Football is a game of attrition. For a career to be successful, there is an element of luck.
No player escapes injury, but some are lucky enough to escape serious injury and others are able to avoid devastating injury.
Injuries in all sports shorten careers and hamper production but in football they can end careers and alter trajectories of players.
The Chicago Bears are no different than many other franchises, they’ve had plenty of great talents seen their careers zapped because of injury.
The idea for this article stemmed from this tweet I came across over the weekend:
SOCIAL EXPERIMENT: If you come across this tweet, reply with the one athlete you’d wish had been perfectly healthy their whole career.— Brandon Olsen (@WNS_Brandon) June 24, 2019
Don’t read the replies before you reply.
Instead of looking at all sports, I thought I would focus on just one team, the Chicago Bears, for obvious reasons.
There are plenty of options to pick from in this instance. The first name that would to many fans’ minds is Gale Sayers. Sayers was a Hall of Famer with the injuries he had, the shortest career of any NFL player ever. But how good would he have been had he stayed healthy? How far up the record books would he have gotten? Would any of his numbers be untouchable?
They’re all fair questions.
In the 1980s, the Bears had a very good quarterback in Jim McMahon. As defending Super Bowl champs, he was the target of the dirtiest play in NFL history when Charles Martin body-slammed the QB on to his throwing shoulder. McMahon missed the rest of the season and was never quite the same again. His health certainly would have changed the Bears’ fortunes in 1986 and likely any of the other subsequent seasons.
McMahon won 73 percent of his regular season starts as a Bears QB. Would the Bears’ dynasty gone from ‘could have been’ to ‘was?’
These players’ best days were before my time watching the team and while it would be cool to look back at those players had they had good health, they aren’t my picks.
It’s also not Jay Cutler, who could also merit discussion. If not for his injury in 2010 NFC Championship Game or in the Week 11 game against San Diego the next year, who knows how his Bears legacy plays out? Maybe the Bears wouldn’t have made the Super Bowl in 2010 but maybe we’re talking about multiple playoff berths.
But, no, my pick is Mike Brown.
Mike Brown came in on our list of Top 100 Bears players at No. 43 and he had a great career here, notching 17 interceptions, eight forced fumbles and a franchise record 11 defensive touchdowns. He was a one-time Pro-Bowler and a one-time first team All-Pro selection.
These numbers would have been even better had he stayed healthy. After missing only one game over his first four seasons, Brown missed 41 games over his next four. He managed to play in 15 and 16 games in his final two seasons, the last of which was spent in Kansas City.
WCG writer Jeff Berckes says that if Brown hadn’t been hurt, the Bears would’ve won Super Bowl XLI and I agree with him.
That season, the Bears gave up 74.5 rushing yards a game with Brown (six games) but without him surrendered 114.3. With Brown they allowed 168.7 passing yards and without him, it went up to 210.4 yards per game.
The previous season, when Brown played 12 games, the defense allowed 177.9 passing yards and 93.2 rushing yards with him and 209.3 passing and 129.5 rushing yards without him, showing it wasn’t just sample sizes, the defense was demonstrably worse without Mike Brown.
I would love to see what his career would’ve been like if he had stayed healthy. Would the Bears have beat Peyton Manning and the Colts? Would that defense have had another Hall of Famer, to go along with Brian Urlacher (and maybe Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman)? Would Brown be considered the best safety in team history?
I think it’s possible.
Here’s what some of my Twitter followers said when I tossed it out to them:
Johnny Knox— DrunkMattNagy (@DrunkMattNagy) June 27, 2019
Tommie Harris— iowaBear (@iowa_bear) June 27, 2019
Jay cutler. Hear me out. 2011, they make the playoffs and probably go to the super bowl.— Jeff Colegg (@JMColegg1988) June 27, 2019
and of course, this smart man:
Mike Brown. We win a Super Bowl if he plays that game. I would argue he was the most important part of that defense in so many ways.— Matt Carstensen (@CarsKeys1) June 27, 2019
Which player do you wish had had a completely healthy career?