There is probably no franchise in the NFL with a more illustrious history than the Chicago Bears. They were one of the pioneering franchises in the sport and have been around almost as long as the game itself has been. So, naturally the team has had more than a few legends stroll through their ranks and have Hall of Fame careers in Chicago. Mike Ditka is the latest guy to be honored by the Bears with having his jersey retired, but according to the team, he’s also going to be the last.
Bears owner George McCaskey said in a statement that if there was ever a guy to go out on, there’s no better Bear than Mike Ditka.
Ditka was ans still is a legend in Chicago, from his days as a tight end to the historic years in the 80s he spent as head coach. The 1985 Bears defense is still regarded as one of the best to have ever been formed and it resulted in Chicago’s last Super Bowl title. From his iconic sweater to the SNL parodies of him in the 90s, Ditka transcended being a head coach or a figure and became a mythical entity in the way Greek Gods were regarded.
But while Ditka is getting his number retired, other Bears who have made their name with the franchise after him won’t see their numbers retired. Brian Urlacher is perhaps the best Bears player since the 1985 Super Bowl team but he won’t see his No. 54 retired by the Bears. Guys like Dan Hampton, Mike Singletary and Richard Dent — all of whom actually played on the 1985 defense — won’t see their numbers retired by Chicago either.
This is an inevitability with all franchises in the NFL as there’s going to come a day where you just start running out of numbers and can’t retire anymore. Not being able to retire numbers doesn’t mean they can’t still be hung up though, it just means we’ll see legendary numbers still appearing on gameday.
Hampton spoke to the Chicago Tribune and said he’s perfectly fine not having his jersey retired as it doesn’t take away what he means to the franchise.
“It’s simple math,” Hampton said. “This is a franchise with so many great players. If everybody’s number got retired, it would diminish the honor in a way. I understand. The trap of it all is that if you played for the Bears, you’re one of many. If you played in Tampa, what is there, a handful of guys?”
We could see the Bears make exceptions for certain players like Hampton and Urlacher, but overall this is a decision we will start seeing more and more as the decades continue and teams have more and more legendary players come through the organization and earn their place among football immortality. It’s just, when they get to the Pearly Gates of football Heaven, they have to check their jersey’s at the front.