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Richard Dent's enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this past weekend gave the Bears 27 busts in Canton, Ohio, which makes narrowing down a top-five list a difficult assignment.
However, the top three of Walter Payton, George Halas and Mike Ditka are logical choices, considering what each meant to not just Chicago, but to the entire football landscape since the league was formed.
It was extremely difficult to round out the bottom two of the top five, but those who made the cut truly embody the mentality of the city and the Bears' rabid fan base.
1. Walter Payton, 1975-1987, Hall of Fame in 1993: Walter Payton isn't simply the No. 1 player in Chicago Bears history, he ranks as one of the top performers in the history of the NFL. The NFL's all-time leader in rushing and combined net yards at the time of his retirement following the 1987 season, Payton was just as beloved on the field as he was off it. A nine-time Pro Bowl selection, Payton was the heart and soul of the Bears' offense over a span of 10 years, and helped guide the team to four consecutive division championships (1984-1987) and the organization's lone Super Bowl title (SB XX). Payton's offseason work ethic, toughness, determination and sense of humor are legendary to the football fans in the city of Chicago, and across the entire country.
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2. George Halas, 1920-1983 (as both an owner and a coach), Hall of Fame in 1963: People forget Halas, the Bears founder and head coach for 40 years, played end for the team from 1920 to 1929 and was named to the NFL all-pro squad of the 1920s. However, Halas' contributions to the organization he founded and to the entire NFL go much further than his nine-year playing career. Halas holds franchise coaching records for most world championships (6), regular-season wins (318) and most consecutive wins including the postseason (18). A charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Halas held the mark for most wins in NFL history by a head coach until it was broken by Don Shula in 1993.
3. Mike Ditka, 1961-66 (as a player), 1982-92 (as coach), Hall of Fame in 1988: Even though Ditka hasn't held an official title with the Bears since 1992, he remains the most recognizable living face of the franchise on the planet. A Hall of Fame tight end who played for the organization from 1961 to 1966, Ditka became the second most successful head coach in franchise history, leading the Bears to six NFC Central titles, three NFC title games and the Bears' only Super Bowl victory. To this day, when people talk about the Bears, they inevitably bring up Ditka. A worldwide icon, Ditka, in addition to being a former football superstar, is an actor, broadcaster, entrepreneur and restaurateur. Mike Ditka symbolizes the Chicago Bears, despite the fact he hasn't collected a check from the Bears in almost two decades.
4. Mike Singletary, 1981-1992, Hall of Fame in 1998: Just as Mike Singletary said during his famous news conference upon being named head coach of the San Francisco 49ers: I want winners. Singletary was a winner, who epitomized the Bears' ferocious defense of the 1980s. Selected to 10 straight Pro Bowls (1983-1992), Singletary was the AP Defensive Player of the Year in 1985 and 1988. He will be remembered as one of the best and most intense linebackers in the history of the NFL. Arguably the best defensive player on the best defense in the history of the league, Singletary missed only two games in 12 seasons, an incredible testament to his toughness.
5. Dick Butkus, 1965-1973, Hall of Fame in 1979: The one variable that separates Butkus from Singletary is wins. The Bears simply didn't have much success in the win-loss column over the span of Butkus' nine-year career. However, that had little to do with Butkus, who laid it all on the line every time he suited up at middle linebacker. One of only six Bears to earn Pro Bowl honors each of their first three seasons, Butkus was feared by opponents, who entered the middle of the field at their own risk. Similar to Ditka, Butkus crossed over into the acting/endorsement industry following his career, making him a star all across the country, not just in Chicago.
Jeff Dickerson covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.