professional football team and one of five teams in the Central Division
of the National Football Conference (NFC) of the National Football
League (NFL). Under the league’s realignment plan, which will take
affect in 2002, the Bears will play in the North Division of the NFC.
The Bears play at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois, and wear uniforms
of navy blue, orange, and white.
Chicago has collected nine NFL titles and ranks behind only the Green
Bay Packers in overall league crowns. The Bears were the NFL’s most
dominant team during the 1930s and 1940s, earning six league titles.
George Halas, a cofounder of the NFL, collected 324 career victories
during his 30 seasons as Chicago’s head coach. He coached many future
Hall of Fame members, including quarterback Sid Luckman and running
backs Red Grange and Bronko Nagurski. Chicago made eight trips to the
playoffs from 1984 to 1994 and won the Super Bowl in 1986. Running back
Walter Payton, the NFL’s all-time leading rusher with 16,726 yards,
produced ten 1,000-yard seasons in these 11 years.
The Bears franchise was founded as the Decatur Staleys in 1920 by A. E.
Staley of the Staley Starch Company. He hired George Halas to organize,
coach, and play on the team. On September 17, 1920, Halas and
representatives from 11 other teams met in Canton, Ohio, and organized
the American Professional Football Association—the precursor to the NFL.
Halas assumed ownership of the team in 1921 with his co-head coach,
Dutch Sternaman. They moved the team to Chicago’s Cubs Park (renamed
Wrigley Field in 1926). The club won the new league’s first title in
1921, and a year later Halas and Sternaman renamed the team the Bears.
Halas and Sternaman guided the Bears to eight consecutive winning
records from 1921 to 1928. Their many stars included running backs Paddy
Driscoll and Red Grange. Chicago’s offensive line was anchored by center
George Trafton, who knocked four opposing linemen out of commission in
the first 12 plays during a 1920 contest.
A new era began in 1930 when another star running back, Bronko Nagurski,
joined the team. Chicago earned back-to-back NFL titles in 1932 and
1933. Under Halas, the team strung together an NFL-record 18 consecutive
victories from 1933 through 1934. The Bears went undefeated in the 1934
regular season as rookie running back Beattie Feathers became the first
player ever to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a single season. After
holding all 13 regular-season opponents to 16 or fewer points, the Bears
fell to the New York Giants in the NFL Championship Game, 30-13.
From 1939 to 1950 quarterback Sid Luckman directed Chicago to four
league crowns. The Bears defeated the New York Giants and the Washington
Redskins twice each in championship games. In 1940 the Bears’ new
T-formation offense, which depended on the quarterback to call plays and
distribute the ball with passes, pitches, and options, demolished
Washington 73-0 in what remains the most lopsided championship victory
in NFL history. In 1942 Chicago compiled its second undefeated season.
Chicago fell out of championship contention from 1951 to 1962, reaching
the playoffs in only one season. The Bears rebounded in 1963 when
assistant coach George Allen designed a zone defense that starred future
Hall of Fame members defensive end Doug Atkins, linebacker Bill George,
and tackle-guard Stan Jones. George, originally a lineman, is credited
with inventing the position of middle linebacker, and Jones helped
pioneer the use of weights in training regimens. On offense, Mike Ditka
revolutionized the tight end position, becoming one of the league’s best
pass receivers. The 1963 Bears posted a 9-3 win-loss record and defeated
the New York Giants 14-10 for the NFL title.
In 1965 the Bears drafted linebacker Dick Butkus and running back Gale
Sayers. Both were eventually elected to the Hall of Fame, but Chicago
failed to reach the playoffs during their careers. Halas retired as head
coach in 1968, and a year later the franchise posted its worst record
ever at 1-13. The team moved to Soldier Field in 1971, but the Bears
posted losing seasons from 1970 through 1975.
In 1977 the Bears made their first playoff appearance in 14 years.
Walter Payton won the second of five consecutive NFC rushing titles,
gaining a career-high 1,852 yards. Ditka returned to the club as head
coach in 1982 and drove the Bears to six Central Division titles from
1984 to 1990. In 1985 the team achieved a 15-1 win-loss record, shut out
the Giants and the Los Angeles Rams (now St. Louis Rams) in the
playoffs, and defeated the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl,
Ditka’s Bears led the league in defense three times during the 1980s,
led by linebacker Mike Singletary and ends Richard Dent and Dan Hampton.
In addition to Payton, Ditka’s offense also starred running back Neal
Anderson, wide receiver Willie Gault, and quarterback Jim McMahon.
Payton retired in 1987 with 16,726 yards and 110 rushing touchdowns.
Ditka coached Chicago to three more Central Division titles before
leaving the team in 1992. Former Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator
Dave Wannstedt took over as head coach and rebuilt the team during the
mid-1990s. In 1994 he guided the Bears to the playoffs, where they upset
the Minnesota Vikings before falling to the San Francisco 49ers in the
second round. The Bears struggled during the late 1990s, and Wannstedt
was fired after the 1998 season.
1986 Super Bowl XX Defeated New England Patriots, 46-10
NFL History Guide