The NFL Draft has become an extravaganza of epic proportions -- a media circus so overstuffed with pomp and hyperbole that it makes Barnum and Bailey look like Hall and Oates. The league creates montages and grainy video highlights of rookie hopefuls, rents out Radio City Music Hall, trots them out in front of screaming audiences, and then wonders why they feel entitled to seven-figure contracts before they've ever even stood on an NFL sideline.
They've successfully promoted and monetized the whole process to the point where millions of young men have embraced the draft as a game unto itself. Creating mock drafts and scenarios, researching and strategizing, poring over them like Federation starship captains, like Dungeons and Dragons players, or like any number of other fantasy games that boys engage in, rather than going outside and talking to girls.
I kid, I kid. If I'm somewhat bewildered by some people's preoccupation with the draft, maybe it's just a symptom of being an old Chicago Bears fan. The Bears have disinvited themselves from the hoopla of the NFL Draft lately, having selected only twice in the first round of the draft since 2006. The last two years, the Bears were absent from the first two rounds altogether, having traded those picks away.
This year though, they have all their picks -- so far, at least. It's hard (at least for we non-draft junkies) to guess what Jerry Angelo will do, or what impact his picks will have in the immediate future, if there even is an immediate future. It's a lot less challenging to look at past drafts, and assess their importance to history, and as anyone who know me will rell you, I never back down a lesser challenge. So here are my nominations for the top five draft years in Chicago Bears history, in chronological order:
The fourth draft in NFL history went 22 rounds, but the Bears first round pick changed the face of football, possibly more than any one player since. Quarterback Sid Luckman, he of the 'T-Formation, that thrilled the nation.' Luckman took the Bears to four championships in his 12 seasons, including the legendary 73-0 win over the Washington Redskins.
In 1965 the Bears had three first-round picks and with the first two they picked a Hall of Fame player for each side of the ball. First they selected linebacker Dick Butkus, and then running back Gale Sayers.Butkus was an eight time Pro Bowler, and had 27 career fumble recoveries. Sports Illustrated called him 'The Most Feared Man in Football'. Sayers set records in both rushing and returning, he scored 22 touchdowns his rookie year, and was the Pro-Bowl's Most Valuable Player in three of the four years he was selected to participate.
After Gale Sayers retired in 1972, the Bears fortunes suffered. They were in need of a good running back, and with the fourth pick in the first round of trhe 1975 draft, they settled on a guy by the name of Walter Payton. Payton turned into a nine time Pro-Bowler, and at one time owned nearly every rushing record to be had in the NFL. Perhaps the greatest player in the game's history. That draft also produced Bob Avellini, a quarterback who played with the team for nine years, and Doug Plank an incredibly hard hitting safety who Buddy Ryan admired so much he named his famous '46' defense after his jersey number.
The Bears drafted some heavy hitters in the first half of the 80's, but 1983 was a banner year. This year was the 'year of the quarterback' in football lore, it being the year that John Elway, Dan Marino, and Jim Kelly joined the NFL. But get a load of the Bears picks for that year, Jimbo Covert, Willie Gault, Mike Richardson, Dave Duerson, Tom Thayer, Richard Dent, and Mark Bortz. Has any team ever picked that many impact players in one draft? The pieces were officially in place for the 1985 Super Bowl team.
Brian Urlacher and Mike Brown. These two players became the backbone of the stingy defense that took the Bears to the Super Bowl in 2007. Urlacher is a gifted, physical linebacker in the Chicago tradition. Mike Brown is the only man in NFL history to return two interceptions for touchdowns in overtime, in back to back games.
If there's a Bears draft fans would rather forget, there's the one from 1970. In 1969, the Bears finished 1-13 in 1969. The only team they beat was the Steelers, who also finished 1-13. In that era, the tiebreaker for draft picks was a coin flip.
The Bears lost the flip and traded their pick to the Packers. In return, they got Lee Roy Caffey, Elijah Pitts and Bob Hyland. Caffey played one year for the Bears. Pitts was traded before he ever played for them. Hyland played one year for the Bears.
Meanwhile, the Steelers used their No. 1 pick on some unknown kid quarterback from the non-big-time college at Louisiana Tech named Terry Bradshaw.
We hope the Bears will come out of this year's draft with better memories than those of 1970.