6 upset preventing the Bears from three-peating. In the 1943 season, the Bears dominated the Western Division behind the quarterbacking of Luckman, who threw for 433 yards and seven TDs that season in a single game versus the New York Giants. In the Championship game, the Redskins were no challenge to the Bears as the crowd of 34,320 at Wrigley Field watched the Bears win 41–21 behind Sid Luckman's five TDs and Nagurski's final TD run.
The Bears' domination of the NFL took a slight fall in as the Bears posted a mediocre result in 1944 and a losing season in 1945. "Papa Bear" Halas made a return to the Bears in 1946. The Bears were able to find their old magic again, with many players returning from service in the war, finishing the regular season 8–2–1 to claim another Western Division title and a return trip to the Championship game. The Bears won their last Championship of the decade over the New York Giants, 24–14, before a then NFL Championship Game record crowd of 58,346 at the Polo Grounds in New York. This would be the Bears' last Championship for the next 16 years.
Middle years: The rough years (1947–1981)
During this span of 34 seasons, the Bears had a combined record of 237–224–9. Seventeen of those seasons finished with a record of .500 or better. Out of those seventeen seasons, they won the NFL Western Division twice. Also, they qualified for the playoffs only five times, while losing the 1956 NFL Championship and then winning the 1963 NFL Championship. Despite these rough years, players like Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus thrived in their careers.
The decline from the top
In 1947, The Bears got off to a slow start by losing their first two games. The team rebounded however and quickly ran off an eight-game winning streak to get back into the race for first place in the Western Division. After losing to the Los Angeles Rams 17–14 in the second to last game of the season, the Bears and Chicago Cardinals faced off in the final game of the season, with the Western Division title on the line. Despite it being a home game for the Bears at Wrigley Field the Cardinals came in and would stun the Bears 30–21 en route to the 1947 NFL Championship. In 1948, for the second season in a row, the Bears put together another great regular season but fell short to their inner city rival Cardinals. The Bears posted a 10–2 record, but lost a key game against the Cardinals that gave them the Western Division Championship.
In 1949, The Bears continued to be one of the best teams in the NFL. However, they fell one game short of making the Championship game again. The Bears' success continued into 1950 as they began the new decade in style by finishing 9–3, which was good enough to earn them a tie for the Western Division with the Los Angeles Rams and play in the Conference Playoff against them. However, the Bears were unable to slow down the high-powered Ram offense in a 24–14 loss in Los Angeles, California as the Rams advanced to the NFL Championship Game.
In 1951, The Bears got off to a streaking start winning five of their first six games. The magic faded in the second half as they collapsed, winning just 2 of their final 6 games as they finished in 4th place in the conference with a mediocre record of 7–5. In the 1952 season, the Bears' defense struggled all season as they allowed a wretched 326 points and the team finished below .500 for the first time since 1945, finishing in 5th place with a record of 5–7. The team's struggles continued into 1953 as most of their superstars from the 1940s dynasty were now retired the Bears finished 3–8–1, and, for the first time in team history, the Bears posted back-to-back losing seasons. One notable occurrence in the 1953 season was that the NFL's first modern era African-American quarterback, Willie Thrower played in his 1st and only game against the San Francisco 49ers. Like Thrower's career in the NFL, the Bears troubles were short lived, as they rose up in 1954 to the Bears of old. The team got back into the league playoff picture by posting a solid record of 8–4, good enough for 2nd place in the division, but not an appearance in the Championship game.
In 1955, the team posted a second consecutive 8–4 season, 2nd place again, as Head Coach George Halas called it quits for the third time in his coaching career. Halas replaced himself with former team standout Paddy Driscoll. Driscoll's success would be highlighted in his first season with the team. In 1956, Paddy Driscoll led the Bears to put together a solid 9–2–1 season and to beat out fellow Midwest rival Detroit Lions by a half a game for the 1956 Western Division Championship. The magical season though ended sourly as the Bears were no match for the New York Giants in the 1956 NFL Championship, as the Bears were blasted in a 47–7 rout in New York City. The magic of the championship season was short lived though as in 1957 the Bears dropped from first to below .500 with a 5–7 record. This prompted Halas to quickly fire Driscoll and return to the sidelines.
In George Halas's return to the sidelines in 1958, the Bears rebounded off the disappointing losing season by challenging for the Western Division Championship all season before faltering at the end and finishing in a second place tie with an 8–4, one game away from the Championship Game. The Bears closed out the decade in 1959 with yet another consecutive 8–4 finish that was only good enough for second place in the division. The 1950s gave way to Bear greats such as Ed "The Claw" Sprinkle, Bill George, George Connor, and Harlon Hill.
The end of the decade also marked the first time in team history that the Bears did not win an NFL Championship during a decade. This was a sign of the downfall that the Bears were about to encounter. Halas, always the resilient innovator, found a young assistant in George Allen. A tireless and detail oriented young coach, Allen quickly created innovations such as thick play books for training camps, the first glimpses of deceptive schemes and exhaustive research for the NFL draft. With the support of George Halas, Allen turned the draft into a windfall for future Hall of Fame talent.
One more championship for Halas
|Dick Butkus was one of the most dominating of the Bears players|
The Bears start off the 1960s as the only team in Chicago as the Cardinals decided to move to St Louis. As for the 1960 season, the Bears finished a disappointing 5–6–1 in 5th place in the NFL Western Conference. In the 1961 season, the Bears rebounded off a losing season to finish in 4th place in the conference with a record of 8–6 as rookie tight end Mike Ditka made an instant impact by collecting 1,076 receiving yards and 12 TDs, and setting a club record for rookies with 56 receptions, while winning the NFL Rookie of the Year Award. The 1962 season brought on for the second straight season a rookie who made an immediate impact with the team as Ron Bull won the NFL Rookie of the Year Award as the Bears finished in 3rd place in the Conference with a solid 9–5 record.
The Bears' rookie success hit a pinnacle in 1963 as the Bears broke the Green Bay Packers three-year stranglehold on the Western Division and the NFL by posting an 11–1–2 record. In the NFL Championship Game at Wrigley Field the Bears battled the New York Giants in front of 45,801 fans on a bone-chilling afternoon. The Bears won their eighth NFL Championship, 14–10 as Bill Wade scored both Bear touchdowns. However, the star of the game was the Bears' dominating defense, which intercepted Giants star QB Y.A. Tittle a stunning 5 times. The following season the Bears followed up their NFL Championship with an underachieving 5–9 season. This poor performance prompted Halas to search for young talent in the upcoming draft. He selected the "Kansas Comet" RB Gale Sayers and LB Dick Butkus in the first round of the draft to improve both the offense and defense.
The 1965 season proved to be yet another year where a rookie Bear made an impact as Gale Sayers won the NFL Rookie of the Year Award, while establishing a new NFL record with 22 touchdowns during the season, still a club record. His record season and his entire career would be highlighted by his six-touchdown performance against the San Francisco 49ers at Wrigley Field on December 12. The new element of Sayers helped the Bears to finish in 3rd place with a 9–4–1 record. Sayers continued his offensive successes in 1966 with a then-NFL record 2,440 all-purpose yards, but his offensive success did not result in wins and the team finished with a 5–7–2 season. The 1967 season not only saw the first Super Bowl in the NFL, but also 47 years after his first season, George Halas retired for the final time with a then-NFL record 324 coaching wins, which stood until 1993 when Don Shula broke the record. In Papa Bear's final season, the team played respectably with a 7–6–1 record and a second place finish in the Central Division.
Halas's replacement was Jim Dooley. In Dooley's first season at the helm of the team, the Bears finished with a 7–7 record. The low point of the season, though, was not the mediocre performance but a career threatening knee injury to Gale Sayers, from which he never fully recovered. The decade though was highlighted with the 1969 season. After Sayers's injury, back-up running back Brian Piccolo did not believe he deserved the job because of the injury. Instead of running away with his opportunity as most athletes would, Piccolo, who was a popular figure in the Chicago area and roomed with Sayers for a few years on road trips, during the entire off-season pushed Sayers to get his knee back into football playing shape. Sayers got back into the lineup, and Piccolo was back on the bench when the season started. Sayers rushed for 1,000 yards and earned the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award. This was the ultimate display of friendship between Piccolo and Sayers, who were friends despite race differences within society during the 1960s. The Bears finished the season, even with Sayers's performance, with a franchise-worst 1–13 record.
The horror of the season came when Brian Piccolo started suffering breathing problems. A hospital physical revealed his worst fear: lung cancer. On June 16, 1970 just 7 months after being diagnosed, Brian Piccolo lost his battle with lung cancer at the age of 26. The Bears responded by setting up the Brian Piccolo Cancer Research Fund, which raises money through various annual events for cancer research. In November 1971, ABC premiered the TV Movie entitled "Brian's Song." The film starred James Caan as Piccolo and Billy Dee Williams as Gale Sayers detailing the friendship between the two Bear running backs. A heartfelt and sad story that evolves would go down as one of the most beloved sports movies of all time.
After AFL-NFL merger
The 1970s began with the end of an era for the entire league, especially for the Chicago Bears. The sport, which started as the most disliked event, was surpassing baseball as America's new number one sport. Due to this, bigger venues were needed to support the fan base. The home of the Cubs had been the Bears home field for nearly 50 years; but its seating capacity was simply not enough. In addition, after the AFL-NFL merger, Wrigley Field was deemed too small for professional football events. The Bears finished off their existence at Wrigley Field on December 13 by winning against the rival Green Bay Packers (35–17). In doing so, the Bears finished in 4th place in the NFC Central with a record of 6–8.
The new home of the Bears was not new but another classic stadium in itself. The new Bears' home was Soldier Field, which was built as a memorial for soldiers who fought in World War I and was the host of many great sports events including Jack Dempsey vs. Gene Tunney in 1927 and various college football games such as Army-Navy.
In their first home game at Soldier Field, the Bears emerged victorious defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers (17–15). The victory was short-lived as the Bears finished 6–8 leading to the termination of head coach Jim Dooley. New Coach Abe Gibron did not start his tenure any better with the Bears. The team was last place in the NFC Central division with a record of 4–9–1. The era under Gibron took a deeper dive during the 1973 season as the team finished in last place again with a record of 3–11 as the Bears were limited to just 195 total points during the entire season. The 1974 season proved to be Gibron's final one with the Bears as the team finished yet again in last place, this time with a record of 4–10. The Gibron era was marked with a combined record of 11–30–1 and with the only memory was not a play or moment, but Gibron's appearance in an NFL Films production where he was taped singing Joy to the World not paying attention to the game in front of him.
Building for a championship
In 1975, the rebuilding of the Bears fell to Hall of Fame GM Jim Finks who brought in Jack Pardee to coach. This was the first time in franchise history that the Bears hired a head coach who was not associated with the franchise. The move did not have any initial impact as the team finished 4–10. The best move of the year was the drafting of RB Walter Payton in the first Round. Known as "Sweetness", he eventually would become one of the Bears' greatest players ever. The string of losing seasons ended in 1976 with Pardee's coaching and the running of Walter Payton who rushed for 1,390 yards while scoring 13 TDs. The Bears posted a 7–7 record, which was good enough for 2nd place. In his 3rd season, Payton had a breakout year, rushing for a team record 1,852 yards highlighted by a single-game performance of 275 yards, which established a single game record that would stand for the next two decades.
That year Payton captured both NFL Offensive Player of the Year Award and the NFL MVP Award. Behind the running of Payton, the Bears won their final six games to finish second with a 9–5 record, which was good enough for the NFC's Wild Card spot. The Bears though were outpowered and overmatched in their first playoff game since 1963 as the eventual Super Bowl Champion Cowboys defeated them 37–7 in Dallas. At the end of the season, Pardee left the Bears to take over the coaching reins of the Washington Redskins. The Bears replaced Pardee with Minnesota Vikings Defensive coordinator Neill Armstrong. Armstrong's first season proved to be a step backwards from their playoff appearance with a 7–9 showing. The Bears would be more successful in the 1979 season, but tragedy struck the team as the Bears were celebrating their playoff berth.
On December 16 as the Bears earned that spot on the final day of the season with a 42–6 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals, team president George "Mugs" Halas Jr. died of a massive heart attack at the age of 54. "Mugs," the son of the legendary Bears founder George Halas, had served as the president since 1953. The Bears had to regroup quickly as they would face the Philadelphia Eagles in the Wild Card Game at Philadelphia a week later. The Bears held a 17–10 lead in the early moments of the second half only to see the Eagles soar back, moving on to the next round with a 27–17 victory. The Bears did not return to the playoffs again under Armstrong and in 1980, they fell below .500 with a 7–9 record (despite some seminal moments in Bear lore). On October 6, 1980, Payton broke the Bears all-time franchise rushing total previously held by Gale Sayers's with 9,462 career yards. On Thanksgiving in Detroit, Dave Williams took the overtime kickoff 95 yards for a TD, setting an NFL record for the fastest end to an OT, and on December 7 the Bears ripped the Green Bay Packers 61–7, the biggest margin of victory in the series. Armstrong lasted just one more year with the Bears, finishing with a last place showing and a 6–10 record. He was fired in the off-season.
By the end of the 1970s the beginnings of a front office brain trust was in place. General Manager Jim Finks was building the foundation of a championship team. Scout Bill Tobin had a knack for finding overlooked talent in the NFL draft. Defensive Coordinator Buddy Ryan was beginning to formulate his revolutionary "46 Defense." As with earlier innovations involving the T-formation with Clark Shaughnessy and later creative ideas with George Allen, the pieces began to fit into place for a championship run.
The Ditka era: Bears renaissance (1982–1992)
From 1982 to 1993 under coach Mike Ditka, the Bears recorded a win-loss record of 112 to 68. After George Halas, Ditka becomes the second Bears coach to record more than 100 wins as coach. In addition, the Bears won 6 Division titles and made two trips to the NFC Championship game. The peak of this era was the 1985 Bears season where they won Super Bowl XX.
The 1982 season was Mike Ditka's first season as head coach of the Bears. The season was interrupted by a players' strike and shortened to nine games. As a result, the NFL held a special playoff tournament involving the top eight teams in both conferences. The Bears did not qualify for the postseason, finishing in 12th place with a 3–6 record. In 1983, George Halas died at the age of 88. He was the last surviving NFL founder. The death of Halas also brought the addition of the initials "GSH" on the left sleeve of the Bears uniforms. In Ditka's second season, the Bears improved and finished with a record of 8–8.
In 1984, Walter Payton broke Jim Brown's all-time career rushing record (which pleased Brown, who had threatened to come out of retirement if Pittsburgh Steelers running back Franco Harris broke the record—Brown disliked Harris's tendency to run out of bounds to avoid oncoming rushers). Payton's record stood for eighteen years until it was broken by Emmitt Smith in 2002. The Bears finished the season with a 10–6 record to win their first NFC Central Division Championship. Even though the Bears won the division, they struggled toward the end of the season, which cost them a playoff home game. Instead, in the Divisional Playoffs the Bears played the Washington Redskins at RFK stadium, ending the Redskins' quest for a third straight Super Bowl appearance with a 23–19 victory. The Bears advanced to the NFC Championship to play the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers shut the Bears out 23–0 on their way to a Super Bowl Championship.
1985: Super Bowl XX
1985 is the most celebrated year in Bears history. Through various rankings, the 1985 Bears have been marked as one of the top 5 NFL teams of all time. The Bears beat the first twelve of their opponents. In the process, they outscored opponents 456 to 198.
Along the way, the Bears created a huge amount of hype around themselves. The season brought players to the national spotlight such as William "The Refrigerator" Perry, Mike Singletary, Jim McMahon, Dan Hampton, and Walter Payton. Then, in the Week 12 game on Monday Night Football, the Bears suffered their only defeat, a 38–24 loss to the Miami Dolphins, who in doing so retained their status as the lone team to have ever had a perfect season. Chicago afterwards produced a music video called "The Super Bowl Shuffle". The Bears were also divided, as Head Coach Mike Ditka and Defensive Coordinator Buddy Ryan did not see eye to eye. In the Divisional Playoffs the Bears played the New York Giants, shutting them out 21–0, on a bitterly cold and windy afternoon. The Bears then faced the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship Game. This game too was a shutout, the score being 24–0. The "Monsters of the Midway" advanced to the Super Bowl.
In Super Bowl XX, the Bears were enormously favored to beat their opponents, the New England Patriots. In the week before the game, Jim McMahon allegedly made some controversial comments about New Orleans women that got him some death threats, while the NFL was cracking down on his trademark message headbands. McMahon responded by mooning a group of reporters because of the injury report stated McMahon had an injury to his buttock. The Super Bowl was a circus atmosphere, getting huge TV ratings and reversing a decline in NFL viewership during the previous two years. The Bears started shaky as Walter Payton fumbled deep in Bears territory. On the subsequent possession, the Patriots were unable to advance the football and had to settle for a field goal, taking a 3–0 lead. However, the Patriots' lead was short-lived as the Bears struck back by scoring the next 44 points in a relentless battering of the Patriots, including a touchdown by "The Refrigerator". The Bears won the game 46–10, setting then Super Bowl records for points and margin of victory as defensive end Richard Dent was named the Most Valuable Player of the Super Bowl.
Post-Super Bowl years
In 1986, the Bears' defense was even weaker coming off the Super Bowl establishing a new NFL record low for 187 points allowed as the Bears finished with another NFC Central title and a 14–2 record. The Bears attempt to defend their Super Bowl title took a blow when Jim McMahon suffered an injury as the result of an illegal hit by Packers' defender Charles Martin. McMahon's injury forced the Bears to use inexperienced backup Doug Flutie. Flutie proved to be ineffective as the Bears were shocked by the Washington Redskins in the divisional playoffs, 27–13.
As the 1980s wore on, the effectiveness of the 46 defense began to decline. Offensive coordinators learned it was vulnerable to a short passing game, particularly the one devised by Bill Walsh of the San Francisco 49ers (later referred to as the West Coast offense).
The 1987 season brought a month long strike that included the use of replacement players for three games. Even with the replacements, the Bears continued to dominate the NFC Central, winning their fourth straight NFC Central title and achieving an 11–4 record (the strike resulted in a 15-game season). The year however was remembered for an end of an era as the player called "Sweetness" by many Bear fans retired after 13 seasons where he only missed one game.
In his great career Walter Payton rushed for an all-time career record 16,726 yards. The Bears earned a Divisional Playoff rematch with Redskins at Soldier Field. The Bears jumped out to a 14–0 lead early on only to see the Redskins storm back and take a 21–17 lead late in the game. As time was winding down on the season and Payton's career, the Bears need to score a touchdown late. The ball was in the hands of Payton who tried to extend his career, but on fourth down he was shoved out of bounds one yard short of the first down marker allowing the Redskins to run the clock out. Payton watched the rest of the game as he sat alone on the bench.
In the 1988 season the Bears kept on rolling, winning their fifth straight division title with a 12–4 record and earning home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. In a Divisional Playoffs game on New Year's Eve, the Bears faced the Philadelphia Eagles, and former defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan in a game that forever would be known as the "Fog Bowl". Late in the 2nd Quarter the fog began to roll in off Lake Michigan, and at the start of the 3rd Quarter, Soldier Field was immersed in thick fog that made viewing the game impossible. The Bears emerged from the fog with a 20–12 victory. The victory was short-lived as the Bears lost the NFC Championship game the following week 28–3 to the eventual Super Bowl Champion San Francisco 49ers.
The 1989 season started with a deal that sent Jim McMahon to the San Diego Chargers. The move was made as McMahon fell out of favor with Mike Ditka and the Bears front office with his behavior. This gave the starting job to Mike Tomczak, who had already seen considerable playing time as McMahon regularly missed games due to various injuries.
The change at quarterback did not help the Bears as they finished 6–10 missing a sixth consecutive division title. The Bears came into the 1990 season bouncing back from a 6–10 season to finish in 1st Place with an 11–5 record. During the season, Head Coach Mike Ditka earned legendary status when he coached the team again just 10 days after a heart attack. This incident had been referenced and used several times in Bill Swerski's Superfans. However, a change in the playoff system caused the Bears a three seed to play in a wild card game to get to the Divisional Playoffs. In the first ever NFC 3 vs. 6 game the Bears defeated the New Orleans Saints, 16–6, to advance to a Divisional Playoff showdown against the New York Giants. The Bears were trounced 31–3 by the eventual Super Bowl Champion. The Bears made a return trip to the playoffs in 1991 with an 11–5 record in a season that saw Mike Ditka earn his 100th career-coaching win. The Bears did not win the division, but made the playoffs as a Wild Card qualifier. In the wild card round the Bears were defeated by the Dallas Cowboys, 17–13, in Chicago. The 1992 season saw the end of an era in Chicago. The Bears suffered their worst record of Mike Ditka's tenure, finishing 5–11. As a result, the Mike Ditka era ended as team president Mike McCaskey fired Ditka and hired Dave Wannstedt. Another era that ended that season came with the retirement of Hall of Famer Mike Singletary, who was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
The Wannstedt and Jauron years (1993–2003)
For the next 10 seasons, the Bears had a combined win-loss record of 76 to 103. They posted 3 winning seasons above .500. Twice the Bears qualified for the post-season, with only 1 playoff win. In this same span, they placed first in their division only once.
In Wannstedt's first season, the Bears finish with a subpar record of 7–9. During the 1993 season, the Bears played their 1,000th franchise game and won, 6–0, against the Atlanta Falcons at Soldier Field. The following season, the Bears put together a 9–7 season, and they earned a trip to the playoffs as a Wild Card. In the Wild Card round the Bears stunned the NFC Central Division Champion Minnesota Vikings 35–18. The Bears success did not last long as they were beaten badly by the eventual Super Bowl Champion San Francisco 49ers 44–15 in San Francisco. In the 1995 season brought, the Bears again finished 9–7, but missed the playoffs due to a loss in a tiebreaker with the Atlanta Falcons. In the 1996 season, the Bears took a step backwards under Wannstedt and finished in third place with a record of 7–9. The Bears would decline further in the 1997 season, losing their first seven games toward a miserable 4–12 season. One of the few highlights of the 1997 season was the Bears picking up franchise victory number 600 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, becoming the first franchise to achieve the feat. The 1998 season proved to be the last one for Coach Wannstedt as his Bears again finished 4–12. After the season Wannstedt was fired and McCaskey reassigned by McCaskey's mother Virginia, the daughter of Halas.
The Bears hired Dick Jauron as their next head coach. The decade ended with Jauron's first season at 6–10. In the same year, Walter Payton died at the age of 45, one of the Chicago Bears and the league's greatest running backs of all time.
The Bears began the 2000 season and the new decade on a sour note. After losing their first four games, the Bears finally won their first game of the season on the road against their historic rival, the Green Bay Packers. Yet the Bears could not build off that win and lost their next three games. After the bye-week, they win against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 10. For the remaining seven games, they would win 3 games. Though the team ended the season 5–11, rookie linebacker Brian Urlacher was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
The Bears surprised most with a breakout campaign in 2001. Apparently, this remained as the most successful season for Jauron with the Bears. After they lost their first game of the season to the Super Bowl XXXV Champion Baltimore Ravens 17–6 on the road, the Bears won their next six games. Two of those games were won in overtime, against the San Francisco 49ers (37–31) and the Cleveland Browns (27–21). In both games, Safety Mike Brown capped remarkable comebacks (the Bears trailed 28–9 in the third quarter against San Francisco, and 21–7 with seconds remaining against Cleveland) by returning an interception in overtime for a touchdown. Unfortunately, the Green Bay Packers ended the win streak at home.
Fortunately, the Bears would win their next three games. However, the Bears traveled to Lambeau Field and were swept by the Packers 17–7. That would be their last loss of the regular season. The Bears would win their last four games. The Bears ended the regular season with a 13–3 record. This qualified for second place in the NFC, and thus earning a first-round bye in the playoffs.
In the divisional playoff game, the visiting Philadelphia Eagles won the game with a final score of 33–19. Despite their season ending on a sour note, rookie running back Anthony Thomas won the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Also, coach Dick Jauron was given the Coach of the Year award.
With Soldier Field being renovated, the Chicago Bears had to play their 2002 home games at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Champaign, Illinois (136 miles outside Chicago). This was also the year when the Houston Texans joined the NFL and realignments were made. The Bears joined the Lions, the Packers, and the Vikings in the newly formed NFC North. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers leave the NFC Central to join the NFC South. The Bears even acquired former Steelers Quarterback Kordell "Slash" Stewart. Despite starting the season 2–0, the team was plagued by injuries, and they lost their next eight games. The Bears finally got their third win of the year at home against the Lions. The Bears would lose four out of the remaining five games of the season. The Bears ended the season with a 4–12 record.
For the 2003 campaign, the Bears were able to move back to their newly renovated Soldier Field (also known as Soldier Field II). Nevertheless, mediocrity continued as the Bears ended the season with a 7–9 record.
The Bears began the season with a 1–4 record by Week 5. Then Kordell Stewart lost his starting job after the Bears lost their next two road games. Chris Chandler was named their new quarterback. However, Chandler ended up playing only 4 games; winning the first 2 and losing the second 2. This allowed Kordell Stewart to reclaim his starting job; and played the next three games winning 2.
Looking towards the future, the Bears allowed rookie quarterback Rex Grossman to start the last three games of the season. Grossman brought the Bears victories in their final two home games. In the end, the late showing of talent was not enough to save Dick Jauron's job. He ended up being dismissed from the Bears.
This post-Ditka decade saw an uneven effort to bring back the fiery Halas style and forge new ideas. Two coaches and various schemes came and went. Furthermore, this era was marred by a "quarterback carousel", where the starting job changed year after year. The hiring of GM Jerry Angelo in 2001, after 14 years of with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was viewed as a hopeful sign.
The Lovie Smith era (2004–present)
With Lovie Smith (the former defensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams) as their new head coach, the Bears made plans for their 2004 campaign. Since hiring Lovie, all personnel moves made by GM Jerry Angelo have had an overwhelming degree of success. Under Lovie Smith, the Bears have a cumulative record of 63 and 49, including 2 playoff wins and 2 playoff losses, one of which is a loss from Super Bowl XLI.
At the beginning of Smith's tenure, he stated three goals:
End Green Bay's dominance of the division
Win the Division
Win the Super Bowl
By the end of 2005, the first two goals had been realized.
The new "Monsters of the Midway": 2004–present
In his inaugural year, the Bears ended their 2004 campaign at 5–11. For the first goal, Lovie Smith aimed to defeat their historic rival, the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. However, by Week 7, the Bears recorded a poor starting record of 1–5, with the only win against Green Bay largely due to the Week 3 road game loss to the Minnesota Vikings. There, they lost starting quarterback Rex Grossman from a season-ending knee injury. From then on, they cycled through three different quarterbacks: Craig Krenzel, Jonathan Quinn, and Chad Hutchinson. After a modest three-game win streak from Week 8 to 10, the Bears capped the streak in their Week 10 (19–17) win over the Tennessee Titans in overtime with a safety. That was the second time in NFL history that a game ended in overtime on a safety. Afterwards, the Bears ended up losing six of the remaining seven games.
In 2005, after going 3–2 in the preseason (with Rex Grossman suffering a broken ankle in their preseason loss to the St. Louis Rams), the Bears named rookie QB Kyle Orton their starter, and their regular season started off poorly. The Bears began the season with a 1–3 record. Not even a Week 4 Bye could help them, because in Week 5, the Bears lost a hard-fought road game to Trent Dilfer and the Cleveland Browns 20–10.
After the 1–3 start, the Bears had an eight-game winning streak, which started with two home games against Minnesota 28–3 and the Ravens 10–6. On a Week 10 home game, the visiting 49ers attempted a 52-yard field goal as time expired in the first half and the wind blew it to Nathan Vasher who was in the end zone. He returned that missed field goal 108 yards for a touchdown, the longest touchdown play in NFL history then, only to be repeated by Chicago's own Devin Hester almost exactly one year later. The eight-game winning streak came to an end on the road in a cold and snowy fight against the Pittsburgh Steelers (21–9).
The Bears closed out the season with a 2–2 record. In Week 15, they won their last regular-season home game against the Atlanta Falcons with a final score of 16–3. During the game, head coach Lovie Smith replaced Kyle Orton with a fully healed Rex Grossman. In the following week, the Bears clinched the division with a dominant performance at Lambeau Field on Christmas Day (the first time the Bears ever played on Christmas). For the first time since 1991, they swept the Packers; they also secured the NFC North Division title. The Bears ended the regular season with an 11–5 record, enough for 2nd place in the NFC and a first-round bye in the playoffs. In addition, Lovie Smith received NFL Coach of the Year honors.
In the NFC divisional playoff game the Carolina Panthers defeated the Bears 29–21, ending the Bears' season. Panthers' receiver Steve Smith had 12 receptions for 218 yards and two TD's. The Panthers' offense dismantled the Bears' top-ranked defense. The Bears had a final chance to force overtime, but Rex Grossman's 4th-and-1 pass intended for Muhsin Muhammad fell incomplete with less than a minute to go in the game.
Lovie Smith accomplished his first objective as the team's head coach by sweeping the Green Bay Packers during the 2005 season.
The 2006 Chicago Bears started the season 2006 NFL season by winning their first seven games, marking their best start since the 1988 season. The Bears started the season by establishing a strong offense under the helm of a healthy Rex Grossman. Grossman, who was inactive for the most of his first three seasons because of injuries, earned a “FedEx Offensive Player of the Month Award”, a 100.9 passer rating during the first month of the season. During one of the games, Grossman threw four touchdowns and earned a passer rating of 148. The Bears’ defense also made headlines, allowing the Bears to outscore their opponents, 221–69 during the first two months of the season.
However, the Bears showed a glimpse of mortality during this period. After defeating the Buffalo Bills 40–7, the Bears traveled to Glendale, Arizona, to face the Cardinals, where Grossman committed six turnovers in a seemingly lost effort. With less than twenty minutes remaining, the Bears’ defense and special teams mounted a comeback that allowed the team to overcome a 20-point deficit and win the game, 24–23. Grossman had another turn-over ridden performance against the Miami Dolphins (which reminisced the 1985 season), where the Bears lost 31–13, the most points the team allowed that season. The team bounced back with a staunch performance against the New York Giants, in which Devin Hester tied Nathan Vasher’s longest missed-field goal return record, and a shutout victory over the New York Jets.
The Bears then traveled to Foxboro, Massachusetts, where Grossman and the Bears’ defense struggled to defeat the New England Patriots. Despite earning another chance to win the game, Grossman threw a game-ending interception to Asante Samuel. The following week, the Bears’ defense and special teams came up big, in the wake of a struggling passing game, against the Vikings 23–13. The win clinched their second consecutive NFC North title, and a playoff-berth. The team began to re-establish their clockwork performance during the next three games, including a game where Devin Hester returned two kicks for touchdowns against the St. Louis Rams, and an overtime thriller against the Buccaneers where Grossman threw for over 300 yards. The season ended on a low note, when the Packers defeated the Bears 26–7, in the regular season’s finale, with Grossman leaving a passer rating of zero.
The local media began to criticize Grossman for his inconsistent performances and shortcomings. Many fans called upon Lovie Smith to bench Grossman in favor of veteran quarterback Brian Griese. Nevertheless, Smith, who had supported Grossman throughout the season, opted to keep Grossman as the team’s starter. The Bears prepared to take on the Seattle Seahawks for a second time, who had returned with a healthy Shaun Alexander. Prior to the game, Smith announced the creation of the “Fourth Phase,” which involved using fan support as an advantage. On a dreary day along the lake-front, the Bears defeated the Seahawks, 27–24, on an overtime Robbie Gould field goal. The win marked the first time since 1994 season, that the Bears had won a playoff game.
Many Chicago landmarks were decorated to support the Bears during Super Bowl XLI
The following week, the Bears faced the New Orleans Saints at the NFC Championship, marking the Saint’s first Conference Championship appearance. The Bears’ defense shut down the Saints’ top-ranked offense, while running backs Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson exploited the Saints’ run defense for nearly 180 yards and three touchdowns. The Bears defeated the Saints, 39–14. The win allowed the Bears to claim the George Halas Trophy and the right to represent the National Football Conference at Super Bowl XLI against the Indianapolis Colts. Also, Lovie Smith became the first African-American coach to lead his team to a Super Bowl. This feat was matched hours later by his mentor and friend, Tony Dungy of the Colts.
The Bears entered Super Bowl XLI as seven point underdogs. Amidst the game’s rainy weather, the Bears took the quickest lead in Super Bowl history after Devin Hester returned the game’s opening kick-off for a touchdown return. Though the Bears’ expanded their lead with a touchdown, the Colts struck back to take a halftime lead. The Bears’ hopes for a comeback were almost thwarted when Grossman threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown. Ultimately, the Colts defeated the Bears, 29–17. After a productive season, the Bears returned back to Chicago in hopes of replicating their success next year.
Success was not forthcoming in 2007, which saw the Bears struggle through the season and finish 7–9. Legal troubles affected defensive tackle Terry "Tank" Johnson during the spring, and he was cut by the Bears on June 25. Defensive coordinator Ron Rivera was dropped as well after his contract with the team expired. After the Bears started the season with a 1–3 record, Lovie Smith benched Grossman in favor of Griese. However, injuries ravaged the team's roster, resulting in multiple inconsistent performances on defense and offense. The team finished the season with a 7–9 record, one game behind the Detroit Lions.
In 2008, Lovie Smith named Kyle Orton as the team's starting quarterback. The team parted with Cedric Benson, who was cut after two alcohol related arrests. Benson was succeeded by rookie running back Matt Forte, who rushed for 1,238 yards and caught 47 receptions for 438 yards. The Bears posted a winning record again, with nine wins and seven losses, however Chicago ended up being one game behind the eventual NFC North Champion Minnesota Vikings, and failed to qualify for the playoffs.
During the 2009 off-season, Rex Grossman achieved free-agent status and left the team, signing with the Houston Texans. The Bears then traded Kyle Orton to the Broncos in exchange for QB Jay Cutler. The regular season began on a promising note, including a victory in Week 2 over the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers, but things fell apart quickly after the bye week, with the Bears losing eight of the next ten games. A 31–7 loss to the Ravens in Week 15 mathematically eliminated them from the playoffs, but the team managed to close out the year by winning the last two matches against the Vikings (a thrilling 36–30 overtime win) and Lions (37–23) to finish 7–9.