The year is 1969, and the Chicago Bears had a team with some talent. Future Hall of Famers Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus both had All Pro seasons. The defense had some additional talent with the likes of Doug Buffone and Ed O’Bradovich, but on offense, outside of Sayers, the Bears had very little.
While they had some pieces, they didn’t have enough, and even with some of that top-end talent, the Bears had a dismal season and wound up with a 1-13 record, which was good for a last place tie with the Pittsburgh Steelers, a woeful franchise with 1 playoff appearance in almost 40 years of existence.
The NFL decided it would have a coin toss to determine which of these teams would have the first pick in the draft. When all parties met in a New Orleans hotel, Steelers owner Dan Rooney told Bears’ executive Ed McCaskey to call the coin toss, so when NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle tossed the coin in the air, McCaskey called heads... but it came up tails.
The Steelers would have the first pick in the draft giving them the opportunity to pick quarterback Terry Bradshaw from Louisiana Tech.
If I could change one thing in Bears history, I would change that coin toss. Oh, there’s a lot of options, giving the ball to Thomas Jones more in Super Bowl XL, making sure Jay Cutler is healthy for the 2010 NFC Championship, keeping Jim McMahon healthy for the 1986 season and of course, the double doink. So many choices, but I’m going with the coin toss.
I’ve heard the counter argument to this. “If the Bears won that coin toss, they would have been too good to draft Walter Payton.” Not so fast, my friend.
Terry Bradshaw was very slow to develop into a Hall of Fame caliber quarterback. In fact, his first three seasons in the league, Pittsburgh still had a losing record. The Steelers started making the playoffs regularly in 1972, but those early Steelers teams from the 70s relied on their stellar defense and their running game with Franco Harris. Bradshaw still had minimal impact on the games.
It wasn’t until 1975 that Bradshaw really started coming into his own, and that just happens to be the same year the Bears drafted Walter Payton.
What could have been for the Chicago Bears. A Hall of Fame caliber QB, perhaps the greatest running back in the history of the sport, and an up and coming defense that would eventually become arguably the most dominant in the history of the sport.
The Bears had an opportunity to become a dominant team, potentially with multiple Super Bowl championships through out the 70s and 80s. They could have become a dynasty. It could have changed the projected path of the franchise for years if not decades to come.
The Steelers were a clown organization for 40 years but once Chuck Noll had established a culture of winning, the franchise has been arguably the best in the sport for the last five decades.
Would that have been the same path for Chicago? No one will ever know, but for a team that’s been searching for a franchise quarterback for 70 years, the Bears were a coinflip away from having arguably one of the top ten quarterbacks in the history of the sport.
If there was one thing I would change in the history of the Bears’ franchise, I would have Ed McCaskey call tails in that New Orleans hotel and see just how different the path of the franchise would be.