Last Saturday former Bears cornerback and longtime NFL coach Leslie Frazier was inducted into the Black College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta.
"It's such a special honor when you consider people like Walter Payton and some of the other greats that have come before me, like a Deacon Jones and an Art Shell," Frazier told ChicagoBears.com. "To know that your name will be mentioned in the same breath as so many other great players that have come from historically Black colleges, it means a great deal."
Frazier spent his entire NFL career with the Bears from 1981-85 and was a starter on the famed Super Bowl XX championship team. He originally signed with the Bears as an undrafted free agent after three stellar seasons at Alcorn State.
Frazier recorded 62 tackles and six interceptions as a freshman and followed with a school-record nine interceptions and 26 pass breakups as a sophomore. He was limited by a hamstring injury as a junior but still managed to compile 49 tackles and five interceptions.
Frazier described his college coach, Marino Casem, as "a great teacher and a tremendous mentor." Alcorn State's coach from 1964-85, Casem won four Black national championships and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2003. He passed away April 25, 2020, at the age of 85.
A Mississippi native, Frazier was convinced to enroll at Alcorn State after attending a home football game against Mississippi Valley State during a recruiting trip.
"The atmosphere and the way everyone treated me on that visit, I was like, 'This is where I'm going to school,' and I'm so glad that I did," Frazier said. "It was life-changing, for sure. I was the first one in my family to go to college and graduate from college. It just did so many things for me in becoming a man."
At Alcorn State, Frazier earned a business administration degree and formed lifelong friendships.
"The camaraderie and the relationships that were built when I was there, so many of them have continued on," he said. "That's what I remember most about my experience."
Frazier also met the love of his life at Alcorn State, his wife Gale. The two have been married for 41 years and have three children and one grandchild—with a second due around Thanksgiving.
Beating the odds to reach the NFL
Frazier's path to the NFL was unconventional. After not being selected in the 1981 draft—which was 12 rounds—he flew to Philadelphia for a workout with the Eagles but flunked their physical due to his lingering hamstring injury.
The Bears wanted to work out basketball player David Burns, who had just been chosen in the third round of the NBA Draft by the New Jersey Nets. Frazier and Burns shared an agent, and the agent informed the Bears that he would deliver Burns as long as they'd also work out Frazier.
The Bears agreed and were impressed with the cornerback. But they were hesitant to sign Frazier after he declined to run a 40-yard dash, a decision he made because he was concerned about tweaking his hamstring. Years later, Bill Tobin—the Bears general manager at the time—told Frazier that the team wondered if he had character issues and contacted his college coach.
"He said, 'We called coach because we were concerned you wouldn't run,'" Frazier said. "He said coach Casem told them, 'If you sign Leslie Frazier, you will never regret it. He's a diamond in the rough. He's going to end up starting on your football team.'"
Frazier was stunned to receive such a strong endorsement from Casem.
"That was not a guy that would throw out platitudes and tell us how great we were," Frazier said. "He was not like that at all. He was the opposite. He was always tearing us down and building us back up. So when Bill Tobin told me that story, I called coach Casem and thanked him. I was just so blown away, and of course everything he said came to fruition. I was so surprised."
Frazier was just what Bears were looking for
Having played primarily man-to-man coverage at Alcorn State, Frazier fit exactly what the Bears were seeking in a cornerback. Frazier made an impression in rookie camp, earning more reps in training camp. He ultimately won a starting job in his second year in 1982 and opened all 43 games he played over three seasons from 1983-85, registering 18 interceptions over that span.
In the 1985 season opener, Frazier returned an interception 33 yards for a touchdown early in the third quarter to help the Bears rally from a 28-17 halftime deficit and beat the Buccaneers 38-28 at Soldier Field. It was the first of 12 straight wins to open the season for the eventual Super Bowl XX champions.
Sadly, Frazier suffered a devastating knee injury while returning a punt in the Super Bowl that ended his playing career at the age of 26.
In 1988, he helped start the football program at Trinity International University in Bannockburn, Ill., which is less than five miles south of Halas Hall, and served as head coach for nine seasons.
After two years as defensive backs coach at the University of Illinois in 1997-98, he spent the next 24 seasons coaching in the NFL with the Eagles, Bengals, Colts, Vikings, Buccaneers, Ravens and Bills, including a stint as Minnesota's head coach from 2010-13. He most recently was Buffalo's defensive coordinator from 2020-22 but is taking the 2023 season off.
Frazier's bond with Bears is still tight
Even though Frazier hasn't played for the Bears in nearly 40 years, the organization remains special to him. He remembers when he was rehabbing his knee injury in 1986, Ed and Virginia McCaskey took him and his wife out to dinner.
"It was one of the coolest things and something I'll always remember and always be thankful for," Frazier said. "Out of the goodness of their hearts, they invited us to go out to dinner. When we sat down, we just started talking and laughing and just having a great time. They were doing it just to cheer me up because of what I was going through with my rehab and trying to get back and play again. For them to do that—and Virginia to talk to my wife and encourage her—I'll be forever grateful. It meant so much and it means so much to this day that they would do that."
The special bond between Frazier and the Bears was evident last Saturday when chairman George H. McCaskey and President and CEO Kevin Warren attended Frazier's Black College Football Hall of Fame induction in Atlanta.
"Leslie has meant so much to the National Football League," said Warren, who worked with Frazier with the Vikings from 2007-13. "He epitomizes what it means to be a true professional. To know his background, coming out of Alcorn State an undrafted free agent, and to not only make the team but to start and have such a major impact on the dominant '85 Bears, is incredible.
"And then to tear his ACL in the Super Bowl, many men would not have been able to carry forward in life. But he ended up going into coaching, to launch a program at Trinity, and then to start an incredible NFL coaching career. He's one of those unique individuals that never complains, never has a woe-is-me attitude. He's always positive. His faith in God is truly spectacular. He is just a fantastic human being, and it was just an honor to be able to support him there as he went into the Black College Football Hall of Fame."
Frazier was thrilled that McCaskey and Warren attended the ceremony.
"To get on a plane and fly down to Atlanta to support me at the Black College Football Hall of Fame, it just blows me away," Frazier said. "I don't know if I could put into words how thankful my family and I are. We all appreciate it so much that they showed the support that they both did. I'll never be able to thank them enough for doing what they did. It means a great deal."