Legends of the Game: Mike Singletary

ac6c01b4473456d9c0e4c88d2f7e1a05In the storied history of the NFL, few players packed a bigger punch than Hall of Fame Chicago Bears linebacker, Mike Singletary. An imposing presence on the field with his piercing eyes sending shivers down the spines of quarterbacks, Singletary often won the battle of intimidation before the ball was snapped.  Through the trials and tribulations,  Singletary’s story is one of ultimate triumph, bringing the Bears their first and only Lombardi Trophy.

Coming off of an All-American season with Baylor, Singletary’s reputation as a human wrecking ball preceded him upon arriving to Bear’s camp in 1981. Legends of helmet-cracking hits at Baylor only added to the level of excitement for Defensive Coordinator Buddy Ryan to get his chance to mold the young linebacker into a force at the second level. With the high level of expectations bestowed upon Singletary by Ryan, he often faced the brunt of Ryan’s criticism when things broke down. In fact, Ryan only referred to Singletary as “Number 50″ early on in his career.

“I really didn’t like Buddy for a long time,” said Singletary. “But, he taught me about myself, made me reach for things I thought I never had.  I never would have achieved what I have without Buddy.”

Buddy’s persistence worked as it wouldn’t take long for Singletary to make his presence known in the NFL. After sitting out the first six games of his rookie season, Singletary finally got to show what the hype was all about.  He would finish the season as a unanimous all-rookie selection, but the Bears finished with a paltry 6-10 record.

The next two seasons saw Singletary emerge into one of the NFL’s brightest young stars, but the team remained mediocre due to lack of offense.  It would take young quarterback Jim McMahon to act as field general to lead the offense out of the one-dimensional attack it had been employing with All-Pro running back Walter Payton.

The first step in that rise came in ’84 as the Bears began to open up their offense with a stronger emphasis on the passing game.  On defense the man now known as “Samurai MikeSingletary remained the back-bone and unquestioned leader.  He would earn his second straight Pro-Bowl selection that year and lead the Bears to their first playoff appearance in half a decade.

After beating the heavily-favored Redskins on the road, the Bears went back on the road for the NFC Championship to face the offensive juggernaut in the 49ers. With one Super Bowl already under their belt, the 49ers proved to be too much for the young Bears squad, handing them a 23-0 defeat en route to another Super Bowl victory against the Miami Dolphins.

The loss was a tough one to swallow for the newly married Singletary, but with his wife’s support he remained focused on next season as all of the pieces were in place for a Championship run.

What would transpire during the following season was arguably the greatest defensive showing that the league had ever seen.  The menacing middle-linebacker in Buddy Ryan’s “46″ defense was the glue that brought it all together.

One by one, the Bears obliterated their opponents and made opposing quarterbacks contemplate a new profession.  The defense was clicking on all cylinders and the offense was more balanced than ever.

When the ’85 regular season concluded, the Bears were sitting at an astounding 15-1 record with a bye to the Divisional round of the NFC Playoffs.  The historically good defense would continued its dominance, handing the New York Giants a shutout, followed by another shutout against the Rams in the NFC Championship game.  Now all that stood between the Bears and a Super Bowl Championship was the New England Patriots.

In what would go down as one of the most lopsided victories in Super Bowl history, the Bears handled the underdog Patriots 46-10 in a game that was over by halftime.  Singletary and the rest of his Bears teammates were Super Bowl Champions at last. They revelled in the Championship glory.

The celebration was short lived. During the offseason, the “46″ defense guru, Buddy Ryan, accepted a Head Coaching position with the Philadelphia Eagles.  It was a big blow dealt to the Bears, and their vaunted defense never reached the same heights as ’85 without him.

“The No. 1 thing was Singletary was able to make adjustments on the field when he was there with Buddy Ryan,” former Bears reserve defensive lineman Tyrone Keys said. “After Buddy left, they had to stay in that same defense and he wasn’t allowed to make changes like that.  When both Buddy and Mike were there, Buddy gave him the freedom to make the calls he saw fit.”

After seven more Pro-Bowl seasons with the Bears, Singletary decided to hang up the pads for good following the ’92 season.  In ’98, he was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. The man that had been referred to as “Number 50″ at the beginning of his NFL career was now immortalized in the halls of Canton.  


Unable to stay away from the game he loves, Singletary rejoined the NFL ranks as a linebackers coach for the Baltimore Ravens in 2003. After bouncing around the league with coaching positions for the 49ers and Minnesota Vikings, Singletary now serves as the Ram’s defensive assistant coach.  The announcement of the hiring was made shortly after the passing of the man that pushed him all those years in Chicago, Buddy Ryan. Singletary remains eternally grateful to Buddy and was able to visit him before he passed away.

“I think all of us know someone in our life, whether it’s a grandparent, an uncle, a big brother, who meant so much to you.  And you can never say how much you appreciate it. Having the opportunity to go back the couple of years and sit down with Buddy and look into his eyes, knowing that there’s so much that he wants to communicate but he really can’t, it’s just very difficult to put into words.  But I love Buddy Ryan. And I’ve told him that many, many times.”

Buddy Ryan and Mike Singletary formed one of the greatest coach to player relationships that the game of football has ever seen.  Ryan provided the fire that Singletary needed to reach the top, and Singletary provided the leadership and strength for Ryan’s 46 defense. Together, they helped build the greatest defense in NFL history and earn the Bear’s their first and only Lombardi Trophy in franchise history.
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