A reader asked me the other day what player and coach I admire most in Bears history
My first reaction was, wow, that’s a big question.
I know he said player and coach, but Jim Finks, Virginia McCaskey, Bill Tobin, Gary Fencik, Jay Hilgenberg, Ron Rivera, Tom Thayer, Jim Harbaugh, Trace Armstrong, Curtis Conway, Olin Kreutz, Tony Medlin, Patrick Mannelly . . . are all just some of the Bears I admire most for their combinations of integrity, talent, toughness, work ethic, loyalty, etc.
There are others truly worthy of our admiration for some or most of those qualities, but these folks have all of them and they are comprise my honorable mention list.
George Halas could easily be No. 1 — and maybe he should be since he is basically the father of the National Football League — but he’s No. 4 on my list only because there are three other folks I’ve had much more personal interaction and experience with.
Dick Butkus, I believe, is the greatest defensive player in the history of the game.
Most Bears fans know him for his vicious physicality and highlight-reel hits, but there is so much more.
Dick was one of the greatest athletes to play the game at the time he arrived in the NFL, and he really defined the middle or inside linebacker position for all who’ve come since.
As big a hitter as he was he was equally outstanding against the run and in coverage, an outstanding blitzer, and athletically he blanketed the field from sideline to sideline as well as anyone until time took its toll on his knees and shoulders.
Unknown to many, though, is that behind the gruff exterior that I believe is part real, and part created as a shield to help filter more than block the incredible demands on his time and attention from a seemingly infinite fan base, Dick is a great friend and as loyal and devoted a family man as you’ll ever meet.
There is no football player, and few men, I admire more.
Number 2 on my list is Dan Hampton.
His talent, toughness and loyalty are undeniable, as exhibited by his bust in Canton. His leadership skills are also second to none – talk to any of his ’85 teammates – as well as his unfailing loyalty to a Bears organization that didn’t always treat him as well as it could have.
Now my bias here is clear, as Hamp has become one of my dear friends over the years, a period that dates back to his being drafted by the Bears and my taking over Pro Football Weekly in 1979.
I know many of you think I am a flaming, hippie, liberal, lefty, and while that is mostly untrue, there is no question I lean to the left.
Dan, on the other hand, is as far to the right as you can get, and there is no denying he’s a hard core "Trumpkin."
Yet if anything we’ve gotten closer over the last few years, rather than allowing that to interfere in our friendship. To me that is the definition of friendship and decency, and smacks of integrity and loyalty, two of the qualities I admire most in individuals.
Forced to pick a No. 1, I don’t know how it can be anyone other than Walter.
How great a football player was he? Like Michael, Babe or Gordie, no last names required. What else do I need to say?
You want to talk toughness or work ethic? Playing running back and getting attacked by NFL defenses 4,330 times (his total touches from scrimmage), he missed one game as a rookie and four in his 13th season. That’s it.
Walter was an extremely successful business man and a huge contributor to the Chicago community and the National Football League — not only the Bears but all 32 teams named their Man of the Year Award for him.
We became friendly and I got to know him pretty well in his retirement, particularly when he was attempting to become the principal owner of an NFL franchise before the league expanded to Jacksonville and Carolina, and whenever someone asks me who was the "greatest football player of all time," his is the only name that comes to my mind.