Players in contention: Mike Brown (2000-2008), Mark Carrier (1993-1996), Marty Carter (1995-1998), Michael Green (2000-2005), Chris Harris (2005-2006, 2010-2011), Danieal Manning (2006-2010), Tony Parrish (1998-2001)
My main reason for revisiting the All-Bears Post-Ditka team here at Windy City Gridiron are the high number of roster changes since I wrote the original on my website in 2009. Already we’ve seen changes. Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are replacing Marty Booker and Curtis Conway. Kyle Long and Roberto Garza replace Ruben Brown and Chris Villarrial. Julius Peppers bumps Adewale Ogunleye. Greg Olsen nudges Dez Clark.
There will be no such turnover at the safety position.
In 2009, the two best Bears safeties of the Post-Ditka era were Mike Brown and Tony Parrish.
In 2017, the two best Bears safeties of the Post-Ditka era are Mike Brown and Tony Parrish.
In May, Dan Durkin at the Athletic Chicago wrote that the best free safety the Bears have drafted in the past decade (so since 2007) is Chris Conte. That seems impossible until you check the list and remember that, as Durkin notes, they’ve all seen time at free safety:
- 2007 5th round — Kevin Payne
- 2008 4th round — Craig Steltz
- 2009 6th round — Al Afalava
- 2010 3rd round — Major Wright
- 2011 3rd round — Chris Conte
- 2012 3rd round — Brandon Hardin
- 2014 4th round — Brock Vereen
- 2015 5th round — Adrian Amos
- 2016 6th round — DeAndre Houston-Carson
None of these guys come within a whiff of challenging Brown or Parrish for a spot. Do any other players do so?
Let’s talk Parrish first.
From the day the Bears brass selected the University of Washington standout in the 2nd round of 1998 , Number 37 was a big, BIG hitter and terrific tackler. He led the Bears in fumbles forced as a rookie (with 4), and is one of only two Bears since 1985 with at least one forced fumble, interception, and sack. (Peanut is the other.)
The league took note immediately. In its 1999 NFL preview issue, Sports Illustrated named Parrish the Bears’ “player to watch.”
Parrish forced six fumbles and picked off eight passes during his four-year stint in Chicago. Remarkably, for all of the injuries he dished out with his ferocious hitting, Parrish never missed a game in his Bears career, starting 16 games a season for four years. He then went to the 49ers in 2002 and played a full 16 every year until 2005, when he suffered his first serious injuries in a game against, of all teams, the Bears.
Though he somehow never made a Pro Bowl (silly), he was on pace to become an all-time great Bear, while his time in San Francisco puts him in the running as the #2 safety in that franchise’s history behind Ronnie Lott, as Niners Nation wrote in 2009.
Parrish’s main competitors are Mark Carrier, Marty Carter, and Chris Harris. For our purposes, Carrier loses out on his wonderful first three seasons, from 1990 to 1992, including his outstanding rookie year with an NFL-leading ten interceptions, a team-high five fumbles forced, and the first of three Pro Bowl invitations.
Carter was a free agent pick-up in 1995, a huge deal at the time because he was replacing veteran Shaun Gayle, and coming from a division rival (Tampa Bay). Upon further review of his stats — and his entire 11-year career — it is clear that Carter was the kind of guy who pops up all the time in the NFL: a solid pro good enough to keep his job but not good enough to be noticed for it.
As for Harris, he won a starting job in 2005 as a rookie, helping the Bears win their first division title since 2001, Parrish’s final season in Chicago. In 2006, Harris lost his starting spot to rookie Danieal Manning, and then regained it when Mike Brown was lost for the season. Harris and Manning started Super Bowl XLI, with Manning committing an infamous gaffe that led to Indy’s first touchdown.
In a devastating overreaction, the Bears then traded for Washington safety Adam Archuleta, who played for Lovie Smith on the Rams, when Lovie was defensive coordinator. This led to the team trading Harris to Carolina in training camp, which naturally led to Harris forcing eight fumbles in his first season with the Panthers after forcing none in two years with the Bears.
Three years later, the Panthers traded Harris back to the Bears; he won the starting job and once again helped the Bears win the division, weirdly sealing division-clinching wins in 2005 (against the Packers) and 2010 (against the Jets) with late-game interceptions.
A statistical comparison of the four safeties:
Carrier, 1993-1996: 59 starts in 61 games, 247 tackles, no sacks, 3 fumbles forced/2 recovered, 8 interceptions, one Pro Bowl (1993), one postseason appearance
Carter, 1995-1998: 63 starts in 63 games, 326 tackles, 1 sack, 3/3, 6 interceptions
Harris, 2005-2006, 2010-2011: 39 starts in 44 games, 165 tackles, 1 sack, 1/4, 10 interceptions
Parrish, 1998-2001: 64 starts in 64 games, 272 tackles, 4 sacks, 6/1, 8 interceptions, one postseason appearance
On a purely statistical basis, Carter has the edge in tackles, Parrish has the edge in turnovers forced, Harris has the edge in interceptions and playoff appearances, and Carrier is the only one with a Pro Bowl. Nobody’s edge in any category is overwhelming, while physical attributes and memory-value are Parrish all the way. As a Bears fan, I felt his presence back there on every play. You knew he was coming to lay wood on some unlucky receiver. He made us feel powerful.
There are no such debates for the other safety spot. Mike Brown’s breakout 2nd season in 2001 is one of the great individual seasons in Bears history, and was the reason the team allowed Parrish to leave in free agency after the ‘01 season. Injuries destroyed Brown’s career — after playing 16 games for each of his first four seasons, he landed on IR in 2004, 2006, and 2007, and missed four games in 2005.
His is a sad story, yet ultimately one of triumph. Brown is one of the great players in franchise history. No one who watched him play will ever forget him. Our memories tell the tale, but if that’s not enough, his numbers do too:
Mike Brown’s Bears Defensive Ranks
- 421 tackles, 10th in Bears history (Urlacher 1st with 1040)
- 17 interceptions, 23rd (Fencik, 38)
- 4 INT TDs, tied 3rd (Tillman, 8)
- 43 passes defended, 6th (Tillman, 134)
- 8 forced fumbles, tied 13th (Tillman, 42)
- 7 recovered fumbles, tied 54th (Butkus, 27)
- 221 yards on fumble returns, 1st (Urlacher 2nd, 177)
- 3 fumble return TDs, 1st (six tied with 2 TDs)
- 7 defensive TDs, 2nd (Tillman, 9)
Here is the WCG staff with final thoughts:
Lester Wiltfong: Chris Harris was 2nd team All Pro in 2010 with the Bears, but I think Parrish is the right choice. Mike Brown is a no-brainer.
Andrew Link: Parrish and Brown for me too.
Stephen Ronkowski: Brown for sure at #1. This game and the San Francisco game in 2005 are two of my favorite all-time Bears wins.
Sam Householder: Brown's back-to-back games solidified my love for football and the Bears. That was when it was like, "Okay, from here on out this is my team and I am following them.”
Ken Mitchell: Mike Brown is by far #1 without a doubt. He's one of my mythical Ring Of Honor guys. I think Parrish edges out Mark Carrier (my second pick to start alongside Brown) or Chris Harris. All three are quality Pro-Bowl type players.
Unfortunately, our reality as Bears fans is that we only got to watch Brown and Parrish play together for two seasons, a total of 33 games with the postseason.
They live on together into eternity on the WCG AB PD Team.
FREE SAFETY — Brown
STRONG SAFETY — Parrish
NEXT WEDNESDAY: the field general... the team leader... the quarterback...
All statistics from pro-football-reference.com, unless otherwise noted.
YOU BE THE JUDGE
Who is the best Bears FREE SAFETY of the post-Ditka era? (1993-2016)
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Who is the best Bears STRONG SAFETY of the post-Ditka era?
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