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5 Bears among top college players of all time


When ESPN unveiled its top 150 college football players of all time Monday night during halftime of the LSU-Clemson championship game, the Bears were well-represented.

Three of the top 10 and five of the top 16 individuals on the list—which was created in celebration of college football's 150th season—played for the Bears.

All five superstars are members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Four are running backs: Red Grange (No. 6), Gale Sayers (10), Bronko Nagurski (14) and Walter Payton (16). The lone exception is middle linebacker Dick Butkus (8), the highest-rated defensive player.

Here are the capsules of those five players from

6. Grange (Illinois, 1923-25)
Rushing yards: 2,071 | Yards per rush: 5.3 | Touchdowns: 31
Nearly a century later, Grange's first-quarter performance against Michigan in 1924 remains unmatched: In the dedication game of Memorial Stadium on the Illinois campus, Grange returned the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown. In the next 10 minutes, he ran for scores of 67, 56 and 44 yards. He finished with five touchdowns and threw for a sixth. Grantland Rice bestowed Grange with the nickname "the Galloping Ghost." Illinois coach Bob Zuppke, late in his career, told Rice, "I will never have another Grange. But neither will anybody else." Grange was a three-time consensus All-American and in the inaugural College Football Hall of Fame class.

8. Butkus (Illinois, 1962-64)
Tackles: 374 | Tackles per game: 14.4
Legendary sports writer Dan Jenkins once wrote that if every college football team had a linebacker like Butkus, "all fullbacks would soon be 3 feet tall and sing soprano." Few linebackers hit as hard or as often as Butkus, a two-time All-American at Illinois. He was named the Big Ten's MVP in 1963 and finished third in Heisman Trophy voting the next year. Against Ohio State in 1963, Butkus made 23 tackles, a school record at the time. In 1985, a trophy awarded to the best linebacker in college football was named in his honor.

10. Sayers (Kansas, 1962-64)
Rushing yards: 2,675 | Yards per carry: 6.5 | Touchdowns: 20
Until his family moved to Omaha when he was 8 years old, Sayers lived in a small town named Speed, Kansas. He returned to the state as a Jayhawk, and made Lawrence the new Speed, Kansas. As a sophomore in 1962, Sayers immediately made his varsity presence known. He rushed for 114 yards in the season opener against TCU, and at midseason, Sayers torched Oklahoma State for a Big Eight-record 283 yards on only 22 carries. He was the first FBS player with a 99-yard rush. The "Kansas Comet" averaged 6.5 yards per carry in his Jayhawks career. He was a consensus All-American in 1963 and 1964. Sayers was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1977.

14. Nagurski (Minnesota, 1927-29)
Rushing yards: 557 | TDs: 6
An oft-told legend is that a college football coach, lost during a recruiting trip in Minnesota, asked a farmer for directions to the nearest town. Nagurski pointed the way -- with his plow. As a senior for the Gophers in 1929, Nagurski became the only player ever named All-American at two positions: tackle on defense and fullback on offense. Grantland Rice once famously wrote, "Eleven Bronko Nagurskis could beat 11 Red Granges or 11 Jim Thorpes. The 11 Nagurskis would be a mop-up. It would be something close to murder and massacre." That exemplifies why the Bronko Nagurski Trophy is given to the best defensive player every season.

16. Payton (Jackson State, 1971-74)
Rushing yards: 3,563 | Yards per carry: 6.1 | Touchdowns: 66
That Payton made the Time Magazine All-America team as a senior while playing at I-AA Jackson State illustrates a few things: how good a back Payton was to draw that sort of acclaim in the era of Archie Griffin, Joe Washington and Anthony Davis; how slowly the SEC took integration seriously (Mississippi State had barely begun to integrate and Ole Miss not at all when Payton, a Mississippi native, went to college); and how HBCU football may have peaked in the mid-1970s. Payton, a two-time Black College Player of the Year, played so well that he finished 14th in the 1974 Heisman while playing in what was then Division II.

Other former Bears of note on ESPN's top 150 list include tight end Mike Ditka (78), running back Adrian Peterson (84), quarterback Sid Luckman (103), defensive end Julius Peppers (104) and middle linebacker Mike Singletary (108).