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Bears landed two Hall of Famers in first draft

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In the third of a five-part series counting down the best drafts in Bears history, I've ranked the 1936 crop at No. 3. Here's why:

The Bears hit a pair of home runs in the very first NFL draft in 1936, landing a pair of Hall of Famers in Joe Stydahar in the first round and Danny Fortmann in the ninth round.

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.

But it was their success in the NFL that made the 1936 draft such a great success for the Bears. 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 Hall of Fame. Both were also named to the NFL All-Decade Team for the 1930s.

"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 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 level 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 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 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.

Fortmann, who stood just six-feet tall and weighed 210 pounds, was small for an offensive lineman even by 1930s and '40s standards. But that didn't stop him from earning all-NFL honors for seven straight seasons from 1937-43.

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. He became a doctor and practiced medicine from 1946-84 while also serving as a team physician with the Rams from 1947-63.

In 1965, Fortmann became just the second guard ever to be elected to the Hall of Fame. Last year he was named to the NFL's 100th Anniversary All-Time Team. Fortmann passed away on May 23, 1995 at the age of 79.

Bears 1936 draft class
1-6: Joe Stydahar, T, West Virginia
2-14: Eddie Michaels, G, Villanova
3-24: George Roscoe, RB, Minnesota
4-32: Bob Allman, WR, Michigan State
5-42: Verne Oech, G, Minnesota
6-50: Ted Christofferson, RB, Washington State
7-60: Dick Smith, T, Minnesota
8-68: John Sylvester, WR, Rice
9-78: Danny Fortmann, G, Colgate

With the 2020 NFL Draft set to kick off in just over two weeks, senior writer Larry Mayer ranks the top 10 drafts in Bears history.

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Larry Mayer

Bears Senior Writer

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