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These Bears draft picks gained fame in other areas

Posted Apr 25, 2013

You may be surprised to learn that former Cowboys players Don Meredith and Chuck Howley, ex-baseball stars Walt Dropo and Norm Cash, and pro wrestling legend Verne Gagne were all drafted by the Bears.

Of all the players the Bears have picked since the NFL Draft was instituted in 1936, there are dozens of names you know and hundreds you've never heard of. For every Mike Ditka and Walter Payton, there are countless Frank Dittas and Earl Paytons.
 
But there are also a handful of Bears draftees you know for other reasons. That group includes a pro wrestling legend (Verne Gagne), a four-time American League all-star first baseman (Norm Cash) and a long-time NFL head coach who led the Giants to Super Bowl XXXV (Jim Fassel).
 
Here's a closer look at some of those picks:

Frank Broyles (1946, 3rd round)
A University of Arkansas legend, Frank Broyles spent more than 50 years as a coach, broadcaster and athletic director for the Razorbacks. As a player, he quarterbacked Georgia Tech to four bowl appearances and was named Southeastern Conference Player of the Year in 1944.
 
In 17 seasons as Arkansas head coach from 1958-76, Broyles compiled a 144-58-5 record and led the Razorbacks to seven Southwest Conference championships, two Cotton Bowl wins and a national championship in 1964. Broyles, who never played in the NFL, retired as Arkansas' men's athletic director effective December 31, 2007.
 
Norm Cash (1955, 13th round)
Norm Cash was a star running back at San Angelo Junior College in Texas, but he declined to play pro football. A lifetime .271 hitter in 17 major league seasons with the White Sox (1958-59) and Tigers (1960-74), Cash hit 377 career home runs, the fourth most by an American League left-handed hitter when he retired behind only Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig.
 
Cash enjoyed a breakout season in 1961, leading the A.L. with a .361 batting average, the highest by any major league player in the 1960s. Cash twice won the A.L. Comeback Player of the Year Award in 1965 and '71. He died in a boating accident in 1986 at the age of 51.
 
Walt Dropo (1946, 9th round)
Walt Dropo, who declined to sign a contract with the Bears to pursue a baseball career, batted .270 with 152 home runs and 704 RBIs in 12 major league seasons with the Red Sox (1949-52), Tigers (1952-54), White Sox (1955-58), Reds (1958-59) and Orioles (1959-61).
 
The 6-5, 220-pounder was named A.L. Rookie of the Year in 1950 after batting .322 with 34 home runs and 144 RBIs. Dropo still holds the major league record with 12 straight hits. A star end on offense and defense at the University of Connecticut, Dropo was also drafted by the Providence Steamrollers of the Basketball Association of America, which later became the NBA.
 
Jim Fassel (1972, 7th round)
After quarterbacking Fullerton College to a national junior college national championship in 1967, Jim Fassel moved on to USC and later Long Beach State. He never appeared in an NFL game, though he played briefly for the Hawaii Hawaiians in the World Football League.
 
Fassel began his coaching career as an assistant at Utah State and Stanford, where he worked with John Elway. In seven seasons as head coach of the Giants from 1997-2003, he compiled a 58-53-1 record and led New York to the NFC title in 2000. Fassel later served as Ravens offensive coordinator in 2004-06.
 
Verne Gagne (1947, 14th round)
An All-Big Ten selection as a football player in his first year at the University of Minnesota in 1943, Verne Gagne concentrated on his wrestling career after returning to the school following two years in the Marines. A talented amateur wrestler, Gagne won NCAA championships in 1948 and '49 and was a member of the 1948 U.S. Olympic team.
 
After the Olympics, Gagne became a popular professional wrestler, trainer and promoter. He was the biggest draw in the late 1940s and early 1950s, operating the American Wrestling Association (AWA). Gagne, who was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2006, also ran a training school that produced such stars as Ric Flair, Ricky Steamboat and Baron Von Raschke.
 
Tom Harmon (1941, 1st round)
After winning the Heisman Trophy in 1940 while playing for Michigan, Tom Harmon was selected by the Bears with the first overall pick in the 1941 draft. But he opted to play for the New York Americans in the rival All-American Football Conference.
 
Harmon enlisted in the Army Air Corps during World War II and was awarded the Purple Heart and Silver Star. He eventually played in the NFL with the Los Angeles Rams in 1946-47 before becoming a sports broadcaster. Harmon, who passed away in 1990 at the age of 70, is the father of actor and former UCLA quarterback Mark Harmon.
 
Chuck Howley (1958, 1st round)
Chuck Howley was drafted by the Bears after impressive performances in three college all-star games. He played two seasons in Chicago before being forced to retire due to what was believed to be a career-ending knee injury sustained in 1959. When Howley decided to make a comeback in 1961 after a West Virginia alumni game, the Bears traded his rights to the Cowboys.
 
Howley went on to play 13 seasons with the Cowboys. An outside linebacker, he became the first defensive player to be named Super Bowl MVP when he intercepted two passes and recovered a fumble in Dallas' 16-13 loss to the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl V.
 
Ernie Ladd (1961, 4th round)
At 6-foot-9 and 315 pounds, Ernie Ladd was the biggest and strongest football player of his era. Although he was selected by the Bears in the same draft class as tight end Mike Ditka, Ladd opted to sign with the San Diego Chargers in the rival American Football League.
 
Ladd played eight seasons in the AFL with the Chargers (1961-65), Houston Oilers (1966-67) and Kansas City Chiefs (1967-68). He was voted an all-star four times and was inducted into the Chargers Hall of Fame. After his NFL career, he became a professional wrestler in the 1970s and later worked as a pro wrestling announcer. He died on March 10, 2007 at the age of 68.
 
Don Meredith (1960, 3rd round)
The Bears selected Don Meredith in the third round of the 1960 draft and promptly traded him to the expansion Dallas Cowboys in exchange for a third-round choice the following year. Meredith, who grew up in the Dallas area, was voted to three Pro Bowls and inducted into the Cowboys Ring of Honor.
 
"Dandy Don" enjoyed just as much success as a broadcaster, often providing some comic relief while teaming with Howard Cosell as part of the original Monday Night Football crew. Meredith passed away on Dec. 5, 2010 at the age of 72.
 
Bob Sapp (1997, 3rd round)
Bob Sapp failed to make the Bears' 53-man roster as a rookie third-round draft pick. But that hasn't stopped him from becoming an icon in Japan, where he competes in the sport of K-1, which combines karate, tae kwon do and kickboxing. Known as "The Beast," Sapp has appeared on numerous commercials and TV programs in Japan, and has also released a music CD.
 
Sapp reportedly was destitute after failing to stick in the NFL and held a job moving coffins in a funeral parlor. He began his pro wrestling career in the now-defunct WCW and later battled former Bears defensive tackle William "Refrigerator" Perry in a "toughman" match. Sapp also appeared in the 2005 movie "The Longest Yard" as an inmate/football player.

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