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Singletary highlighted Bears' stellar '81 draft

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In the first of a five-part series counting down the best drafts in Bears history, I've ranked the 1981 crop at No. 5. Here's why:

The Bears made a solid choice in the first round of the 1981 draft when they selected USC tackle Keith Van Horne with the 11th overall pick.

But what made the crop so special is what transpired in the second round when the Bears traded up two spots to select middle linebacker Mike Singletary out of Baylor at No. 38. They dealt a fifth-round pick to the 49ers to move up from No. 40, leap-frogging the Vikings.

With the fifth-round choice they obtained from the Bears, the 49ers selected running back Arrington Jones, who appeared in one NFL game.

Singletary played his entire 12-year NFL career with the Bears. He was voted to a franchise-record 10 Pro Bowls, was selected NFL defensive player of the year in 1985 and '88, was named to the NFL All-Decade Team for the 1980s and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998.

Singletary joined the Bears after an impressive career at Baylor, where he was a consensus first-team All-American and served as a captain for two years. Singletary played in 45 games in college, never recording fewer than 10 tackles. He also cracked numerous helmets.

Tom Hicks, the Bears' starting middle linebacker at the time, was interviewed by the Chicago Tribune the day Singletary was drafted.

"They traded away the whole fifth round to jump two picks?" Hicks said. "They must have wanted the guy. Sounds like a good draft, but I didn't think we needed linebackers."

Asked about his job security, Hicks said: "The North Pole would warm over and melt before a rookie is going to come in and run our defense. I've been through all the game situations. I feel secure."

The Bears released Hicks in August. They started Lee Kunz at middle linebacker before Singletary took over the job midway through the season.

Van Horne, meanwhile, was the first offensive lineman chosen in the draft when the Bears selected him with the 11th overall pick.

"We were surprised Van Horne was still available," Bears scout Jim Parmer told the Chicago Tribune at the time. "Everyone considers him the best lineman in college football. I had him rated the No. 6 player in the entire draft."

The Packers reportedly considered selecting Van Horne at No. 6, but they instead chose California quarterback Rich Campbell. At No. 8, the 49ers selected a future Hall of Famer in safety Ronnie Lott.

Van Horne was in Los Angeles when he was awakened by a phone call from the Bears at about 8 a.m. local time informing him he had been drafted.

"It was nice to know that about being the first lineman [picked]," Van Horne said at the time. "It's nice to know, too, that I'll have a real nice running back to block for, Walter Payton."

Van Horne ultimately spent his entire 13-year NFL career with the Bears. He appeared in 186 games with 169 starts and was part of some of the best offensive lines in NFL history. He helped the Bears lead the league in rushing for four straight years from 1983-86.

In the third round of the 1981 draft, the Bears selected Stanford receiver Ken Margerum, who set school records and roomed with John Elway in college. Margerum has since been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Margerum appeared in 40 games with 25 starts his first three seasons with the Bears, catching 74 passes for 1,127 yards and six touchdowns. After missing the entire 1984 season with a torn ACL he sustained in a May minicamp, Margerum returned as a reserve receiver and special-teams contributor on the 1985 Super Bowl championship team.

In the fourth round of the draft, the Bears chose safety Todd Bell from Ohio State. Bell spent six seasons with the team from 1981-87, but he sat out the 1985 campaign due to a contract dispute.

Bell's best season was in 1984 when he started all 16 games and recorded a career-high four interceptions. In a divisional playoff win over the Redskins in Washington, his devastating hit on running back Joe Washington broke up a pass and set the tone for a 23-19 upset over the defending NFC champions.

The Bears chose a pair of cornerbacks in the sixth and seventh rounds in Reuben Henderson and Jeff Fisher, respectively. Henderson started all 16 games as a rookie in 1981 but only played in four more contests with the Bears.

Fisher, who would later serve as a longtime NFL head coach, played his entire four-year NFL career with the Bears, primarily as a reserve and return specialist. He averaged 9.4 yards with one touchdown on 120 punt returns and 14.6 yards on 14 kickoff returns. Spending the 1985 season on injured reserve, Fisher worked as an unofficial assistant coach under defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan.

Bears 1981 draft class
1-11: Keith Van Horne, T, USC
2-38: Mike Singletary, MLB, Baylor
3-67: Ken Margerum, WR, Stanford
4-95: Todd Bell, S, Ohio State
6-150: Reuben Henderson, CB, San Jose State
7-177: Jeff Fisher, CB, USC
8-205: Scott Zettek, DT, Notre Dame
9-232: Frank Ditta, G, Baylor
10-260: Tim Clifford, QB, Indiana
11-287: Lonnie Johnson, RB, Indiana
12-316: Bob Shupryt, LB, New Mexico

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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