As the NFL’s charter franchise, the Bears have had the fortune of playing 1,370 games in their history. Since 1921, Chicago has been host to an immeasurable number of individual accomplishments, unprecedented league dominance, some of legendary players, and of course, the lowest of lows.
The 2018 season continues the Bears’ trek towards the 1,400 game mark to add new chapters to their record ledger. Technically no record is truly unbreakable. Some just seem entirely insurmountable in comparison, stand out on their own, and bring about a painful chorus reminder of past failure. Here’s a hunch that the next few hundred chances present the same ebb and flow founder George Halas established.
For the first 98 years of the Bears’ existence and a franchise that was once called the Decatur Staleys, here are the very best, worst, and most unbreakable records they’ve set. Each of these records stand alone in Bears’ lore and the NFL on a grand scale.
The best: Two losing seasons in the first 27 years
It’s easy to forget amidst the worst run of sustained failure in the team’s history over roughly the past 30 years, but when Halas founded the Bears, he had them a cut above the competition for almost three decades. “Papa Bear” had the NFL’s first franchise and the best unmatched team to boot.
The Bears were so good from 1920 to 1946, they only dipped below .500 twice: in 1929 and 1945. Otherwise, they had at least 15 nine-win seasons (back when the regular season was 12 games) during that span. On top of that figure, they won seven championships in this time frame: essentially once every four years. An unprecedented mark to imagine in the salary cap, free agency era.
You can say that the NFL itself was less contentious back then, as until 1944 the league was sized at around 10 to 12 teams. You can say it was easier to retain talent and develop it without reasonable risk of a player walking away too. These are entirely valid “knocks” against what the Bears accomplished, from a modern perspective. Unless of course, you neglect to remember that everyone in the early 20th century was playing on a level field. Everyone had the same benefits, the same means to build, and similar competition. The Bears just so happened to excel consistently anyway.
Two losing seasons in 27 years seems impossible to start in 2018. A championship every four years is even crazier. Organizational executives dream about that type of run. The only way a modern NFL franchise could accomplish that is with uninterrupted star quarterback play, like the Packers with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers from 1992 to the present. But that kind of luck with the most important position is unbelievably random. Not to mention the occasional seasonal misstep or unfortunate injuries derailing a year, throwing everything off course.
Unless Mitchell Trubisky and whoever succeeds him both turn out to be Hall of Famers, as quarterbacks hold more influence over winning than anything else in football, this initial run of Bears’ success will continue to soldier on.
The worst: No Pro Bowl quarterbacks in over 30 years
The thing about Pro Bowl voting is that it’s subjective to a flawed extent. It’s not entirely based on individual performance and impact, and turns into a popularity content taking a player’s team’s win and loss record into too much account. Look no further than Akiem Hicks not being voted in after two stellar seasons on the lakefront.
And yet, despite the drawbacks of properly recognizing players with the Pro Bowl, somehow the Bears haven’t been able to win a popularity contest with a quarterback for 32 seasons. Not even as an alternate in the event that someone pulls out of the All-Star game. Not even with multiple guys taking steps back and not participating, which happens all the time because of the postseason and players wanting to relax.
The Bears’ laundry list of quarterbacks tanking and failing is well-documented. No record better illustrates their failure to find good quarterbacks than the fact that they haven’t a Pro Bowler at the position since 1985 with Jim McMahon. They stand alone among all 32 teams in that regard. Even the expansion Texans and Jaguars, who have only come into existence in the last 25 years, have had Pro Bowl quarterbacks.
Who would’ve a thought a franchise that’s started 30 different quarterbacks since 1992 wouldn’t have one Pro Bowler? Absolutely mind blowing, you have to think.
The closest the Bears have come to a Pro Bowl passer in this era was Jay Cutler: when he was named an alternate back in 2009 before the Bears traded for him. Before he put on the Bears’ uniform. Otherwise under center, Chicago has understandably not been respected under the national microscope more than anyone else in the league.
Perhaps Trubisky can soon break this streak. At least the Bears hope he does. It’s going to be difficult to top 32 years of voting and rightful recognition ineptitude regardless. The memory isn’t simply washed away.
The weirdest: Mike Brown’s back-to-back overtime winners
This isn’t technically a measured record so to speak, but when’s the next time you’ll see the same player take back an overtime winning interception in two consecutive comeback victories? One of the bigger two-hit wonder aberrations in Bears’ history. The 2001 Bears finished a shocking 13-3. Nothing was more special about that year than Mike Brown putting on the finishing touches in incredible fashion near the midseason point.
The Bears had already started the season a surprising 4-1, highlighted by a victory over the solid Vikings in Week 2. Entering Week 7 against the loaded 49ers, the Bears predictably fell back to Earth for most of the game, at one point trailing 28-9 in the fourth quarter. A frantic late comeback led by Jim Miller, David Terrell, and Anthony Thomas would send the contest into overtime.
On the first play of the extra frame, Brown put the Bears on his back with an interception: off a pass intended for superstar receiver Terrell Owens no less. A touchdown, and a dodged bullet courtesy of Brown.
The following week, the surprising Browns also had a seemingly insurmountable late 21-7 lead. Two touchdowns in the last 28 seconds, including a score by James Allen on the final play of regulation, was the reason the Bears again made a frantic comeback into overtime.
Lo and behold, Brown - one of the greatest Bears safeties ever - was Johnny on the spot once more early in overtime. Another pick-six, another walk-off game winner, and in almost identical fashion for the now 6-1 cardiac Bears. After Brown scored, he ran straight out of the end zone and into the tunnel, just as shocked as everyone else at an inexplicable Bears’ win happening in his hands in the same way two weeks in a row.
Brown, effectively, had caught lightning in a bottle twice.
“If a book was written, I don’t think they’d believe it. It just came right to me and fell right into my hands,” Brown said then. ”I don’t know what to say. A higher power, luck, destiny, whatever you call it.”
The likelihood of two comeback victories happening in this manner and being finished off by the most fortunate of bounces is extremely miniscule. Brown’s accomplishment and literally taking matters into his own hands won’t soon be forgotten.
Most unbreakable: The dominance of the 1940 Bears
A solid amount of Pro Bowlers for an NFL team in 2018 is generally anywhere from five to eight players. That means almost half of your starters played like stars, and most of the rest of your main contributors played at an above average or serviceable level.
Back in 1940, the Bears had 32 Pro Bowlers and eight All-Pros. You read that right. Fun fact: an active NFL roster in 1940 had 33 players. So almost everyone who played for the Bears then, including Hall of Famers in quarterback Sid Luckman and rookie Clyde “Bulldog” Turner, was the cream of the crop. Quality and unmatched depth in one. They were the “Monstars” 56 years before the release of Space Jam.
Naturally, by season’s end, Chicago went on to win the NFL championship over the Washington Redskins 73-0. Again, you read that right. The largest margin of victory in an NFL championship bout that will almost certainly never happen again: because a coach will eventually call off the dogs once victory is secure.
Enough is eventually enough when a title is definite, but it wasn’t for these Bears. They wanted revenge over Washington owner and coach, George Preston Marshall, who had called Halas and his team “quitters” and “cry babies” after a regular season meeting. Halas used these words to galvanize his players to embarrass Washington before they met again in the title game.
Marshall had poked the wrong Bear, or Bears: one of the most elite collections of talent in NFL history. They weren’t going to let him forget his disrespect. They were too good and too confident to do so. They were going to rub it in, and rub it in they did, as this game is forever etched into history for it’s humiliation. The perfect capper for arguably the best Bears team ever. An 8-3 regular season doesn’t do this Bears’ roster’s work justice.
The 1972 Dolphins and 1985 Bears, among others, often rightfully lead the discussion of greatest NFL teams of all time. This is an official submission for the 1940 Bears instead: a team that won’t be matched in unrelenting star power across a 53-man roster. A team who maintains the most prideful utter beatdown a championship game has seen to date.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for The Rock River Times, an editor for Windy City Gridiron and Inside The Pylon, and is a contributor to Pro Football Weekly and The Athletic Chicago. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.