LAKE FOREST – The first piece of history was clasped in his hands in Arlington, Texas last night.
It’s the navy blue jersey which featured his last name along with the No. 1. He held it up for everyone at AT&T Stadium to see, along with the multitudes of Bears fans watching at home.
Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith already made history being one of the few players to earn the distinction of being a first round pick – and honor reserved for just 32 every season. Being in the Top Ten only added to the that.
“It’s a great franchise,” said Smith speaking to Chicago reporters at Halas Hall via a conference call on Thursday. “A lot of rich tradition, especially on defense. From way back with Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary, Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher all of those types of guys it’s insane and I’m excited.”
He should be, since he’s already in the same category as a few of those legendary names in team history before he even has his ceremonial introduction Friday in Lake Forest or steps on the field for a game.
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Professor Larry Stat: @roquansmith3 becomes the ninth linebacker taken by the Bears in the first round of the NFL Draft – and it’s a heck of a group. Dick Butkus (HOF), Wilbur Marshall, “Bulldog” Turner (HOF), Brian Urlacher (HOF) and Otis Wilson were also taken in the first round. @wgnnews #bears #chicagobears #nfl #nfldraft #linebacker #halloffame #roquansmith #dickbutkus #brianurlacher #firstround
Smith becomes just the ninth linebacker taken by the Bears in the first round of the NFL Draft. It puts him in a rather elite group in itself considering the team made their first selections back in 1936. But the guys in that group rank among some of the best in the history of the NFL.
The first was Clyde “Bulldog” Turner in 1940 out of Hardin-Simmons, who played linebacker along with center. He was an eight-time All-Pro with the Bears from 1940 through 1952 and helped the team to four NFL Championships while also leading the NFL in interceptions in 1942.
He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1966, but he wouldn’t be the last when it comes to Bears first round linebackers.
Dick Butkus was taken out of Illinois with the third overall pick in 1963 and became an icon for the position that lives on to this day. His menacing style along with speed helped him to eight Pro Bowl and six All-Pro selections and was twice the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979.
In 2017, Smith won the award for the college football award for best linebacker, which is named after Butkus.
Brian Urlacher is the third Hall of Famer of the Bears’ first round linebacker group and will officially be inducted in August. A versatile backer who could be used in a number of way on the field, Urlacher was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2005 while also being named an All-Pro four times and selected to the Pro Bowl on eight occasions.
With Urlacher anchoring the middle of the defense, the Bears won their last NFC Championship in 1996.
Speaking of Super Bowls, the last championship won by the Bears was anchored by two linebackers picked in the first round. Otis Wilson was selected in 1980 and then Wilbur Marshall in 1984, and each were part of the famed “46” defense that helped the Bears to the Super Bowl XX championship.
Another selection, Chuck Howley, would actually go on to a stellar career with another franchise after the Bears picked him in the in 1958. After two seasons, and a very serious knee injury that almost ended his career, the linebacker was traded to the Cowboys where he made six Pro Bowls and five All-Pro teams.
While helping the Cowboys to a Super Bowl VI title, Howley got one of the more unique honors in the history of the NFL in the championship game the year before. The linebacker was named the MVP of Super Bowl V in Miami, which Dallas lost to the Baltimore Colts on a last-second field goal.
It’s quite a legacy that Smith will be carrying on, one the Bears believe he can handle having been selected by the team with such a high pick. If he does, he’ll join an even more elite fraternity than he’s joined already by receiving that “No. 1” jersey.