When my name came up first in our Windy City Gridiron all-time Bears fantasy draft order, I knew almost instantly that I would stick to my gameplan of going defense first. After that, I debated between Butkus, Singletary and Urlacher, and settled quickly on #54.
Urlacher has a ton of traits that I would end up looking for throughout our 25 picks, namely skills, speed, heart, versatility and some degree of mean. Before I get to a breakdown of how I made each decision, here is my kick-ass team that every Bears fan would enjoy watching and rooting for.
Gameplan: Everything starts with our offensive line, with Pro Bowlers at four of five spots, and the right tackle for one of the most bruising Bears lines ever (2001). We’ve got a power running game with J-Mack and Osmanski, or a speed running game with Scooter McLean and potentially Osmanski in the backfield.
Our wide receivers can flat out fly. One of the NFL’s original jump ball artists in Marcus Robinson (also a collegiate sprinter who set a school record in the 200 meter) with one of the franchise’s greatest possession receivers in Jim Keane, along with arguably the two fastest players in franchise history — Knox and Hester — in the slot.
On goal line plays, we’re bringing in defensive stars Bill Hewitt and Brian Urlacher as short yardage tight ends who can also block.
- QB: George Blanda
- RB: Bill Osmanski, Ray McLean, George Gulyanics
- FB: Jason McKie, Bill Osmanski
- WR 1: Marcus Robinson, Johnny Knox
- WR 2: Jim Keane, Devin Hester
- TE: Bill Hewitt, Brian Urlacher
- LT: Ed Kolman
- LG: Ruben Brown
- C: Olin Kreutz
- RG: Dick Barwegen
- RT: Blake Brockermeyer
Gameplan: Rush the quarterback, strength up the middle, and decapitate.
You simply cannot run between the tackles with Keith Traylor, Jim Flanigan, Urlacher, Bill George, and our safeties. Doug Plank and Todd Bell are stacking bodies. We have two of the best DBs in Bears history at corner with Rosey Taylor and Nathan Vasher.
And we are swallowing the quarterback with Hewitt, Hartenstine, Al Harris, Flanigan, and a blitzing Urlacher.
Good luck, offenses.
- DE: Bill Hewitt, Mike Hartenstine
- DT: Keith Traylor, Jim Flanigan
- LB: Al Harris, Bill George, Brian Urlacher
- CB: Rosey Taylor, Nathan Vasher
- NB: Ray McLean
- S: Todd Bell, Doug Plank, Rosey Taylor
- K: George Blanda
- P: George Gulyanics
- KR: Devin Hester, Johnny Knox
- P: Devin Hester
- LS: Patrick Mannelly (okay, we all have him)
That’s the rundown.
After Urlacher, here’s how it happened:
Round 2, pick 16: Bill Hewitt, defensive end / end / full back
This was a snake draft, and since I had the first pick, that meant I would always be picking back-to-back, followed by a long wait. After taking Urlacher #1, I saw a ton of the usual suspects get gobbled up, along with some unusual suspects (Floyd to Rob (okay fine, no surprise there) and Mitch to Sam).
I started the draft by just trying to target great players who fit my bill of versatile, mean, and fast. And I decided early on that I would target my next two picks, the first being Bill Hewitt. I was always somewhat familiar with Hewitt, because his number is retired and he’s a Hall of Famer, but it was researching my Bears-Packers history story last year that sealed my love of old #56.
In 1933, in a 7-7 game, the Packers drove to the Bears 30 and eventually set up for the go-ahead field goal with less than a minute to go. Hewitt then made what is surely one of the greatest individual plays in Bears history. As reported by the Chicago Daily Tribune:
Once again Hewitt flashed in front left end and this time the ball bounced laterally from Bill’s chest. Hewitt followed its bounding course, picked it up in front of a teammate who watched to protect him from any opponent, and finished his sprint behind the goal line.
That was plenty. Hewitt was known in his career as “The Offsides Kid,” so skilled at timing the snap. He once said that his job was to get the quarterback, and it was the ref’s job to decide whether he’d left too early.
And as a receiver, he caught 103 career passes for 1,638 yards, a 15.9 yards per catch average, and 23 touchdowns. In 1934, he led the NFL in receiving touchdowns with five.
At the outset of the draft, we decided that players had the skills that they had in their day, meaning someone like Sid Luckman would be as good a QB now based on league standards as he was then. With that comes a question about two-way players, whether we get their two-way performance. And you know what? Yes, yes we do.
Hang on to that notion — it will be back.
Round 3, pick 17: Devin Hester, returner / receiver
Our positional stipulations were 11 players on offense, 11 on defense, one kicker, one punter, one “bonus” player. I was the first of us to pick a “bonus” player when I grabbed Hester with the first pick in the 3rd round.
In retrospect, it was probably a little early. I bet I could have gotten him 15 picks later. The other guy I considered here was Peanut, since he locks up one corner spot and is far and away the best corner in Bears history.
But I don’t by any means regret taking Hester here. He gives my team an element that no one can match, with the exception of possibly Lester with the Kansas Comet. No one in NFL history gave his team such an advantage in the return game, and if we are thinking about these 25 picks as the foundation for a full roster (which is how I approached it), then Hester is the rock of my 3rd phase.
Round 4, pick 32: Bill George, middle linebacker
Every time I picked, I then waited 15 picks, and throughout that wait there were tons of guys who I targeted who were scooped up. In this batch was Peanut (#19 overall), Mike Brown (#20), Peppers (#24), Joe Stydahar (#27) and Tommie Harris (#30).
Yet as I saw this play out, I realized that there was a chance that Bill George would be on the board for me, and I decided that if he was available I would take him, even with Urlacher. He was, and I did.
My plan here is to play George in the middle and move Urlacher all over the field. However, I’m sure there will be times when we’ll play Urlacher in the middle and move George to the outside. In nickel, they both stay in.
Good luck, offenses.
Round 5, pick 33: Olin Kreutz, center
I had a pretty good idea that I was going to mostly focus on defense in the first half of the draft, so I felt it was vital that I grab my offensive leader, and someone around whom I can build my line. I probably would have taken Bulldog Turner if somehow he’d lasted this long (and thankfully, he didn’t, going #13 to Jeff).
So it was between Kreutz, Jay Hilgenberg, and George Trafton. Can’t go wrong with any of these guys, and obviously between the three of them, Trafton is the only Hall of Famer. But I went with Kreutz because of his talent, his skillset (again, versatile, having excelled under multiple offensive coordinators), his leadership, and because, like with Urlacher, Olin’s my guy.
Round 6, pick 48: Rosey Taylor, safety and corner
Round 7, pick 49: Doug Plank, safety
At this point, I was keeping an eye on the running backs, biding my time for Thomas Jones. Sam took Sweetness, Ken took Bronko, Lester took Sayers, Ken took Forte (which had me thinking, okay, Ken will have Nagurski at fullback) ... and then Ken took Red Grange. That should have been my warning. Ken now had three running backs in an eight-team league.
I figured that the next five RBs would go in some order between these guys: George McAfee, TJ, Galimore, Anderson, Jordan Howard. That would be eight guys off the board. Then you have Rick Casares, who for our purposes is a feature back, and maybe Anthony Thomas. It felt like a crap shoot after that.
I probably should have gone with Jones here, but I liked the idea of grabbing my safeties, since Mike Brown and Gary Fencik were off the board. I figured that I had Urlacher and George, and drafting two safeties would continue my goal to be strong up the middle.
So I went with Rosey Taylor, who I knew I could also play at corner, and then Doug Plank. Again: versatile, mean, fast. That felt good, and I kept my fingers crossed for Jones.
Round 8, pick 64: Ruben Brown, guard
Like I said: I wanted to be strong up the middle. So my plan for these two picks was to take Ted Washington and Keith Traylor and get the entire 2001 wall in front of Urlacher and Bill George.
But Robert took Washington with the first pick of the 8th round, and so I went after one of my top offensive guards: should-be Hall of Famer in Ruben Brown. So far, so good.
Round 9, pick 65: Keith Traylor, defensive tackle
Oh by the way: Lester took McAfee, and then Robert took Neal Anderson one spot in front of Washington, and three picks later, Lester took Casares. So you would think that I would say, “Alright, it’s time to grab TJ.”
And I almost did.
But I still suspected that he would wait, because only three people (myself included) needed a starting tailback, and Galimore was still out there, so all I needed was for one of the other two people to wait even longer on a running back and I would have Jones. And I really wanted Traylor for my middle, so I took him.
Four picks later, Jacob took Galimore. That left just me and Jeff needing starting RBs.
And that left me thinking that my next two picks would be two TJs: Thomas Jones and Tim Jennings.
Well, Jacob grabbed Jennings at #76, and one pick later, Jeff took Jones at #77.
I was furious. I definitely cursed out loud. I definitely emailed Jeff a jokey/angry response to his pick. No offense to Traylor, but the whole idea of me passing on Payton at #1 was to get Jones. And somehow I blew it.
So I moved forward and decided that I would change my game plan at running back: I would hold off for a bit longer and go after two guys: Bill Osmanski and Tarik Cohen.
Instead, I would build a receiving corps that would give me max firepower. I knew that I had Hester as a #4 receiver, and I started targeting guys who were either deep threats or track stars.
It was around this point that I also zeroed in on a secret quarterback, which would allow me to wait even longer than I already was planning to wait to take a quarterback. I began referring to this quarterback as Secret Quarterback.
you'll be eating your words when Secret Quarterback comes for you https://t.co/don7WDo5Lc— Jack M Silverstein (@readjack) May 12, 2018
And with that...
Round 10, pick 80: Marcus Robinson, wide receiver
One of my two favorite Bears receivers ever (shoutout to Tom Waddle) and a guy who had arguably the greatest Bears receiving season ever prior to Brandon and Alshon.
Round 11, pick 81: Nathan Vasher, cornerback
After Peanut, Robert took Donnell Woolford in the 9th round, and of course I took Rosey Taylor in the 6th (though I originally planned to play him at safety). So with this pick I started weighing positional depth, and I decided that grabbing Nate Vash here would give me 75% of a fantastic secondary.
Round 12, pick 96: Mike Hartenstine, defensive end
For this pick, I decided I wanted one more pass-rushing specialist. I probably would have taken Trace Armstrong, but Lester took him five picks earlier. So I batted around Hartenstine and Ed O’Bradovich and ultimately settled on Hartenstine because of, no joke, his face in this picture:
Round 13, pick 97: Ed Kolman, offensive tackle
To recap, at this point, my team looked like this:
- QB: no one
- Skill: Robinson, Hester (slot guy, probably a #4), Hewitt (goalline tight end), Urlacher (goalline tight end #2, sue me)
- O-line: Kreutz, Brown
- D-line: Hewitt/Hartenstine, Traylor
- Linebacker: Urlacher, George
- Secondary: Vasher, Taylor/Fencik
- Returner: Hester
It was time to fill in my offensive line, and that had to start at left tackle.
Gone were Jimbo Covert, Stydahar, Ed Healey, Keith Van Horne, Big Cat, Lee Artoe. I considered a few guys but really my eyes were on Ed Kolman, who made the Pro Bowl in each of his three seasons (1940, 1941, 1942) and then missed three seasons while fighting in World War II.
Round 14, pick 112: Bill Osmanski, half back / full back
Wouldn’t you know it: Jeff, that S.O.B., snatched Tarik Cohen out from under me. He picked the Joystick at 109, three picks before mine, which was a bummer.
So I decided I had waited long enough and grabbed the bruising yet speedy Osmanski, who led the NFL in 1939 with 699 rushing yards en route to an All Pro selection, and scored the first touchdown of the 1940 championship brutalization of Washington, seen below.
That’s George Wilson with the devastating block — Lester picked him in the 20th round:
Round 15, pick 113: Johnny Knox, wide receiver
This pick was probably a reach. I still didn’t have either my offensive or defensive lines completed. But I think in football, you always want to look for unit strengths, and having Robinson, Knox and Hester in the same receiving corps was a chance I was willing to take.
Round 16, pick 128: Dick Barwegen, offensive guard
I entered this back-to-back aiming for one more offensive guard and my final d-lineman, having decided that there were actually plenty of tackles whom I could select to play on the right side.
One of my favorite aspects of this draft was learning about old time guys whose names never made it to me before. One of those was Barwegen — he was a two-time All Pro with the Baltimore Colts of the All American Football Conference, and came to the Bears after that league folded in 1949, promptly making the Pro Bowl in each of his three seasons here.
We then traded him back to the Colts (now of the NFL), where he made one more Pro Bowl.
Round 17, pick 129: Jim Flanigan, defensive tackle
Like I said — my plan in this back-to-back was to finish my defensive line. I did so with Jim Flanigan, who racked up 40.5 sacks from the interior position in his seven seasons in Chicago, good for 5th in franchise history upon his departure. He had a career-high 11 sacks in 1996 and starred on the 1994 wild card defense.
I would have loved to go big with Traylor and Washington, but Flanigan fits my mold of finding speed wherever I can. As for heart and spirit, which Flanigan has in spades.
Round 18, pick 144: Todd Bell, safety
Round 19, pick 145: Al Harris, outside linebacker / defensive end
In about the 13th round, I saw that there were several great safeties still on the board, and that I might consider drafting one and moving Rosey Taylor to corner. When my picks came around in the 18th and 19th, I saw a pair of players I wanted to take together: safety Todd Bell and OLB/DE Al Harris.
Bell and Harris are forever linked in Bears lore, as they were two starters on the ‘84 NFC runner-up who missed the ‘85 season due to contract disputes. They’ve been tagged as “holdouts,” but as the Tribune’s Don Pierson pointed out in 2005, their situations would have been handled differently under modern salary cap rules:
Although both players were technically “free agents” in 1985, the required compensation of two first-round draft choices was too restrictive to solicit bidding. Harris and Bell incorrectly were labeled “holdouts.”
Bell, Pierson writes, would have been re-signed on a franchise tag:
Under today’s free agent-salary cap system, Bell probably would have been a “franchise” player after his Pro Bowl season of 1984. ... Bell sat out over a difference of approximately $166,000 per season. Former general manager Jerry Vainisi said Bell ... asked for $1.5 million over three years through his agent, Howard Slusher, notorious for holding players out of camp. The Bears offered about $1 million.
Harris would have been a free agent and would have signed elsewhere:
Because Harris had started every 1984 game ahead of rookie linebacker Wilber Marshall, he thought it was unfair Marshall’s $400,000 per year deal was about “three times as much” as Harris made. ... Today, Harris simply could sign elsewhere, like Rosevelt Colvin did with New England when the Bears allotted most of their linebacker money to Brian Urlacher.
In terms of how they fit in with our team, Bell joins Plank as our two safeties, giving me two absolute head hunters. Plank is a better pass defender, though we’ll be moving him up in the box a lot in our 46.
And of course Bell moves Taylor to corner to join Vasher.
Harris, meanwhile, was both an outside linebacker and defensive end throughout his career, giving us another pass rusher who can move around in different schemes. I am reuniting them to get them the ring they never had.
Round 20, pick 160: Jim Keane, wide receiver
After 19 rounds, my team looked like this:
- QB: no one
- RB: Osmanski
- WR: Robinson, Knox, Hester (slot guy, probably a #4)
- TE: Hewitt (goalline tight end), Urlacher (goalline tight end #2)
- Center: Kreutz
- Guards: Brown and Barwegen
- Tackles: Ed Kolman (left side)
- Defensive ends: Hewitt, Hartenstine, and sometimes Harris
- Defensive tackles: Traylor and Flanigan
- Linebackers: Urlacher, George, Harris
- Corners: Taylor and Vasher
- Safeties: Bell and Plank
- Returner: Hester
At this point, I basically lost interest in drafting a tight end. These guys were gone: Ditka, Olsen, Martellus Bennett, Dez Clark, Moorhead, and Ryan Wetnight, who went the pick before mine. I could have gone after Zach Miller, or maybe Robocop, Fred Baxter, Keith Jennings, or Greg Latta.
Instead, I decided to continue to go after receivers, again working off of the assumption that my 25 guys are a foundation, and a full 53 would include some of the tight ends who went undrafted.
Thus I went after another receiver. The following guys were off the board: Marshall, Alshon, Johnny Morris, Harlon Hill, Booker, Robinson (me), Conway, Kavanaugh, Gault, Engram, Knox (me), Moose, Dick Gordon, Jeff Graham, Waddle, George Wilson, and Berrian.
I’d had my eye on both Gault and Berrian to go with Robinson, Knox, Hester, and when they were gone I decided to find a tough, possession receiver who also had downfield skills — kind of an old school Muhsin Muhammad.
In 1947, at age 23, Keane became the first Bear to lead the NFL in receptions, and he retired 1st in Bears history in receptions and 2nd in receiving yards. Keane is my #2 behind Robinson, with Knox and Hester as my #3 and #4.
Now I had to consider a quarterback. I had texted with Robert during the draft as he drilled me with guesses to determine the identity of Secret Quarterback. When he finally got it he felt thrilled in completing the game but underwhelmed by his identity. That’s because Secret Quarterback was none other than Brian Griese, who I planned to take with my final selection.
The idea, again, was that this is a thought exercise, and no Bears quarterback has a wider gap between the amount of time he spent on the field and the amount of space he occupies in the “what if” section of my mind.
Look, I love Rex. I will always support him. But I will also always wonder how the Super Bowl would have played out if we’d had a QB less prone to turnovers and whom the coaches would also protect a bit more through playcalling, the way they did with Kyle Orton the year before.
So Griese was going to be my guy, and then I got to this pick and decided I had another thought exercise in mind with someone who checked the “versatility” box too.
Round 21, pick 161: George Blanda, quarterback / place kicker
George Blanda’s passing statistics, Bears vs. Oilers:
- Bears, 1949-1958: 10 seasons, 8-12-1 record, 45% completion percentage, 5,936 yards, 51.6 yards per game, 48 TD, 70 INT, 51.3 QB rating, zero Pro Bowls.
- Oilers, 1960-1966: 7 seasons, 44-38 record, 48% completion percentage, 19,149 yards, 195.4 yards per game, 165 TD, 189 INT, 62.5 QB rating, three Pro Bowls, one All Pro, one passing title.
Our draft rules are that you get the Bear at the talent level that he was when he played here. So if you draft Orlando Pace, you get old, final season Orlando Pace, not Hall of Fame Orlando Pace.
The question here is: how good was Blanda when he was with the Bears?
I have not seen or read anything that would lead me to believe that Blanda was a bad quarterback who then became a good one in the wide-open AFL. Rather, as Blanda tells it, by the 1950s when Blanda was with the Bears, the professional game had “passed by” George Halas.
Even with that critique, Blanda had success as a Bears quarterback. Before his 1954 season ended with a separated shoulder in a Week 8 loss to the Browns, Blanda was a front runner for All Pro honors. He led the league with 241.1 yards per game. The week before his injury, the Tribune described him thusly:
The quarter backing also has improved by smart drafting, but this turned out to be more of an indirect approach when the signing of two highly touted rookies (JACK NOTE: Zeke Bratkowski and future Pro Bowler Ed Brown) spurred veteran George Blanda to great heights. Entering today’s game, Blanda is regarded in many sectors as the best quarter back in the league.
By taking him as my starter, I am hoping to consider more deeply the hypothetical Bears run in the mid-1950s and even into the 1960s in which the future Hall of Famer Blanda is our franchise quarterback.
He’s my kicker too — in 1956, Blanda concluded a streak of 156 consecutive extra points, an NFL-record at the time that blew past the previous mark of 109 by Lou “The Toe” Groza, a man who for a while was considered the greatest kicker in NFL history.
Seriously, look at the passes in the first minute of this tape and tell me we didn’t blow it with this guy:
Round 22, pick 176: Ray “Scooter” McLean, half back
My plan here was to pick Brendon Ayanbadejo to lead my special teams unit, but Rob got him seven picks earlier. So I decided that with Tarik Cohen gone, I still wanted a speedy running back. It was between Beattie Feathers and Scooter McLean, and I took McLean because his receiving numbers out of the backfield resemble what I would have wanted to do with Cohen:
One-hundred three career receptions for 2,232 yards, a 21.7 yards per catch average with 21 touchdowns.
McLean was a two-time Pro Bowler who in 1942 (not a Pro Bowl season), caught 19 passes for 571 yards and a 30.1 yards per catch average, with eight touchdowns. He routinely was among the NFL’s best in yards per reception among players who matched or exceeded his reception total, finishing 3rd in that respect in 1940, 1st in 1942, 1943 and 1944, and 3rd in 1946.
He was an ace defensively as well, with 18 career interceptions, and always a threat to score on a pick or a fumble recovery.
Round 23, pick 177: Jason McKie, full back
I actually got a bit carried away with the 1940s backs, and originally took bruising runner Gary Famiglietti with this pick. But when we got to the end of the draft and I realized my guy J-Mack was still on the board, I had to grab him and swap out Famiglietti.
I should have taken McKie in the first place: he paved the way for two thousand-yard rushers (Jones and Forte), started Super Bowl LI, was one of the strongest players on the Bears and was also one of the most beloved — with teammates, coaches, fans and reporters.
This left me with two spots to fill, punter and right tackle, and as I examined the draft board I felt good about both.
Round 24, pick 192: George Gulyanics, punter / half back
Before this draft, I knew the name George Gulyanics, having come upon it during various stints of reading and research, but I didn’t know anything about him. Well, he led the NFL in yards per punt twice, and his career 44.5 yards per punt is 2nd in team history to Pat O’Donnell.
He also averaged 4.1 yards per carry on 509 career rushes during his six-year career, and scored 19 touchdowns on the ground, plus two more as a receiver.
Round 25, pick 193: Blake Brockermeyer, right tackle
To end my draft, I took the right tackle on one of my favorite offensive lines in Bears history, 2001, a group that had all five starters log 16 starts while paving the way for Anthony Thomas’s 1,000-yard season and helping a team led by Jim Miller and Shane Matthews go 13-3.
Bear Down, my fellow WCGers. Let’s do this.
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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.