The Chicago Bears are one of the most storied franchises in NFL history. The team was there at the birth of the National Football League and though they have experienced up and down levels of success and failure, they have always remained one of the more popular teams in the league. The Bears have had some of the most famous players in the league throughout their history; Gale Sayers, Dick Butkis, Walter Payton, Mike Singletary, Richard Dent, Brian Urlacher, and more. One area though that the Bears have consistently struggled with is their starting quarterback. The Bears quarterbacks through the years have experienced varying levels of success, but even at their most successful, the team has rarely had a quarterback that would qualify as a superstar in the league.
In terms of individual success, the most successful quarterback in the history of Chicago Bears was Sid Luckman. Sid Luckman came out of Columbia University in 1939 and proved himself worthy of fan support during his entire twelve year NFL career. He would finish his career having led the league in passing yards and touchdown passes on three different occasions. Though his durability was sometimes in question, there was only one season in which he started every game the team played, his level of play never was. With Luckman at the Helm, the Chicago Bears would win four NFL Championships. To this day, he is still the Chicago Bears’ career leader in most passing categories.
Following Sid Luckman was a hard job, and that job fell on the shoulders of Johnny Lujack. Lujack was only in the league for four years and was only the starting quarterback of the Bears for three of them (1949-51). In his first full season as the Bears’ starter he led the league in pass completions, pass attempts, passing yards, and passing touchdowns. Three years later, he was out of the league and next up was future Pro Football Hall of Famer George Blanda. Blanda would go on to play twenty six seasons in professional football, but only the next few as the starting quarterback of the Bears.
The Bears would then gain a little more stability at the quarterback position when in 1955 the reins of the team were turned over to Ed Brown. Brown would remain the main quarterback of the Bears for six seasons before moving on to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1962. Though Brown kept the job for six seasons, those seasons were far from the most successful in franchise history.
Chicago would return to the top of the league after this rough patch by working a trade with the Los Angeles Rams that would bring quarterback Billy Wade to the Windy City. Wade would be the starting quarterback for the Bears for just four seasons, but in 1963 he would help the team achieve a record of 11-1-2 and win the championship of the league.
Over the next seventeen seasons, from 1965 through 1981, the Chicago Bears would not have anyone be their primary starting quarterback for more than three seasons. The list of starting quarterbacks that would go through the Chicago Bears revolving door include Rudy Bukich, Jack Concannon, Virgil Carter, Bobby Douglass, Gary Huff, Bob Avellini, Mike Phipps, and Vince Evans. This long period of instability at the quarterback position would echo the team’s long period of ineffectiveness during this time. During this seventeen year stretch, the Bears only had three seasons with an above .500 record.
The 1982 season opened with a number of changes, the team was now under the leadership of head coach Mike Ditka, and starting at the quarterback position was the soon to be legendary Jim McMahon. The Bears would rebound from futility and in 1985 they flirted with a perfect record until the last game of the season. Though McMahon never led the league in any major passing category, he was an integral part of the team and helped to give them some of the attitude that made them one of the dominant football teams during the 1980s. As the 1980s came to an end, the Bears would transition Mike Tomczak from backup to starter for a year before handing the team’s starting quarterback position over to Jim Harbaugh. The first two seasons with Harbaugh at the helm, the Bears would record back-to-back 11-5 records before slumping to back-to-back below .500 seasons.
Following Jim Harbaugh’s tenure as the starting quarterback of the Bears, the team would again repeat their previous pattern of having a seemingly endless cycle of quarterbacks be put into the role of team leader. Starting games for them at the quarterback position over the next fourteen seasons would be Steve Walsh, Erik Kramer, Dave Krieg, Rick Mirer, Steve Stenstrom, Moses Moreno, Shane Matthews, Cade McNown, Jim Miller, Chris Chandler, Henry Burris, Kordell Stewart, Chad Hutchinson, Craig Krenzel, Jonathan Quinn, Kyle Orton, Rex Grossman, and Brian Griese.
Looking back at the history of the starting quarterbacks of the Chicago Bears it is easy to see that their most successful time as a team came during stretches where they had relative stability at the starting quarterback position. It isn’t necessary to win in the NFL to have a superstar quarterback, but being able to field a quarterback that has experience and is comfortable within the scheme the team runs is a must. As of right now, the Chicago Bears search for stability at the quarterback position continues.