When the Bears host the Packers in the season opener Sunday at Soldier Field, they'll honor two of their former greats who passed away during the offseason, Doug Buffone and Mike Pyle.
Buffone, a former linebacker who was one of the longest tenured and most popular players in franchise history, died April 20 at the age of 70.
Buffone spent his entire NFL career with the Bears, playing 14 seasons from 1966-79, which is tied with linebacker Bill George for second most in team history behind long-snapper Patrick Mannelly (16).
|Doug Buffone played 14 seasons for the Bears, which is tied for second most in team history.|
"He will always be celebrated as one of the Bears greats for his contributions to his team and the fans who loved him," said Bears chairman George H. McCaskey. "There was no one tougher on Sundays than Doug Buffone. And he proved it each week over his 14-year career, a tenure record he shared with another great, Bill George, for 33 seasons. His retirement ended a link to our founder as he was the last active player to play for George Halas."
Buffone was selected by the Bears in the fourth round of the 1966 draft out of Louisville, arriving one year after Hall of Fame linebacker Dick Butkus. The two played side-by-side for eight seasons.
Buffone's 24 interceptions remain the most in Bears history among linebackers, ahead of both Butkus and future Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher, who had 22 apiece.
Former Bears defensive tackle Jim Osborne played eight seasons with Buffone from 1972-79, a span that included three coaches in Abe Gibron, Jack Pardee and Neil Armstrong.
"Doug was truly a stand-up guy," Osborne said. "When I think back at the coaching changes we went through, Doug was the glue that held us together."
Long after he retired, Buffone continued to make an impact on Osborne, who remained with the Bears through 1984.
"He was the captain for many years and I admired the way he did things," Osborne said. "Once I was appointed captain there were a lot of things I tried to take from Doug and do the same way. He was just a super person. They don't come any better than Doug."
Former safety Doug Plank joined the Bears in 1975 and played five seasons with Buffone.
"Doug was really the first Chicago Bear that I really knew and met and talked to," Plank said. "He came from Pennsylvania and I came from Pennsylvania, so we kind of had that common thread. To play almost my whole career with Doug was a real pleasure. He was just so consistent. He was Mr. Chicago Bear. Everything you would want out of a football player and a person, that was Doug Buffone."
Plank will never forget how Buffone accepted him as soon as Plank arrived via the draft.
"I was surprised at how much he treated me like a fellow player without all that rookie nonsense like the way so many other veterans treated younger players," Plank said.
"Doug was genuine and real. He showed up every day. I can't think of a better person you'd want to have playing next to you because Doug brought his 'A' game every day. He was smart and intelligent. He had incredibly interesting stories about the history of the Chicago Bears and players he played with. He was like a walking, talking encyclopedia for the Chicago Bears."
Buffone was extremely active once his playing career ended, owning restaurants and serving as a studio host and football expert for WSCR-AM. He also helped found the Arena Football League.
Pyle, a former Bears center, passed away July 29 at the age of 76.
Pyle played his entire NFL career with the Bears, appearing in 121 games over nine seasons from 1961-69. In 1963, Pyle helped the Bears win the NFL championship and was voted to the Pro Bowl.
Pyle was selected by the Bears in the seventh round of the 1961 draft out of Yale. He was born in Iowa but moved to the Chicago area, graduating from New Trier High School in Winnetka.
After his retirement, Pyle served as a a pre- and post-game host on Bears radio broadcasts and also hosted "The Mike Ditka Show" during Ditka's tenure as the team's head coach.