Jay Cutler passed Sid Luckman in 2013 to become the all-time leading passer in Bears history, and he passed Luckman in 2015 to become the franchise’s leader in passing touchdowns. Yet as glorious and productive as he was, there was one man whose records he could not topple.
Yes, my fellow November 6er is the unlikely holder of two significant Bears single-season passing records, both of which he set in that glorious season of league-wide aerial assaults, 1995: passing yards, with 3,838, and touchdown passes, with 29.
Cutler came close. His top marks came in 2014, when he threw for 3,812 yards and 28 touchdowns. He did so in 15 games, and the only contest he missed was Week 16, when Marc Trestman benched him in favor of Jimmy Clausen. The other JC threw for 181 yards and two touchdowns that game, marks that Cutler would have easily matched, and that would have pushed him atop Kramer.
But it was not to be, and Kramer’s records still stand.
That’s where Mitch Trubisky comes in.
After six games, Money Mitch has 1,594 yards and 13 touchdowns, putting him on pace for 4,251 yards and 35 touchdowns. It’s wild to say this out loud, and obviously redundant, but not only would these marks break Kramer’s records, they would make Trubisky the first Bears quarterback to reach either the 4,000-yard barrier or toss 30 touchdowns in a season.
Kramer set his records in a year where passing numbers seemed to explode across the league. In the NFC Central alone, Brett Favre, Scott Mitchell and Warren Moon all topped the 4,000/30 marks. Herman Moore of the Lions set a new NFL record with 123 receptions, and was one of nine players that year who landed in the top 10 all-time on the single-season receptions list (due to ties), including running backs Eric Metcalf and Larry Centers.
The production by Kramer and Bears wide receivers Curtis Conway (62 catches, 1,037 yards, 12 TD) and Jeff Graham (82, 1,301, 4) seemed pedestrian in comparison, but these were outstanding efforts for the Navy and Orange. Kramer’s 3,838 yards easily surpassed Billy Wade’s then-record 3,172 passing yards from 1962, while his 29 touchdowns crept past Sid Luckman’s mind-blowing 28 in 1943, in which he threw a touchdown on 13.9% of his attempt, an NFL record that still stands.
My colleague Jeff Berckes is compiling an ongoing spreadsheet showing Trubisky’s progress in 2018 compared to Kramer’s in 1995, and it’s fun to see how Mitch is progressing. Here are their stats after six games:
- Trubisky: 139-211 (65.9%), 1,594 yards, 13 TD, 6 INT, 97.1 QB rating
- Kramer: 119-199 (59.8%), 1,452 yards, 14 TD, 2 INT, 101.6 QB rating
After the Dolphins game, Mitch was also on pace to set a new franchise record for single-season completion percentage for anyone with a minimum of 200 attempts. He was at 70.2%, while Brian Hoyer (YEP) has that record at 67.0% in 2016. Mitch is now down to 65.9%, so that is in play.
Also in play is Josh McCown’s franchise record for passer rating (again, with a minimum of 200 attempts), which he set in 2013 at 109.0. Mitch is down to 97.1, but after the Dolphins game he was third at 105.6.
One record he is unlikely to break is one certainly no one even considered at the start of the season, and that is Bobby Douglass’s then-NFL record of 968 yards rushing for a quarterback. Only Mike Vick has passed him (with 1,039 yards in 2006, albeit in two more games), and obviously Douglass’s 968 remains far and away the franchise record.
But Mitch can top Douglass’s 2nd place mark of 525 yards, which he set in 1973. Douglass gained 40.4 yards per game on the ground that year — Mitch is at 40.8.
Cynics will say that these passing stats don’t matter. That yards are up everywhere, that passing is easier than it has ever been and that the bar for Bears passing records is so low no wedding guest, sober or otherwise, could ever clear it in limbo.
Like Rhett Butler before me, I don’t give a damn.
I get excited for records, no matter the bar. For one thing, it’s an added element of fandom. For another, and possibly more meaningful, these records provide a metric of franchise progress. Like a person of a historically underrepresented group achieving a significant “first,” we might feel that a given year is embarrassingly late for a society to clear a certain milestone.
Yet doing so is important, if for no other reason than we finally get to look to the future, put the past behind us and talk about something else.
That’s how I feel about these Bears passing records. It’s damn sure time for our beloved Bears to join the 21st century. We need these 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns. They are the stepping stone to 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns. Perhaps they are even the stepping stone to our next Super Bowl championship. Take us home, Mitch. Just keep flinging.
Jack M Silverstein is Windy City Gridiron’s Bears historian, and author of “How The GOAT Was Built: 6 Life Lessons From the 1996 Chicago Bulls.” He is the proprietor of Chicago sports history Instagram “A Shot on Ehlo.” Say hey at @readjack.