In the long history of the Chicago Bears there have been several players that have captured the essence of the underdog. As Chicago fans, we’re often drawn to these unlikely stars because of their blue collar mentality of fighting and clawing for everything they’ve received on the football field.
One of the biggest underdog stories in Chicago also captured the national spotlight when Tom Waddle was named to the 1991 All-Madden team. The All-Madden team wasn’t about stats, it was about toughness, grit and passion, and Waddle’s made him a fan favorite in Chicago.
Waddle caught 55 balls for 599 yards in 1991, but his place on the All-Madden team was solidified due to his fantastic 9 catch, 103 yard performance in the Bears 17-13 wildcard loss to the Cowboys.
Waddle’s underdog story started two years before he made the All-Madden team when he was an undrafted free agent of the Bears after a stellar career at Boston College. Deemed too small and slow by most scouts, the Bears took a chance on Waddle’s great hands in the 1989 UDFA market.
He only lasted a few months as he was cut before the season, but he was be brought back to what was the Bears’ version of the practice squad at the time. Head coach Mike Ditka would go on to cut him three more times the next two years, but he also kept bringing him back. “When Ditka called me into his office to cut me, I was almost relieved to be cut,” Waddle said. “I just had this feeling that he wasn’t just going to cut me, but that he would reach across the desk and kill me.”
Ditka would plug Waddle into the line up from time to time during those first two years, but it wasn’t until 1991 when he finally stuck for good. In what I’ll always remember as the Cap Boso game, Waddle went off for 8 receptions and 102 yards in their Monday Night win against the Jets in week 4 of the ‘91 season.
The 1992 season saw Waddle go for 46 receptions and 674 receiving yards, but it was a week one last second touchdown to beat the Lions that helped him build off the All-Madden buzz.
In week 4 of that season the legend of Tom Waddle grew a bit more when he outran All-Pro corner “Neon” Deion Sanders for a touchdown. Sure he had a bit of a head start, but that didn’t make it any less exciting.
In 1993 Waddle led the Bears in both receptions (44) and yards (552) in what would be his last decent year as a pro. Injuries held him to only 9 games in 1994 when he grabbed 25 balls for 244 yards, but new head coach Dave Wannstedt wanted to phase him out of the lineup anyway.
Wannstedt and the Bears didn’t offer Waddle a deal to return in 1995, so after flirting with his hometown Bengals for a bit, he decided to retire at the age of 28.
He has since gone on to be a mainstay in Chicago media and his underdog legend continues to be shared by his fans.
Who are some other Underdogs that come to mind when you think of the Chicago Bears?
You can check out the full video highlight package from that 1991 wildcard game right here.