Butkus anchors all-time Bears defensive team

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In addition to ranking the top 100 players in Bears history, Hall of Fame writers Dan Pompei and Don Pierson have also chosen the franchise’s all-time team by position in the Chicago Bears Centennial Scrapbook. The following is a look at the defense:

The front seven of the Bears’ all-time defense boasts five Hall of Famers and is anchored by middle linebacker Dick Butkus, who is still widely considered as the most ferocious player in NFL history. The Chicago native was an intimidating and relentless force who possessed talent, aggression and hostility.

At the deepest position on defense, Pompei and Pierson gave Butkus the nod ahead of fellow Hall of Famers Bill George, Mike Singletary and Brian Urlacher.

“If we can’t pick a team with four starting middle linebackers, then we have to pick Butkus,” Pompei wrote. “But George was actually voted first-team All-Pro eight times—more than any other Bear in history. Singletary went to 10 Pro Bowls—more than any other Bear in history. And Urlacher made more tackles than any other Bear in history.”

Butkus was voted to the Pro Bowl in each of his first eight NFL seasons. He was also selected as an All-Pro in seven of his nine years with the Bears. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1979 in his first year of eligibility, the Illinois product set an NFL record that has since been broken with 25 career fumble recoveries.

“Even though injury cut short his career, Butkus is the league benchmark not only for linebackers, but also for defense,” Pierson wrote.

Butkus is flanked by outside linebackers George Connor and Joe Fortunato. Connor was a five-time first-team All-Pro selection and four-time Pro Bowler in eight seasons with the Bears from 1948-55. He was named to the NFL All-Decade Team for the 1940s and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1975.

Fortunato was voted to five Pro Bowls in 12 seasons with the Bears from 1955-66. He was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 1950s and selected as one of the top 300 players in NFL history. An outside linebacker, the Mississippi State product recorded 16 interceptions and 22 fumble recoveries during his career.

“Joe Fortunato missed only one game in 12 years and he had 38 takeaways, second behind Butkus’ 47 among Bears linebackers,” Pierson wrote.

The front four on the all-time team features three Hall of Famers in defensive ends Doug Atkins and Richard Dent and defensive tackle Dan Hampton.

Atkins was voted to eight Pro Bowls and was selected first-team All-Pro four times in 12 seasons with the Bears from 1955-66. At 6-8 and 257 pounds, he was huge for his era. Atkins was named to the NFL All-Decade Team for the 1960s and enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1982.

Dent played 12 of his 15 NFL seasons with the Bears and remains the franchise’s all-time leader with 124.5 sacks. He was named Super Bowl XX MVP, was selected to four Pro Bowls and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011.

“Easy choices,” Pierson wrote about Atkins and Dent. “Both played 12 years in Chicago and were feared pass rushers and stout against the run.”

Hampton played all 12 of his NFL seasons with the Bears after the team selected him with the fourth pick in the 1979 draft out of Arkansas. He was named first-team All-Pro four times, voted to four Pro Bowls, named to the NFL All-Decade Team for the 1980s and inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002.

A third member of the 1985 Super Bowl championship defense that many consider to be the best in NFL history rounds out the franchise’s all-time defensive line. Defensive tackle Steve McMichael played 13 seasons with the Bears from 1981-93. He was selected to two Pro Bowls and ranks second in team history with 92.5 sacks.

“McMichael remains one of the all-time underrated Bears,” Pompei wrote.

The secondary on the all-time team is comprised of cornerbacks George McAfee and Charles Tillman and safeties Gary Fencik and Richie Petitbon.

McAfee was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1966 primarily due to his exploits as a running back and return specialist, but he also ranks seventh in Bears history with 25 interceptions. McAfee won four NFL championships with the Bears in the 1940s and returned an interception 35 yards for a touchdown in the Bears’ 73-0 drubbing of the Redskins in the 1940 NFL title game.

In 12 seasons with the Bears from 2003-14, Tillman set franchise records with nine defensive touchdowns, eight interception return TDs, 42 forced fumbles and 675 interception return yards. His 36 interceptions are the most by a cornerback in team history.

The only Bears with more interceptions than Tillman are safeties Fencik (38) and Petitbon (37), who rank 1-2 in team history. In 12 seasons with the Bears from 1976-87, Fencik was named first-team All-Pro three times and voted to two Pro Bowls. He was an integral part of the 1985 Super Bowl championship defense.

Petitbon played 10 seasons with the Bears from 1959-68. He was selected to four Pro Bowls and named first-team All-Pro in 1963 when he helped the Bears win the NFL title. Petitbon clinched a 14-10 win over the Giants in the championship game at Wrigley Field with an interception in the end zone with :10 remaining.

The Chicago Bears Centennial Scrapbook will be available at the Bears100 Celebration Weekend this Friday through Sunday at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont. It also can be purchased by visiting store.chicagobears.com.

Take a look at which players were selected by writers Don Pierson and Dan Pompei for the Bears all-time defensive team in the Chicago Bears Centennial Scrapbook.

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