The Chicago Bears have had many memorable players come through the Windy City during their 93-year history.
A franchise best known for their defense, the Bears have featured some of the greatest defensive stoppers in the history of the game.
Ferocious hitters like Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary and Richard Dent terrorized quarterbacks decades ago.
Nowadays, Brian Uracher and Julius Peppers anchor what is another superb Chicago defensive unit.
As spoiled as Bears fans have been on the defensive side of the ball though, it’s been mostly slim pickings when it comes to the offense.
While Chicago has never been a team to light up the scoreboard, their fan base has had to suffer through some excruciatingly bad offenses throughout the years.
The addition of Jay Cutler in 2009 brought hope and stability to a quarterback position that had seen 26 different starters since the team won Super Bowl XX with Jim McMahon under center.
Cutler joined second-year back Matt Forte who was coming off of a sensational rookie campaign. But even with so much promise, there was still one gaping hole in the Bears' offensive game plan: the lack of a true No.1 receiver.
Enter Brandon Marshall.
The most talented skill position player the Bears have seen since Walter Payton.
Before you write off that statement as being completely absurd, consider this:
If one were to take Marshall’s career totals in receptions (494) and receiving yards (6,247), he would be the top receiver in Bears history. And think about who he had throwing to him the last few seasons. Kyle Orton? Matt Moore? Not exactly the cream of the crop when it comes to quarterbacks.
Chicago’s all-time leading receiver is Johnny Morris, who actually started off as running back and was converted to a receiver. From 1958-1967, Morris caught 356 balls for 5,059 yards and 31 touchdowns.
So in four fewer seasons, Marshall has managed to catch almost 150 more passes and has accumulated over 1,000 more receiving yards than the Bears’ all-time leading wideout. And Marshall’s career TDs (34) puts him just six shy of the franchise record; second only to Harlon Hill’s 40 receiving touchdowns.
For anyone who argues that the Bears haven’t exactly had the most storied history when it comes to receivers, they would be absolutely correct. By comparison, Sterling Sharpe, the Packers’ all-time leading receiver, recorded 595 catches for 8,134 in just seven seasons.
But that should only stress how desperately the team needed a Pro Bowl talent like Marshall and how instrumental he’ll be to their overall success heading forward.
In the 1970s it got so bad for Chicago’s passing game that in 1972, Earl Thomas led the team in receptions with only 20 catches. The following year, it didn’t get much better as Carl Garrett became the team leader with only 23 receptions.
The 1980s saw the arrival of Bears legend Walter Payton and the defensive dominance of the Monsters of the Midway.
Chicago didn’t need much help from its passing game to win the Super Bowl during their ’85 season, but it still got major contributions from burner Willie Gault and complimentary receiver Dennis McKinnon.
The 1990s got off to a rough start after Anthony Morgan, the guy the Bears were hoping would replace Gault as their primary target, couldn’t shake the injury bug and spent more time in the training room than he did on the field.
This opened the door though for the emergence of the surprising Tom Waddle, who after being cut several times became a Bears legend in only four seasons.
Things would only get better for Chicago after their acquisitions of Curtis Conway, via the 7th overall pick in the ’94 Draft, and Jeff Graham, who they got in a trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers. In 1995, Conway and Graham became the first Bears receivers to record over 1,000 yards in 25 years.
Chicago thought they had finally found their star receiver in 1999 when Marcus Robinson broke out and set the franchise single-season yardage record with 1,400 yards in only his third year. But Robinson would tear his ACL the following season and never be the same. And the Bears would spend the next decade trying to find a viable replacement and imaging what could have been.
The list of receivers that followed Robinson included Dez White, David Terrell, Marty Booker (who in 2002 became first Bears receiver to appear in a Pro Bowl since Dick Gordon in 1970), Justin Gage, Bobby Wade, Bernard Berrian and Muhsin Muhammad.
The signing of Muhammad caused quite a buzz throughout the city and that season the team went all the way to the Super Bowl, losing to the Colts in a heartbreaking defeat. Muhammad left after the ’07 season and returned to his former team, the Carolina Panthers, publicly badmouthing the Bears' organization shortly after his departure.
It seems like any time Chicago has the potential to produce a game breaking receiver, something goes terribly wrong. The latest victim of the Bears receiver curse was Johnny Knox. Representing little-known Abilene Christian, Knox was having a solid season last year after his surprising rookie campaign, only to be bent backward in a scramble for a loose ball on Dec. 18th against the Seahawks.
The injury required spinal fusion surgery and anyone who was unfortunate enough to witness it live was certain that the young man would never walk again.
That’s why the arrival of Brandon Marshall is so important for not only the Chicago Bears but all of their fans that have had to suffer through all the ups and downs of the last half century.
Marshall is a top-five receiver in his prime; a guy who once caught 21 balls in a single game. He’s a perennial game-changer who can stretch the field with his quickness and snatch the ball out of the air over smaller corners with his 6’4” frame.
Adding to the excitement is the fact that Marshall and Cutler already have well-established repoire with one another. The two played in Denver together from ’07-’08 and are hoping to rekindle the chemistry that made them one of the best quarterback-receiver tandems in the league.
This is why Marshall’s the best skill position player Chicago has seen since Sweetness. Not just because the Bears have had to wade through shit for the past few decades, but because he’s just that good.
All of the different elements that No. 15 brings to the game immediately make the Bears legitimate Super Bowl contenders. It takes a special kind of player to make that large of an impact on a ball club.
And the best part is that Chicago got him for next to nothing. Just two third-round draft picks.
Now, it should be mentioned that the Dolphins grew tired of Marshall’s constant mood swings (he suffers from borderline personality disorder) and off-the-field issues, but the Bears were more than willing to take their chances on such a phenomenal talent.
Bears fans are just hoping that their new star receiver will finally boost a passing attack that has been one of the NFL’s worst for far too long.