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'36 draft third best in Bears history

Senior writer Larry Mayer ranks the 1936 draft as the third best class in Bears history:

The careers of Joe Stydahar and Danny Fortmann were intertwined even before they were both selected by the Bears in the first NFL Draft in 1936.

Stydahar, a big and powerful tackle from West Virginia, and Fortmann, a small but talented guard from Colgate, started together in the East-West Shrine Game in San Francisco and then played in the College All-Star Game in Chicago before joining the Bears.


Hall of Famer Danny Fortmann joined the Bears as a ninth-round pick in 1936.
But it was their success with the Bears that makes the 1936 draft, in my opinion, the third best in team history. Playing next to each other on the left side of the offensive line, Stydahar and Fortmann helped the "Monsters of the Midway" revolutionize pro football with the T-formation.

Each man won three league championships as part of a Bears dynasty in the 1940s, served in the military during World War II and was eventually inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"It helped me tremendously to play next to Joe for so many years," Fortmann once said. "A true partnership built up. We got to know exactly what to expect from one another."

The idea to stage a draft of college players with NFL teams selecting in inverse order of the previous season's standings was proposed by Philadelphia Eagles owner Bert Bell.

Bell, who later served as NFL commissioner, couldn't compete for elite players with higher revenue clubs like the Bears, Giants and Redskins, and wanted to even the playing field.

With the sixth overall pick in the inaugural draft, George Halas and the Bears selected Stydahar, who at 6-4 and 233 pounds was huge for his era. Stydahar played nine seasons with Chicago, interrupted by a two-year stint in the U.S. Navy in 1943-44.

A two-way star who played without a helmet early in his career, Stydahar was named all-NFL for four straight seasons from 1937-40. He was part of the Bears team that annihilated the Washington Redskins 73-0 in the 1940 title game, a contest that remains the most lopsided in NFL history.

Playing two more seasons after returning from the Navy, Stydahar retired after helping the Bears defeat the New York Giants 24-14 in the 1946 NFL Championship game.

Stydahar, who later served as an assistant coach on the Bears' 1963 title team, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1967. He passed away on March 23, 1977 at the age of 65.

Without the sophisticated scouting that exists today, legend has it that Halas chose Fortmann in the ninth and final round of the inaugural NFL Draft because Papa Bear liked the player's name.

Standing just six-feet tall and weighing 210 pounds, Fortmann was small for an offensive lineman even by 1930s and '40s standards. But that didn't stop him from earning all-NFL honors for six straight seasons from 1938-43.

As a rookie in 1936, Fortmann was the youngest starter in the NFL at the age of 20. Halas allowed Fortmann, a Phi Beta Kappa scholar, to attend medical school while he played for the Bears and he graduated from the University of Chicago School of Medicine in 1940.

"Without George's understanding and cooperation," Fortmann once said, "I could have never prepared for my future."

Fortmann retired from football and entered the Navy in 1943 after helping the Bears win three NFL championships in four seasons. In 1965, he became just the second guard ever to be elected to the Hall of Fame. Fortmann passed away on May 23, 1995 at the age of 79.

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