Top five: books for Chicago Bears fans

Just two teams remain from the founders of the American Professional Football Conference, which was created in 1920 and renamed the National Football League in 1922. One of those teams, the Chicago Cardinals, moved to St Louis in 1960 and then to Phoenix, Arizona, in 1988. The other, the Decatur Staleys, became the Chicago Staleys in 1921 and the Chicago Bears in 1922. Only one NFL team has played in the same city for longer and that’s (sorry, Bears fans) the Packers, who joined the league in 1921.

That means that there is plenty of history to dig into, for fans old and new. There are many books that could have been included here. Ralph Hickok’s Bibliography of Books About American Football, 1891-2015, lists 38 on the Bears alone – and that doesn’t include the books about players, coaches or the four separate titles about the Bears-Packers rivalry.

Nevertheless, whether you’re a relatively new fan or someone who has followed the team for decades, there should be something on this list that will teach you something new and bring to life old glories.

1Halas by Halas (1979), by George Halas (with Gwen Morgan and Arthur Veysey)

Where else to start reading as a Bears fan but with the autobiography of Papa Bear himself. As a founder member of the NFL, a Bears player, head coach and, of course, owner, Halas had an insider’s perspective on the entire history of the league. This autobiography has a reputation for being somewhat dry, with Halas focused on on-field scorelines and off-field profits but that shouldn’t deter hard core fans who want to know how the team survived and thrived for its first half-century.
Out of print: available secondhand

2Monster of the Midway (2003), by Jim Dent

Of the eight NFL Championships that the Bears won before the AFL merger, Bronko Nagurski’s career spanned five of them. The Hall of Fame fullback was on the title-winning teams of 1932 and 1933 but had retired by the time the team won in 1940 and 1941. However, he returned for one year in 1943, when the Second World War had left the league short of players. As well as a four-time All-Pro, Bronko was also a multiple world heavyweight champion in wrestling. Jim Dent’s book is the story of Bronko’s career and a portrait of the Bears during a period of unprecedented success.
Buy the book: Amazon US, Amazon UK

3I Am Third (1970) by Gale Sayers (with Al Silverman)

Gale Sayers was the NFL’s dominant running back of the late 1960s. He was just 27 in 1970, when he published this autobiography, but his career was already effectively over. He played in only four more games between the end of the 1969 season and his retirement in the 1972 preseason. This book covers his childhood and his career but it is more famous as the inspiration for the film Brian’s Song, about Bears running back Brian Piccolo, who died from cancer in 1970, aged 26. Sayers and Piccolo were the first interracial roommates in the NFL and became great friends.
Buy the book: Amazon US, Amazon UK

4Monsters (2013) by Rich Cohen

If you only read one book on this list, then this is the one. The 1985 team remains the only one to have won the Lombardi Trophy and they did so with a crushing defence that has gone down in history. Cohen covers the history of the team, his own youth in 1970s Chicago and that colourful Super Bowl-winning team. What sets this book apart is that it’s not just narrowly focused on the 1985 team. Cohen conducted more than 30 interviews, including with players-turned-analysts like Ron Jaworski and Chris Collinsworth, and supplemented those with a ton of his own research.
Buy the book: Amazon US, Amazon UK

5Sweetness (2011) by Jeff Pearlman

Though that 1985 team was famous for its defence, on the other side of the ball was one of the greatest running backs ever to play the game. When he retired, after the 1987 season, he held the NFL records for rushing attempts, yards and touchdowns as well as the record for all-purpose yards. An enigmatic character, he died in 1999, from complications arising from cancer. Pearlman’s biography does not shy away from the darker side of Payton’s life but, as with everything Pearlman writes, it is thoroughly researched and brilliantly written.
Buy the book: Amazon US, Amazon UK

Feel free to share your own top five – or just your favourite, if I’ve missed it out – in the comments below.

Photo: Jim Larrison

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