LAKE FOREST – Given the fact that the award has been given out every year since 1955 and the Bears are one of the oldest franchises in the National Football League, you would have thought it would have been given to an executive in Chicago more often than not.
But that wasn’t the case at all, making the honor that Ryan Pace got this past weekend even more special.
The Bears general manager became just the third in Bears history to win the Sporting News NFL Executive of the Year on Sunday. He joins George Halas (1956) and Michael McCaskey (1985) as the only other members of the franchise to receive the honor. The award is voted on by all 32 NFL team executives.
Halas won it during thanks to a 9-2-1 season for the Bears in 1956 when they qualified for the NFL Championship game, which they lost 47-7 to the Giants. McCaskey received his honor after the Bears’ Super Bowl-winning 1985 season in which they won 18 of their 19 games played.
But outside of those two seasons, a Bears’ executive never received the award. A breakthrough for the franchise in the late 1970s for two playoff appearances, the first since Halas stopped coaching the team, didn’t get any of the team’s executives the award. Jerry Angelo could have been under consideration based off the Bears’ 13-3 surprise season in 2001 or the NFC Championship season of 2006, but Dan Rooney of the Steelers (2001) and Mickey Loomis of the Saints (2006) were the recipients of the honor.
Pace got his award thanks to the Bears’ surprising 2018 season and the correlation of that success to his moves made to improve the franchise. The hiring of Matt Nagy, the drafting of Mitchell Trubisky and Roquan Smith, along with the major trade to acquire Khalil Mack were lauded along with a collection of free agent signings last year to bolster the offense.
The team went from 5-11 in 2017 to 12-4 in 2018, featuring an improved and more entertaining offense with a defense that was near the top of every statistical category for the season. A heartbreaking 16-15 loss to the Eagles in the Wild Card playoff brought an unceremonious end to what was a breakthrough season for a success-starved franchise.
It’s brought Pace a major honor from his NFL peers, and one which the drought for a Bears’ executive getting one was as long as the franchise’s wait for a Super Bowl.