15 Of The Most Iconic Figures In Chicago Sports History

15 Of The Most Iconic Figures In Chicago Sports History

Chicago sports fans have been blessed with great teams in the past and present. These are the players and coaches who helped build great teams in Chicago professional sports.

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Chicago has always been one of the premier sports cities in America. In all four major North American sports they have fielded some of the best teams of all time in their respective sports. The Bulls, Blackhawks, Bears, Cubs, and White Sox have all had periods of supremacy in 4 competitive leagues. Players and coaches have come and gone, but the truly great ones live in the hearts of fans forever. From the gridiron to the hardwood, these are Chicago's greatest sports icons.

1. Walter Payton, Bears 

Walter Payton was more than just a great running back, he was, and still is, one the most celebrated players in the NFL history. Sweetness is the epitome of great Bears' running backs. His never die easy attitude made him one of the most legendary players ever. He broke Jim Brown's rushing record in 1984, won an MVP award, and won a Super Bowl in 1985. Payton's status as an all time great will never be challenged. Attend a Bears game in 2018 and you will still see number 34 jerseys in the stands.

2. Michael Jordan, Bulls

Michael Jordan put the Chicago Bulls on the map as soon as he entered the league in 1984. It was apparent early on that he would cause headaches for the rest of the league for many years to come. Jordan didn't just win 6 NBA championships and 5 MVPs. He made the game of basketball a global sport. That was never more apparent than during the 1992 Olympic games when Jordan was a part of the legendary Dream Team. Everywhere the team went, everyone wanted to get a glimpse of the best player in the world.

3. Stan Mikita, Blackhawks 

The late Stan Mikita spent his entire 22-year career in the windy city. He still leads the Blackhawks in games played, points, and assists. He was a gentleman off the ice and his impact was felt by everyone. He helped Chicago hoist the Stanley Cup in 1961.

4. Frank Thomas, White Sox 

Frank Thomas was a force to be reckoned with. "The Big Hurt" was the face of the White Sox as their first baseman and designated hitter for 16 years. Thomas was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014. He chose to have his White Sox hat in his hall of fame plaque.

5. Ernie Banks, Cubs 

Ernie Banks defined what it meant to be a Chicago Cub. The man they called "Mr. Cub" was one of the best shortstop's baseball has ever seen. He was the first player to win back-to-back NL MVP awards in 1958-59. Despite never appearing in the postseason, Banks is one of the most legendary Chicago athletes ever.

6. Dick Butkus, Bears

Dick Butkus was the original Monster of the Midway. His demeanor on the field struck fear in the hearts of his opponents. Butkus played in a time before roughing the passer was a serious concern for quarterbacks, and he took full advantage of that. He spent his entire 9-year career with the Bears. During his playing days, he set the bar high for any and all middle linebackers who come to Chicago, Illinois.

7. Scottie Pippen, Bulls 

Scottie Pippen was Jordan's right-hand man during their dynasty in the 90s. He was one of the defining players of his generation and was an iconic Bulls player. For all of Michael Jordan's greatness there would be no dynasty without number 33 by his side.

8. Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks 

Jonathan Toews came to the right town at the right time when he was drafted 3rd overall by Chicago in 2006. In his second season Toews was named team captain, the second youngest in NHL history at the time. In 2010, Toews and the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1961. Toews also won the Con Smythe Trophy in 2010 as playoff MVP. He would go on to lead the Blackhawks to two more Stanley Cups in 2013 and 2015. Toews' leadership has kept the Hawks moving forward as he's left his mark in NHL history.

9. "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, White Sox 

"Shoeless" Joe Jackson was a superstar outfielder in the early 1900s. He will be forever linked to the "Black Sox Scandal", when players of the 1919 White Sox fixed the World Series. Jackson was banned from professional baseball in his prime.

10.  George Halas, Bears 

There probably wouldn't be a National Football League if it weren't for George Halas. Halas started his career as an end with the Decatur Staleys. He would move them to Chicago and the Staleys would become the Bears. Halas was a player, coach, and owner for the Bears from 1920 to 1983. He won 6 NFL championships and was the winningest head coach in history when he retired. "Papa Bear" was a co-founder of the NFL way back in 1920. In 1963 Halas and 16 other inductees was a charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Bears wouldn't be where they are today if it wasn't for Halas. No coach or owner had more respect from his players than George Halas.

11.  Patrick Kane, Blackhawks 

Patrick Kane was and is one of the cornerstones of the Chicago Blackhawks modern NHL dynasty. He helped lead the Hawks to 3 Stanley Cups from 2010-2015. In 2013 He won the Con Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. Kane was the first American player in the NHL to win both the Hart Memorial Trophy as MVP, and the Art Ross Trophy as scoring champion. His fast and electric play on the ice has made him one of the most entertaining players of his generation. Kane helped bring the Hawks to glory in the 2010s.

12.  Gale Sayers, Bears 

Gale Sayers was a once in a lifetime athlete. The "Kansas Comet" burst onto the NFL scene like no other rookie had before or since. His God-given talent made him one of the greatest running backs the game has ever seen. He only played pro football for 7 seasons, as knee injuries cut his career short. Bears fans are left to wonder what could have been. But during his time in cleats, Gale Sayers was the perfect Chicago running back.

13.  Joel Quenneville, Blackhawks 

Joel Quenneville was the head man in Chicago from 2008 to 2018. In that span he won 3 Stanley Cups and became the second winningest coach in NHL history. He led the Blackhawks to 9 straight playoff appearances. His personality and leadership were critical in Chicago's success in the rink. He may have been fired recently, but the memories he helped create in Chicago won't be forgotten by true Blackhawks fans.

14.  Ryne Sandberg, Cubs 

Ryne Sandberg spent nearly his entire career in a Cubs uniform. Sandberg was one of the best second baseman of all time. His stats speak for themselves. When he retired, he had hit more home runs than any second basemen in history.

15.  Mike Ditka, Bears 

Mike Ditka was a typical Chicago Bear. He was a tough player and he revolutionized the tight end position. He became the head coach of the Bears in 1982 and three years later he led the Bears to their first Super Bowl title. His toughness defined him both in the field and on the sidelines. He is one of the most iconic figures in Chicago sports as a player and coach.

Chicago is the 3rd largest city in America. Their professional sports franchises have brought championships and many great memories to the residents of the great city. Some teams will have their ups and downs in the future. But Chicago's past proves that good times are ahead. Each major sports league has historic franchises in Chicago and the memories these icons created will last a lifetime.

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To The Coach Who Ruined The Game For Me

We can't blame you completely, but no one has ever stood up to you before.
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I know you never gave it a second thought, the idea that you're the reason I and many others, never went any farther in our athletic careers.

I know you didn’t sincerely care about our mental health, as long as we were physically healthy and our bodies were working enough to play. It’s obvious your calling wasn’t coaching and you weren’t meant to work with young adults, some who look to you as a parent figure or a confidant.

I also know that if we were to express our concerns about the empty feeling we began to feel when we stepped onto the court, you wouldn’t have taken the conversation seriously because it wasn’t your problem.

I know we can't blame you completely, no one has ever stood up to you before. No one said anything when girls would spend their time in the locker room crying because of something that was said or when half the team considered quitting because it was just too much.

We can't get mad at the obvious favoritism because that’s how sports are played.

Politics plays a huge role and if you want playing time, you have to know who to befriend. We CAN get mad at the obvious mistreatment, the empty threats, the verbal abuse, “it's not what you say, its how you say it.”

We can get mad because a sport that we loved so deeply and had such passion for, was taken away from us single-handedly by an adult who does not care. I know a paycheck meant more to you than our wellbeing, and I know in a few years you probably won’t even remember who we are, but we will always remember.

We will remember how excited we used to get on game days and how passionate we were when we played. How we wanted to continue on with our athletic careers to the next level when playing was actually fun. We will also always remember the sly remarks, the obvious dislike from the one person who was supposed to support and encourage us.

We will always remember the day things began to change and our love for the game started to fade.

I hope that one day, for the sake of the young athletes who still have a passion for what they do, you change.

I hope those same athletes walk into practice excited for the day, to get better and improve, instead of walking in with anxiety and worrying about how much trouble they would get into that day. I hope those athletes play their game and don’t hold back when doing it, instead of playing safe, too afraid to get pulled and benched the rest of the season.

I hope they form an incredible bond with you, the kind of bond they tell their future children about, “That’s the coach who made a difference for me when I was growing up, she’s the reason I continued to play.”

I don’t blame you for everything that happened, we all made choices. I just hope that one day, you realize that what you're doing isn’t working. I hope you realize that before any more athletes get to the point of hating the game they once loved.

To the coach that ruined the game for me, I hope you change.

Cover Image Credit: Author's photo

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The Top 10 Quarterback-Wide Receiver Combos In The NFL

In a passing league, a quarterback runs the show on offense, and his favorite wide-receiver is his reliable safety blanket.

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The NFL has seen great quarterbacks and great wide receivers. When a combination of a great quarterback and wide receiver are on one team, an offense can become very dangerous. Certain teams and their fans have been fortunate enough to see outstanding duos. This list includes record breakers, Super Bowl MVPs, and Hall of Famers

10. Stabler to Biletnikoff

Ken Stabler and Fred Biletnikoff were typical Oakland Raiders. Rule breaking characters who only cared about winning. The Raiders' victory in Super Bowl XI was the peak of the Raiders dominance of the 70s. MVP Biletnikoff reflected on their years in Oakland and his friendship with Stabler.

9. Namath to Maynard

In the 60s Broadway Joe Namath captivated football fans in the American Football League. He and Don Maynard were bombs away on the field. In 1968 the Jets upset the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. If it was not for Namath and Maynard, the Jets might not have been in the big game.

8. Staubach to Pearson

Roger Staubach and Drew Pearson made it on the map when Staubach hit Pearson for the first Hail Mary touchdown. They won Super Bowl XII with the Cowboys in 1977 and played in 3 Super Bowls all together in the 70s. Pearson has been overlooked by the Hall of Fame. He deserves to be in Canton along with his quarterback.

7. Brady to Edelman

For the past decade, Tom Brady and Julian Edelman have tormented secondaries and defensive coordinators. They just won their 3rd Super Bowl together and each has left their mark on the NFL. Brady's best receiver in his career may have been Hall of Famer Randy Moss, but Edelman has been the most reliable weapon for the Patriots.

6. Kelly to Reed

The K-Gun offense was perfect for Bills quarterback Jim Kelly. The fast-paced, no-huddle offense was a headache for defenses. Andre Reed was the perfect deep threat for Kelly. The Bills went to 4 straight Super Bowls in the early 90s, something that has not been done before or since. Kelly and Reed are both Hall of Famers despite not winning the Super Bowl.

5. Aikman to Irvin

Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin won three Super Bowls together in Dallas. In their first Aikman hit Irvin for two touchdowns in an MVP performance by Aikman. The Dallas dynasty of the early 90s would not have been possible without this duo.

4. Unitas to Berry

Johnny Unitas and Raymond Berry were the best at their positions in their time. The prolific combination of these two legends brought the Colts back to back championships in the late 50s. Their on the field chemistry started before game days. Unitas and Berry would stay after practice and run pass patterns to prepare for Sunday afternoons in Baltimore.

3. Montana to Rice

Jerry Rice entered the league in 1985. By then Joe Montana was a two time Super Bowl champion and two time Super Bowl MVP. Montana and Rice would lead the 49ers to two Super Bowls in the late 80s. Each would win a Super Bowl MVP and San Francisco became the team of the 80s.

2. Young to Rice

By the Early 90s, Jerry Rice had been established as one of, if not, the best wide receiver in NFL history. When injuries led to Joe Montana being traded from the 49ers Steve Young took over the offense. During the transition, Rice would practice catching passes from a left-handed ball boy on the 49ers. Young and Rice would lead the 49ers to three straight NFC championship appearances and a victory in Super Bowl XXIX.

1. Manning to Harrison

Peyton Manning's career makes a compelling argument for him as the best quarterback of his generation. Marvin Harrison may have been the best wide receiver of the 2000s. The fact that they were on the same team was like the stars aligning. Manning and Harrison combined for 12,766 yards and 112 touchdowns - two records that may never be broken. Together, they led the Indianapolis Colts to the Super Bowl in 2006.

The importance of a good quarterback-receiver duo cannot be understated. The better the chemistry is between the two, the better the offense will run. All of these duos brought different things to the table. But they all caused headaches for opposing secondaries.

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