With a birth year of 1920, back when they were known as the Decatur Staleys two years before they officially became the team we recognize today, the Chicago Bears have a rich and storied history full of all-time great linebackers, one of the best running backs ever, one of the greatest coaches in NFL history, and so on, which makes selecting their Franchise Five nearly impossible. Unfortunately, that difficult task was handed to me as we continue our offseason series here at CBS Sports, so with the help of CBS Sports' Tom Fornelli, who also happens to be a Bears fan in Chicago, I did my best to sort through the jumbled list of Hall of Famers that have donned the blue of the Bears to come up with a Franchise Five.
CBSSports.com's Franchise Five dives into five most impactful people in each NFL's team history. Our rules here bind us to pick just one quarterback, three non-quarterback players and one head coach.
For the Bears, picking a coach and quarterback was rather easy for differing reasons, but picking only three non-quarterback players was rather difficult. An NFL-high twenty-seven Chicago Bears have been inducted into the Hall of Fame. So, hard decisions and controversial snubs had to be made. That couldn't be avoided.
But with the help of Fornelli, I came up with a Franchise Five that I think appropriately reflects the rich and storied history of the Bears. We begin with the founder of the franchise in what was the easiest selection of the five.
Coach George Halas
There's a reason the winner of the NFC gets awarded the George Halas Trophy, a tradition that began back during the 1984-85 season. Halas isn't just the Bears' best-ever coach, he's also one of the greatest coaches in the history of the sport. In his 40-year coaching career that began in 1920 with the Decatur Staleys -- who would become known as the Chicago Bears in 1922 -- and ended in 1967, Halas went a remarkable 318-148-31 with the franchise, leading them to six championships along the way.
Halas, who also owned the team, is the only acceptable answer here. His initials are still stitched on the Bears' uniforms, after all. It's difficult to imagine them ever getting removed.
This isn't really up for debate, but shoutout to both Mike Ditka and Lovie Smith, who deserve recognition as great Bears coaches, both of whom took the team to the Super Bowl -- with Ditka winning his appearance with that historically great 1985 defense, and Smith perhaps not getting the recognition he deserved until the Bears tried to replace him with Marc Trestman and then John Fox. Perhaps firing Smith after a 10-win season wasn't a smart move, after all. In the seven seasons since Smith last walked the Bears' sidelines, the Bears have made the playoffs only once (in 2018 under current coach Matt Nagy)
Just missed: Mike Ditka
QB Jay Cutler
Perhaps, Jay Cutler never developed into the superstar the Bears thought they were acquiring when they traded a fortune for him in 2009, but by the time his career with the team ended after the 2016 season, he'd established himself as the best quarterback in the franchise's history.
Obviously, the Bears' history of quarterback play is dreadful -- so dreadful that Sid Luckman, who last played for the Bears in 1950, held most of the Bears' passing records until Cutler came along -- but Cutler departed Chicago as the team's all-time leader in passing yards (topping Luckman by 8,757 yards) and touchdown passes (17 more than Luckman). Keep in mind that for most of Cutler's prime, he was playing behind a terrible offensive line and throwing to receivers like Devin Hester, Johnny Knox, and Earl Bennett. He didn't have much help. Matt Forte, a running back, was probably his most consistent weapon over the years.
With a little more luck, Cutler could've brought a championship to Chicago, but luck was never on his side -- a torn MCL in the NFC Championship Game ruined his best chance, a broken thumb the following season wrecked a 7-3 start to the year, a 10-win season in 2012 wasn't enough to qualify for the postseason, and an Aaron Rodgers' fourth-down touchdown bomb to Randall Cobb ended the Bears' 2013 season one win short of the playoffs.
Cutler might not be popular among Bears fans because he never lived up to their expectations and never cared about his public perception, but that doesn't make him a bad player. He's the best player to play the quarterback position in franchise history, but that doesn't make him a great player. In the end, Cutler was good, not great. But that still represents the best the Bears have ever had at quarterback. After watching Mitchell Trubisky the past few seasons, Bears fans should finally appreciate Cutler for what he was: the best they've seen under center.
Just missed: Sid Luckman
RB Walter Payton
One of the best running backs in NFL history, Payton, who tragically passed away in 1999 at the age of 45, was the easiest selection on the player side. From 1975-87, Payton totaled 21,264 yards and 125 touchdowns from scrimmage. He's the franchise's all-time leader in rushing yards with 16,726. For the sake of comparison, consider that Matt Forte ranks second with 8,602 rushing yards. So, Payton has nearly double the amount of yards as the second-leading rusher in Bears history. Payton also leads the franchise in rushing touchdowns with 110 -- the next closest player, Neal Anderson, has 51. This time, Payton has properly doubled up (and then some) second place.
Payton meets all of the necessary requirements: He's the best running back in franchise history and it's not particularly close, won a Super Bowl, captured MVP in 1977, and is one of the best players at his position group in the history of football -- only Emmitt Smith has Payton beat in career rushing yards.
If we were ranking the top three players in Bears history, Payton would lead the list. Just take it from those who played with and coached him. Ditka once called Payton "the very best football player I've ever seen, period. At any position." Meanwhile, Dan Hampton once said Payton was "the best football player of our time. Bar none."
LB Dick Butkus
In more than half of his nine seasons, Butkus was named first team All-Pro, made eight Pro Bowls, racked up 22 interceptions, and generated the ninth-highest approximate value among all Bears players ever. But Butkus' importance to the Bears extends beyond the stats. He never won a Super Bowl, which would've enhanced his legacy, but he is regarded as one of the best and most feared linebackers in the history of the sport.
"Dick was an animal," said Hall of Famer Deacon Jones, per NBC Sports Chicago. "I called him a maniac. A stone maniac. He was a well-conditioned animal, and every time he hit you, he tried to put you in the cemetery, not the hospital."
Since the stats don't always do him justice, let's go to the anecdotes. This one, also via NBC Sports Chicago, might be my favorite:
Minnesota Vikings running back Dave Osborne had once been annihilated by Butkus on an ill-fated attempted sweep. Osborne was asked after the game what had happened to his blocker on the play. "I don't know," Osborne said. "Maybe Butkus ate him."
Butkus retired all the way back in 1973 and he's still considered one of the best linebackers in the history of the sport. It should remain that way. At the very least, it's difficult to imagine him ever getting replaced on a list of the best three Bears players ever.
LB Brian Urlacher
The Bears might not have ever had a truly great quarterback, but you can't deny just how many great linebackers they've produced. If Butkus is 1A, then Urlacher is 1B. The recent Hall-of-Fame inductee wrapped up his career in 2012, retiring with the most solo tackles in franchise history. The beginning of his career was marked by a Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Along the way, he won Defensive Player of the Year in 2005, garnered four first team All-Pro selections, and eight Pro Bowl nods.
Urlacher, of course, never won a Super Bowl, but he did play an integral part in getting the Bears to the Super Bowl in the 2006 season. He was capable of doing it all: rushing the passer as a blitzer (41.5 career sacks), covering downfield (22 career interceptions), and stuffing the run. It's difficult to think of a more complete linebacker to have played the game, and it's no coincidence that the Bears' defense immediately suffered once he retired -- though they've since returned to form. Urlacher is the best Bears player of the past two decades, and it's not particularly close.
Just missed: Mike Singletary, Dan Hampton, Richard Dent