The Bears on Wednesday announced that they will unveil statues of legendary Hall of Famers Walter Payton and George S. Halas outside of Gate 0 at Soldier Field on Tuesday, Sept. 3, two days before they kick off their centennial season by hosting the rival Green Bay Packers.
The 12-foot, 3,000-pound bronze statues were sculpted by Fisher Sculpture, while the orientation, location and scaling of the statues were designed by Populous.
“It is only appropriate that the father of professional football and the greatest player in the history of the game are being honored in this way, and perhaps no better time for the unveiling than as we kick off our centennial season,” said Bears chairman George H. McCaskey. “Thank you to the Chicago Park District, Soldier Field and SMG for their support throughout the process, and to sculptor Chad Fisher for his artistry in bringing his subjects to life.”
“I know Walter would be humbled to have this honor bestowed upon him, just as Jarrett, Brittney and our entire family are,” said Connie Payton. “To say that I am enthusiastic about unveiling this statue to the city of Chicago is an understatement. What a proud moment for all of us and the city of Chicago. We’re not just Chicago Bears fans, we’re family.”
Payton, the fourth pick in the 1975 draft, spent his entire 13-year NFL career with the Bears, missing only one game and retiring following the 1987 season as the league’s all-time leading rusher with 16,726 yards. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993 in his first year of eligibility.
Payton was voted to nine Pro Bowls, set 16 NFL records and 27 Bears marks and had his No. 34 retired. He also threw eight touchdown passes and led the NFL in kickoff returns as a rookie in 1975 with a 31.7-yard average. In 1999, the NFL renamed its Man of the Year award after Payton as a tribute to his greatness both on and off the field. The Bears legend passed away on Nov. 1, 1999 at the age of 45 due to bile duct cancer.
Payton and his wife, Connie, started the Walter Payton Foundation, which was renamed to the Walter and Connie Payton Foundation after his passing in 1999.
The Bears previously unveiled a statue of Halas on Aug. 23, 2015, at a private ceremony just outside the main entrance of Halas Hall. The statue was also created by sculptor Chad Fisher out of white bronze. It weighs 1,600 pounds and stands 8’8” on a granite base.
A Chicago native who starred at the University of Illinois, Halas was a pro football pioneer. He founded the Bears as the Decatur Staleys in 1920 and helped create what would become the NFL when he joined representatives from 10 other teams in Canton, Ohio, in September 1920 to found the American Professional Football Association.
Halas moved the Decatur Staleys to Chicago in 1921 and they were renamed the Chicago Bears in 1922. “Papa Bear” was instrumental in the growth of the fledgling league, helping it eventually become a multi-billion dollar industry and staple of American culture.
As a player, Halas was named to the NFL’s 1920s All-Decade Team. His 98-yard return of a Jim Thorpe fumble remained an NFL record for 49 years until it was broken in 1972.
Serving as Bears coach for four separate 10-year stints, Halas led the franchise to six NFL championships in 1921, 1933, 1940, 1941, 1946 and 1963. He ultimately became the winningest coach in NFL history with 324 victories, a record since surpassed by Don Shula.
Halas is a charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, having been enshrined in 1963. His impact on the sport is evident in the fact that the Hall of Fame itself is located on George Halas Drive in Canton, and the NFC Championship Trophy is named after him as well.