The Bears only play the Denver Broncos once every four seasons, but the two teams have more in common than you might expect. Here are some examples:
• They played in rival leagues at the time, but both teams drafted Dick Butkus in 1965. The Bears selected the Chicago native with the third pick in the first round of the NFL Draft, while the Broncos chose Butkus with the first pick in the second round (ninth overall) in the AFL Draft. Both drafts were held on Nov. 28, 1964.
The NFL and AFL merged in 1970, but there was acrimony between the leagues in 1965. The NFL accused the AFL of holding a secret draft two weeks earlier to try to get a jump on signing the top prospects. NBC even sent letters to the players encouraging them to join the AFL.
Believe it or not, Butkus was actually worried about insulting one of the teams that drafted him. “I hate to make a decision,” he said at the time in a Chicago Tribune story. “I don’t want to hurt anybody. Regardless of which one I pick, I’ll make the other one mad. I don’t want anybody to be mad at me.”
Butkus ultimately chose the Bears and became one of the greatest players in NFL history. He was voted to the Pro Bowl in each of his first eight NFL seasons, was a seven-time All-Pro selection and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1979 in his first year of eligibility.”
• The Bears and Broncos both have retired jersey No. 7 in honor of Hall of Famers who coincidentally began their pro sports careers playing baseball in the New York Yankees’ organization.
Bears founder, owner, coach and player George Halas appeared in 12 games as an outfielder with the Yankees in 1919 before helping to create the Bears and the NFL in 1920. He moved the Decatur Staleys to Chicago in 1921 and they were renamed the Chicago Bears in 1922.
As a player, Halas was named to the NFL’s 1920s All-Decade Team. Serving as Bears coach for four separate 10-year stints, Halas led the franchise to six NFL championships in 1921, 1933, 1940, 1941, 1946 and 1963. He ultimately retired in 1968 as the NFL’s winningest coach with 324 victories.
Legendary quarterback John Elway wore No. 7 with the Broncos for 17 illustrious seasons from 1983-98. He won two Super Bowls, was selected to nine Pro Bowls and was named NFL MVP in 1987. Elway has served as the Broncos’ general manager and executive vice president of football operations since 2011, leading Denver to another Super Bowl title in 2015.
Elway was selected by the Yankees in the second round of the 1981 Major League Baseball draft and played for the franchise’s minor-league affiliate, the Oneonta Yankees, in the New York-Penn league in 1982. When Elway was chosen by the Baltimore Colts with the first pick in the 1983 NFL Draft, he threatened to play for the Yankees if he wasn’t traded. Elway was eventually dealt to the Broncos and ultimately became a football Hall of Famer.
• Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall teamed up for touchdown passes for both the Bears and Broncos, as did Kyle Orton and Brandon Lloyd.
Cutler threw a 68-yard TD pass to Marshall for the Broncos on Nov. 25, 2007 at Soldier Field in a 37-34 overtime loss to the Bears.
Cutler and Orton, of course, both were part of a blockbuster trade on April 2, 2009 when the Bears dealt Orton, two first-round picks and one third-round selection to the Broncos in exchange for Cutler and a fifth-round choice the Bears spent on receiver/return specialist Johnny Knox.
Here are more interesting Bears/Broncos nuggets:
• Bears legend Walter Payton had 3,838 rushing attempts during his illustrious 13-year career with the Bears from 1975-87; his longest run was a 76-yarder against the Broncos Oct. 16, 1978 in Denver.
• John Fox served as head coach of both teams, working with the Broncos from 2011-14 and the Bears from 2015-17.
• Three of the last seven games between the two teams have been decided by field goals in overtime. The Bears are 2-1 in those games, winning 16-13 on Kevin Butler’s 44-yarder in 1990 and 37-34 on Robbie Gould’s 39-yarder in 2007 and losing on Matt Prater’s 51-yarder in 2011.