Comcast/NBC cousin Mike Florio over at his Pro Football Talk has been putting together “Mount Rushmore” assemblages of the four most distinguished figures -– faces of the franchise -– for each NFL team. With the retirement of Brian Urlacher, the debate and selections become especially timely, and Mike will reveal the Bears’ best of the best on June 11. (In the meantime, you can cast your own votes here.)
No need to wait on Mike and June 11, however. I can give you the answers to the test:
This is the gimme of not just the Bears’ august quartet but for the entire NFL as well. He is why there is an NFL, and the winner of the Super Bowl should be receiving the Halas Trophy, not the Lombardi. Lombardi defined a decade; Halas defined a century. Halas even loaned money that kept the Packers afloat in the old days.
The Bears have won nine NFL championships; Halas was their coach for eight of those (three more than Lombardi, for those keeping score). He was a player-coach and the only person associated with the NFL throughout its first 60 years.
Another gimme. He left the game as its all-time leading rusher and leader in total yards. Payton still holds 27 franchise records more than a quarter-century after he left the game, and when he retired he held 16 NFL records. The only years he didn’t rush for 1,000 yards were two strike-shortened seasons plus his rookie year.
He missed one game in a 13-year career, and he was adamant that it was a coach’s decision that first year.
Best descriptor: Minnesota Vikings cornerback Bobby Bryant likened tackling Payton to trying to rope a calf. “It’s hard enough to get your hands on [Payton],” Bryant explained. “And once you do, you wonder if you should have.”
The only real debate involving Butkus is whether he or Ray Lewis was the greatest middle (or any) linebacker ever to play the game. Nine NFL seasons, third in NFL history with 25 fumble recoveries and second with 47 combined takeaways, and all of his work done in 14-game seasons.
Butkus was and arguably still is, for some, the face of the franchise. More to the point, he is the persona of the franchise and the city. Butkus was how Chicago wanted to see itself: beyond tough, no letup even if losing, City of Big Shoulder Pads.
[MORE: Miller: Urlacher best LB in Bears history]
Those are the easy three. The fourth? Gale Sayers? Mike Ditka? Dan Hampton? Brian Urlacher? Mike Singletary? How about Sid Luckman?
This was a nasty call. Sayers accomplished more in 62 games than the vast majority of players even hope to accomplish in twice that number. Urlacher redefined a position and played it in the style of the passing era, something virtually no other runner-up at the position has managed. Luckman was the face of the true Monsters of the Midway.
But Ditka was a Hall-of-Fame player, who also redefined a position and became the first tight end inducted into the Hall of Fame. He won a championship. He coached the Bears to a championship. If there’s a negative it’s that he only played six seasons in Chicago.
But as far as a face or embodiment of a charter franchise in the NFL, he made up for his brevity as a player with 11 more years as a coach. And when you become the cornerstone personality of a "Saturday Night Live" bit five full years after the 1985 championship -- hey, you’re the fourth face on this Mount Rushmore.