Mounting a counter to NFL’s Rushmore
As human beings, we tend to stand in awe of those things whose very existence defies easy explanation.
There’s the incredible (the Great Pyramid of Giza, built nearly 4,000 years ago), the indescribable (the Northern Lights) and the incomprehensible (the Kardashian clan’s continued celebrity-list status). In America, there are plenty of must-see places for visitors and, surprising though it may seem, several of them don’t feature any batted or thrown balls, rolling credits or roller coasters
I’m talking about things like the Grand Canyon, Statue of Liberty, Yellowstone National Park, Hoover Dam and the various sites in Washington D.C., none of which involves interaction with present-day political residents. If asked, the Lincoln Memorial could likely dispense more astute legislative decisions than anyone currently roaming the halls of Congress, but that’s a discussion for another time.
One of the U.S.’ most famous tourist sites is Mount Rushmore. Designed by Danish-American artist Gutzon Borglum and carved into South Dakota’s Black Hills more than 70 years ago, Mount Rushmore depicts the faces of four of history’s most renowned Chief Executives: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt, who were chosen to represent the first 150 years of American history.
NBC Sports’ Pro Football Talk website recently borrowed that same basic idea and applied it to the NFL’s 32 member teams. PFT asked fans to choose the four most influential figures in each club’s history and, as is true with any sort of best-of list, discussion was engendered and disagreements ensued.
This was especially so for the NFL’s oldest franchises. While selecting Mount Rushmores for teams like the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars didn’t require too much in the way of historical recollection, what about the Bears, Green Bay Packers, Arizona Cardinals and New York Giants? There’s an awful lot of ground to cover with those franchises.
And even teams whose roots aren’t sunk quite as deeply could create dilemmas if they enjoyed any prolonged periods of success. In this case, think Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders.
I didn’t get a look at all the choices, but I did see some, including those for the Bears, whose Mount Rushmore consisted of George Halas, Walter Payton, Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus. Halas was one of the NFL’s founding fathers and Chicago has been part of the league since the latter’s inception, so obviously the organization has had its fair share of stalwarts, but it’s difficult to argue against the final four.
Difficult, but not impossible. Suffice to say, not all parties were content. One name that popped up as a missing person with some regularity was Mike Ditka, and his omission is certainly noteworthy, seeing as how he is credited as the man who redefined the tight end position.
But who gets the boot if Ditka becomes part of the Bears’ Mount Rushmore?
Halas, of course, is a lock on the rock, and so, too, is Payton, the NFL’s No. 2 career rusher and still considered its most complete running back of all-time. Sayers, meanwhile, is the youngest man ever inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame and Butkus was so dominant at his position that the NCAA now hands out an award named after him to the nation’s top collegiate linebacker each season, so their inclusion certainly is legitimate as well.
Sorry, Iron Mike, as great as he was, can’t break through. In presidential terms, he’s much closer to being Harry S. Truman than Warren G. Harding, but Truman’s visage has never gotten added to the Black Hills landscape, so Ditka must also be left off the Bears’ Mount Rushmore.
But while the debate continues, I decided to try to stoke another one. The majority of football players, like workers in other fields, can be classified as average — competent enough to remain employed for several years, but not good enough to ever get noticed by people outside their own families.
However, just as the NFL has its elite, it also has its chronic underachievers.
These might be guys who initially got noticed in college — or perhaps as early as high school — and had “future star” attached to their name, then, for whatever reason, completely flamed out in the pros. Or the group could include players who were always thought of as nothing more than journeymen and then struggled to live up to even those meager standards.
Let’s call it “Mount Rushpoor.” If teams chose to hang photos of these players somewhere, the best spot to display them would be directly above a waste receptacle.
Now the guys who follow may not necessarily be the worst the Bears have ever had to offer, but certainly they’re in the running for legendary infamy. Here are one man’s nominations:
• Joe Moore. It’s hard to believe the same organization that gave us Payton and Sayers also presented us with Moore, who was Chicago’s No. 1 pick and the 11th selection overall in the 1971 NFL draft. Considering that lofty status, the Bears had a right to expect more than the 281 rushing yards he gave them — for his career.
• Ross Montgomery. The reason the Bears went after Moore in the first place was because their leading rusher during the 1970 season was a man who gained 46 fewer yards in 14 games than Payton did on Nov. 20, 1977 versus Minnesota. Ironically, Montgomery finished with the same career-rushing total as Moore, but had to be considered a better bargain since he was picked 55 spots lower in the 1969 draft than Moore was to be two years later.
• Stan Thomas. The No. 22 overall pick in 1991 lasted two seasons with the Bears and played two others with the Houston Oilers, but was a human train wreck. Thomas’ list of off-the-field transgressions was lengthy and, had he been a top-10 selection, he very well could have given former Green Bay Packer Tony Mandarich a stern challenge for the title of “Worst High Draft Pick Ever Spent On An Offensive Lineman.”
• Cade McNown. The 12th player taken in the 1999 draft, McNown started only 15 games in two years and threw more interceptions (19) than touchdowns (16). He did complete almost 55 percent of his 515 passes for 3,111 yards, but I’m guessing a little more was expected from him over a lot longer span of time.
There you have it — the Bears’ Mount Rushpoor, which in the case of two of the above players also serves as an apt description of their football legacy. The Monsters of the Midway have whiffed other times, too, as evidenced by the brief appearances of guys like Curtis Enis and Rashaan Salaam in the lineup, but that’s to be expected when an organization has been around for over 90 years.
However, there is some value to remembering the not-so-high points of team history, especially when the going gets rough in the modern day. So the next time Jay Cutler or Matt Forte screws up, look to the heavens and give thanks because it could be worse.
And it definitely has been.