An iconic staple of Thanksgiving is NFL football, as teams have played on the holiday almost every year since 1920. Hall of Fame linebacker and Bears legend Mike Singletary knows the importance of Thanksgiving football as much as anyone.
Singletary played on Thanksgiving twice during his illustrious NFL career, having played the Cowboys as a rookie in 1981 and the Lions in one of his final seasons in 1991.
“it’s always an honor to be playing on Thanksgiving Day, because there are several benefits and bonuses, number one,” Singletary told Windy City Gridiron. “[You’re also] one of the only games gone that day, so the entire country, they’ll have a chance to sit down and watch you and really look forward to seeing those games. Unlike a Sunday, you know, people got church or whatever, on Thanksgiving, it’s a football day, all day. It’s a great day. You’re playing on that Thursday, you have to do a lot of things to get there, but man, you’re going to be off that Sunday. It’s just a win-win for the players, So you really want to focus on winning that game so that you can enjoy that 10-day stretch.”
The 10-time Pro Bowler cemented himself as one of the greatest linebackers in NFL history during his playing days, and he spent 14 years after his playing days as a coach in the league, including 40 games as the head coach of the 49ers from 2008 to 2010. Nowadays, he’s heavily involved in the Pro Football Retired Players Association. The program works to ensure that retired players have the support that they need to take care of their health and well-being through various benefits and programs.
“My involvement with the [PFRPA], we’re looking to help better the game. Too oftentimes, we’re all consumed with the players that are on the field today, not recognizing and not realizing that it’s the players as a whole — the players of yesterday — that made the game what it is today. Before I can go forward, I need to make sure that I take care of those guys that came before me and always keep an eye on where I’ve been so that I don’t repeat it. For me, that’s why I’m part of the Retired Players Association. The other thing is, when I look at the game today, it’s just continuing to do my part and be a part of an association that is all about the players. To me, those are a couple of things that really make the difference.”
Singletary was a figurehead of the legendary 1985 Bears team, the Super Bowl-winning team that remains the franchise’s only Super Bowl winner as of this writing. The team was spearheaded by one of the best dominant defenses the league has ever seen. The rules in the 1980s were much different from how they are today, with the old league promoting a more physical and aggressive game.
Though the game today is occasionally described as “soft” for its extremely strict rules promoting player safety, the man christened “Samurai Mike” believes there’s another Hall of Famer from that ‘85 Bears team who would thrive in today’s game.
“I think Richard Dent would be in football heaven, because it’s all about pass rush,” Singletary explained. “Today, if you’re going to win in the NFL, you’ve got to have a quarterback that can throw the ball, make decisions, and get the ball out of his hands. If you’re going to be on the other side of that on defense, unless you want to be out there all day, you better have somebody to get to the quarterback. Dent was that pass rusher, and that’s a position today that you really have to pay them well, because if you’re not getting to the quarterback, you’re not winning that game.”
Singletary was a part of many successful teams during his time with the Bears, but his time in football hasn’t been without adversity. Chicago went under .500 in four of his seasons with the team, and two of his three years as head coach of the 49ers saw his team finish with more losses than wins. Having been on both sides of that situation, he offered advice for current teams like the Bears, who are 3-8 as of this writing and on track for their 10th season in the last 11 years to fail to top the .500 winning percentage.
“It is an opportunity for the leadership of that team that’s really going to come from the locker room,” Singletary elaborated. “It is being able to be where we’re going, rather than where we are, and being able to begin to look around as a leader, and talk to those guys and breathe life into guys that are right on the edge. They’re not sure what to be what to think, and maybe they’re down on their luck, and maybe they wish they were part of a winning team. Well, it’s really, really important that [as a] head coach, you begin to see who your leaders are, my stakeholders, the pillars of this team, you begin to see who those guys are. Hopefully, you have them, because those are the guys that are going to continue to have the fire. They represent the fire for that team, to what’s coming.”
“[You say] right now, we’re not there. Just give us some time, and we’re going to continue to collect talent around them. We’re coming, we are going to be there when it’s all said and done. It is the place where all great teams have the opportunity to find out where that leadership [comes from], and that leadership has a chance to blossom, the chance to grow, and really spark something in that team that maybe is not there right now, but you can see it starting from the inside out. Everything green starts from the inside out.”
The big talk around Chicagoland is the future status of Bears quarterback Justin Fields. There’s no denying the 2021 first-round pick hasn’t shown tremendous flashes during his three years in the NFL, but with the lack of team success around him, the debate has revolved around whether the Bears should draft a new quarterback with one of their two first-round picks in the 2024 NFL Draft.
Fields has proven to be one of the most divisive players among the Chicago fanbase in quite some time, but Singletary believes that the quarterback has what it takes to elevate the franchise in a better situation.
“Before you even begin to talk about the skill, before you talk about being able to read defenses and what have you, he has the heart of a champion,” Singletary stated. “I could see that while he was in college. What [the Bears] got to do, is they’ve got to surround him with the talent to go out there and execute, but there’s no doubt in my mind Justin can be the guy to take the Bears to the next level.”
No matter what the rest of the season holds for the Bears, Singletary will be keeping track. As one of the franchise’s most popular legends, he remains in high regard with the fanbase and will continue to do his part to help the next generation of NFL players.
As for what he’ll be eating on Thanksgiving, the Hall of Famer closed out by telling Windy City Gridiron his top choices among entrees, side dishes, and desserts.
“My main course is obviously going to be stuffing,” he said. “That is the foundation of the meal. Next, [I’m] probably going to go with black-eyed peas. My dessert is probably going to be sweet potato pie.”