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Bears Draft Primer

These Bears draft picks gained fame in other areas


Of all the players the Bears have picked since the NFL Draft was instituted in 1936, there are dozens of names you know and hundreds you've never heard of. For every Mike Ditka and Walter Payton, there are countless Frank Dittas and Earl Paytons.

But there are also some Bears draftees you know for other reasons. That group includes a former Cowboys quarterback and Monday Night Football broadcaster (Don Meredith), a four-time American League all-star first baseman (Norm Cash) and a long-time NFL head coach who led the Giants to Super Bowl XXXV (Jim Fassel).

Here's a closer look at 10 of those picks:

Tom Harmon (1941, first round)

After winning the Heisman Trophy in 1940 while playing halfback for Michigan, Harmon was selected by the Bears with the first overall pick in the 1941 draft. But he opted to play for the New York Americans in the rival All-American Football Conference.

Harmon enlisted in the Army Air Corps during World War II and was awarded the Purple Heart and Silver Star. He eventually played in the NFL with the Los Angeles Rams in 1946-47 before becoming a sports broadcaster. Harmon, who passed away March 15, 1990 at the age of 70, is the father of actor and former UCLA quarterback Mark Harmon.

Frank Broyles (1946, third round)

A University of Arkansas legend, Broyles spent more than 50 years as a coach, broadcaster and athletic director for the Razorbacks. As a player, he quarterbacked Georgia Tech to four bowl appearances and was named Southeastern Conference Player of the Year in 1944.

In 17 seasons as Arkansas head coach from 1958-76, Broyles compiled a 144-58-5 record and led the Razorbacks to seven Southwest Conference championships, two Cotton Bowl wins and a national championship in 1964. Broyles, who never played in the NFL, retired as Arkansas' men's athletic director December 31, 2007. He passed away Aug. 14, 2017 at the age of 92.

Walt Dropo (1946, ninth round)

Dropo, who declined to sign a contract with the Bears to pursue a baseball career, batted .270 with 152 home runs and 704 RBIs in 12 major league seasons with the Red Sox (1949-52), Tigers (1952-54), White Sox (1955-58), Reds (1958-59) and Orioles (1959-61).

The 6-5, 220-pounder was named A.L. Rookie of the Year in 1950 after batting .322 with 34 home runs and 144 RBIs. Dropo still shares the major league record with 12 straight hits. A star end on offense and defense at the University of Connecticut, he was also drafted by the Providence Steamrollers of the Basketball Association of America, which later became the NBA. Dropo passed away Dec. 17, 2010 at the age of 87.

Verne Gagne (1947, 14th round)

An All-Big Ten selection as a football player in his first year at the University of Minnesota in 1943, Gagne concentrated on his wrestling career after returning to the school following two years in the Marines. A talented amateur wrestler, Gagne won NCAA championships in 1948 and '49 and was a member of the 1948 U.S. Olympic team.

After the Olympics, Gagne became a popular professional wrestler, trainer and promoter. He was the biggest draw in the late 1940s and early '50s, operating the American Wrestling Association (AWA). Gagne, who was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2006, also ran a training school that produced such stars as Ric Flair, Ricky Steamboat and Baron Von Raschke. Gagne passed away April 27, 2015 at the age of 89.

Norm Cash (1955, 13th round)

Cash was a star running back at San Angelo Junior College in Texas, but he declined to play pro football. A lifetime .271 hitter in 17 major league seasons with the White Sox (1958-59) and Tigers (1960-74), Cash hit 377 career home runs, the fourth most by an American League left-handed hitter when he retired behind only Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig.

Cash enjoyed a breakout season in 1961, leading the A.L. with a .361 batting average, the highest by any major league player in the 1960s. Cash twice won the A.L. Comeback Player of the Year Award in 1965 and '71. He passed away in a boating accident Oct. 11, 1986 at the age of 51.

Chuck Howley (1958, first round)

Howley was drafted by the Bears after impressive performances in three college all-star games. He played two seasons in Chicago before being forced to retire due to what was believed to be a career-ending knee injury sustained in 1959. When Howley decided to make a comeback in 1961 after a West Virginia alumni game, the Bears traded his rights to the Cowboys.

Howley went on to play 13 seasons with the Cowboys. An outside linebacker, he became the first defensive player to be named Super Bowl MVP when he intercepted two passes and recovered a fumble in Dallas' 16-13 loss to the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl V.

Don Meredith (1960, third round)

The Bears selected Meredith in the third round of the 1960 draft and promptly traded the quarterback to the expansion Dallas Cowboys in exchange for a third-round choice the following year. Meredith, who grew up in the Dallas area, was voted to three Pro Bowls and inducted into the Cowboys Ring of Honor.

"Dandy Don" enjoyed just as much success as a broadcaster, often providing comic relief while teaming with Howard Cosell as part of the original Monday Night Football crew. Meredith passed away Dec. 5, 2010 at the age of 72.

Ernie Ladd (1961, fourth round)

A 6-9, 315-pound defensive tackle, Ladd was the biggest and strongest football player of his era. Although he was selected by the Bears in the same draft class as tight end Mike Ditka, Ladd opted to sign with the San Diego Chargers in the rival American Football League.

Ladd played eight seasons in the AFL with the Chargers (1961-65), Houston Oilers (1966-67) and Kansas City Chiefs (1967-68). He was voted an all-star four times and was inducted into the Chargers Hall of Fame. After his NFL career, he became a professional wrestler in the 1970s and later worked as a pro wrestling announcer. He passed away March 10, 2007 at the age of 68.

Jim Fassel (1972, seventh round)

After quarterbacking Fullerton College to a junior college national championship in 1967, Fassel moved on to USC and later Long Beach State. He never appeared in an NFL game, though he played briefly for the Hawaii Hawaiians in the World Football League.

Fassel began his coaching career as an assistant at Utah State and Stanford, where he worked with John Elway. In seven seasons as head coach of the Giants from 1997-2003, he compiled a 58-53-1 record and led New York to the NFC title in 2000. Fassel later served as Ravens offensive coordinator in 2005-06.

Bob Sapp (1997, third round)

An offensive lineman from Washington, Sapp failed to make the Bears' 53-man roster as a rookie third-round draft pick. But that didn't stop him from becoming an icon in Japan, where he competes in the sport of K-1, which combines karate, Taekwondo and kickboxing. Known as "The Beast," Sapp has appeared on numerous commercials and TV programs in Japan, and has also released a music CD.

Sapp reportedly was destitute after failing to stick in the NFL and held a job moving coffins in a funeral parlor. Before heading to Japan, he began a pro wrestling career in the now-defunct WCW and later defeated former Bears defensive tackle William "Refrigerator" Perry in a "toughman" match. Sapp also appeared in the 2005 movie "The Longest Yard" as an inmate/football player.

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