Chicago Bears Quarterbacks 1979-2007

I wrote this article in 2006 on Bears’ quarterbacks since 1979, and unfortunately have to update it with this year’s frustrating information. Please post your comments on the article!

By popular demand, I had to update this article to reflect changes in 2007. I certainly wish we were talking about Rex Grossman having success as a 16-game starter in 2007, leading the Bears to another Super Bowl, but as we all know the situation has been far from that. The Chicago Bears have now changed their starting quarterback 49 times since 1992.

We’ve had a lot of questions here on the number of starting quarterbacks the Bears have had, mainly since Brett Favre’s reign of terror began. We’ll do that one better and go back to 1979 in chronological order. Why 1979? Surely the story goes back much farther than that, but that’s when I started watching Bears football as an eight-year-old.

Mike Phipps, Purdue: The Bears traded their 1978 first and fourth-round draft choices to the Cleveland Browns for the eight-year veteran. Phipps started the 1979 season, yielded to Vince Evans and Bob Avellini, then started the team’s final eight games to guide Chicago to a wild-card playoff berth. He started the first six games of the 1980 season before again giving up the job to Evans. His last season was in 1981. Traded for: 1977 Started in: 1978-1980 Released: 1981

Vince Evans, USC: Evans relieved Phipps in game two of the 1979 season, started the next three, then was lost for the year with a staph infection. The strong-armed, athletic signalcaller from USC was drafted by the Bears in 1977 in the sixth round. He would become just one of three Chicago quarterbacks in the 27 years between 1979 and 2005 to start all 16 games in a season (1981). After his Bears career ended, Evans played in the USFL then had a miraculous run in Los Angeles/Oakland for the Raiders, lasting until 1995. Drafted: 1977 (6) Started in 1978-1981, 1983 Released: 1983

Bob Avellini, Maryland: Avellini was part of the miracle draft class of 1975, picked in the sixth round. He became the starter that year, not yielding until the end of the 1978 season. Avellini sat on the bench from 1980-1981, but was given a shot as Mike Ditka’s first starting quarterback in 1982. Perhaps he shouldn’t have, as his nose was broken by the Detroit Lions in that season’s opening game. He backed up Jim McMahon and Evans throughout 1983, but in 1984 he made his final start as a Bear against Seattle. Following the 38-9 loss, Mike Ditka said “good riddance” to Avellini. Drafted: 1975 (6) Started in: 1975-1979, 1984 Released: 1984

Jim McMahon, BYU: McMahon is heralded as one of the best two Chicago Bears quarterbacks in their 87-year history (along with Sid Luckman (1939-1950). Indeed, McMahon is the only Bear quarterback to be selected to a Pro Bowl in the modern era. McMahon was known for brilliant football smarts when he stepped to the line to look over the defense. His problem was not being able to stay healthy. From 1984-1987 McMahon won 21 straight regular season games as a starter. But he also missed 29 possible starts during that timeframe. Following a disappointing NFC Championship Game loss to San Francisco in 1988, McMahon was traded to San Diego. Drafted: 1982 (1) Started in: 1982-1988 Traded: 1989

Steve Fuller, Clemson: Fuller was acquired from the LA Rams via trade prior to the 1984 season to serve as insurance for the oft-injured Jim McMahon. Fuller promptly separated his shoulder in the preseason. He then played adequately in relief of McMahon from 1984-1986. He was on the roster but injured in 1987. Traded for: 1984 Started in: 1984-1986 Released: 1987

Rusty Lisch, Notre Dame: Not much to say here. Pressed into service in 1984, Lisch started against the Packers and lost. His performance was so dismal that day, Ditka had to sign an aged Greg Landry to play the final game against Detroit, which Landry won. Signed: 1984 Started in: 1984 Released: 1985

Greg Landry, Massachusetts: Landry completed 11 of 20 passes for 199 yards, 3 interceptions and a touchdown in his lone start (and appearance) as a Bears quarterback in the 1984 finale. He joined Mike Ditka’s staff the following season, serving as quarterbacks coach and later offensive coordinator. Signed: 1984 Started in: 1984 Retired: 1984

Mike Tomczak, Ohio State: Tomczak was signed as an undrafted free agent in 1985. The Bears cut Rusty Lisch very shortly after acquiring Tomczak. He would get in for mopup duty in 1985, then actually started seven games in 1986 and six in 1987. In 1988, the good friend of McMahon’s shared time with the veteran, starting Chicago’s playoff victory in the Fog Bowl over Philadelphia. He entered 1989 as the starter, yielded to Jim Harbaugh briefly, then lost the starting quarterback battle to Harbaugh in 1990. Following that season, he was designated for Plan B Free Agency and picked up by Green Bay. Signed: 1985 Started in: 1986-1990 Designated for Plan B: 1991

Doug Flutie, Boston College: Flutie was deemed too small and short to play quarterback in the NFL. Ditka created an uproar when he started Flutie in the 1986 season finale and the playoff loss to the Washington Redskins. Flutie was traded to the New England Patriots during the 1987 player’s strike, spent many years in the Canadian Football League (CFL), then found late success with the Buffalo Bills and San Diego Chargers. He retired following the 2005 season, when in his last play as an NFL player, he drop-kicked an extra point. Traded for: 1986 Started in: 1986 Traded: 1987

Jim Harbaugh, Michigan: Legend has it that Ditka threatened to quit when he was overruled in the draft room about taking Harbaugh with the 26th pick of the 1987 draft. Harbaugh was vilified at times by Bear fans, but is still the team’s all-time leader in attempts, completions and ranks second to Luckman in passing yards. After Harbaugh’s seven seasons in Chicago, he signed with Indianapolis where he was voted to the Pro Bowl following the 1995 season. Drafted: 1987 (1) Started in: 1988-1993 Released: 1994

Peter Tom Willis, Florida State: Like all other backup quarterbacks, Willis was a very popular backup to fans: until he played. He got his chance to start in 1992 when a frustrated Ditka benched Harbaugh. Willis played pedestrian at best, throwing eight interceptions and four touchdowns in two starts. Drafted: 1990 (3) Started in: 1992-1993 Released: 1994

Will Furrer, Virginia Tech: Furrer was a strong-armed left-handed quarterback with promise. The promise faded in his only start, Ditka’s last game at Dallas. He completed 9 of 25 passes for 89 yards and three interceptions against the Super Bowl-bound Cowboys. Drafted: 1992 (4) Started in: 1992 Released: 1993

Erik Kramer, North Carolina State: Kramer would be known as one of the top three quarterbacks in Bears history, with McMahon and Luckman, if he could have done it for more than one year. Kramer piloted Ron Turner’s first brilliantly successful offense in 1995, setting Bears season records for attempts, completions, yards and touchdown passes. But he was hurt in 1994, 96, and 98. His original three-year deal, inked in 1994, was extended for two more in ’98, but he was cut after the first year. Signed: 1994 Started in: 1994-1998 Released: 1999

Steve Walsh, Miami: Signed as a backup to Kramer in 1994, Walsh took over after a Kramer injury and guided the team to its first playoff appearance since 1991. And its last playoff win since then. He lost the battle for the starting job in 1995 to Kramer and warmed the bench that season. Signed: 1994 Started in: 1994 Lost to free agency: 1996

Dave Krieg, Milton College: Kreig was so old when the Bears signed him in 1996 that the college he played for no longer had a football team as of that point. 1996 was his 17th season in the NFL, and he was signed strictly as a backup. With the Chicago Bears, however, that is an expectation to be playing by game five. That’s exactly what happened when a struggling Kramer was lost for the season with a neck disc injury. Signed: 1996 Started in: 1996 Not re-signed: 1997

Rick Mirer, Notre Dame: Dave Wannstedt’s Chicago epitaph says something about trading for Rick Mirer. Mirer’s cost was a first-round pick, the 11th in the draft. He lasted one hideous, awful season in Chicago. He didn’t even start the season, as Kramer was healed and Mirer looked terrible. Traded for: 1997 Started in: 1997 Released: 1998

Steve Stenstrom, Stanford: Stenstrom was one of several intriguing quarterbacks selected in the fourth round of the 1995 draft. Kansas City drafted him, then tried to quickly release him to re-sign him to a lower salary that year. The Bears jumped at the chance to steal the guy praised by Bill Walsh as a budget Joe Montana. Stenstrom was putrid in his 1998 starts, relieving an again-injured Kramer. Walsh then signed him in San Francisco and got to see how bad he was closeup. Signed: 1995 Started In: 1998 Released: 1999

Moses Moreno, Colorado State: Stenstrom was so bad that rookie seventh-round pick Moses Moreno started a game in 1998. He injured his knee, ending his career for the Bears. Drafted:1998 (7) Started in: 1998 Released: 1999

Shane Matthews, Florida: Matthews was a third-stringer for the Bears from 1993-1995, then again in 1996, and was brought back for a third time in 1999. Following the release of Kramer, Matthews became the first starter for Gary Crowton’s “razzle dazzle offense”. Matthews played admirably from 1999-2001, but lacked a big-time arm. He struggled when he replaced Jim Miller following Miller’s injury in the 2001 playoff game, and was not resigned. Signed: 1993, 1996,1999 Started in: 1999-2001 Not resigned: 2002

Cade McNown, UCLA: Petulant, arrogant, smarmy, you name a few adjectives to describe the quarterback predicted to be the next Jim McMahon. Declared that he didn’t drink, smoke or have premarital sex, but he was indicted for misusing handicapped parking placards. Angered his teammates so much that they reportedly threatened mutiny if he were started over Matthews in the final game of 2000. Had brief stops in Miami and San Francisco but never threw another pass in the NFL following a final completion against Detroit in the 2000 finale. Did pocket close to $20 million on his rookie deal. Drafted: 1999 (1) Started in: 1999-2000 Traded: 2001

Jim Miller, Michigan State: Miller was signed off the scrapheap in 1998 following Moreno’s knee injury. He was a longshot to make the roster in 1999. He responded by throwing for huge numbers in Crowton’s offense, then led the Bears to the playoffs in 2001. Almost as oft-injured as McMahon. Signed a five-year extension prior to the 2002 season, only completed one year on the deal. Signed: 1998 Started in: 1999-2002 Released: 2003

Chris Chandler, Washington: See Dave Krieg. Again, wasn’t supposed to have to play for Miller. Again, had to replace Miller in week seven. Chandler was as injury-prone as McMahon and Miller, and was knocked woozy in Champaign against Philadelphia. Had to be dragged like an invalid to the medical trailer behind the Memorial Stadium scoreboard. Turned in gritty performances in 2003 in relief of Kordell Stewart, but it was for naught. Signed: 2002 Started in: 2002-2003 Not resigned: 2004

Henry Burris, Temple: Touted as the biggest surprise from the CFL since, and better than, Jeff Garcia. “Happy Hank” was his nickname. One pathetic start in Chicago is his legacy. Signed: 2002 Started in: 2002 Released: 2003

Kordell Stewart, Colorado: See Henry Burris, but with a better NFL resume. The Bears signed Stewart to a two-year deal over an available Jake Delhomme due to his experience, albeit bad experience. Finally benched for good after throwing game-changing interceptions at Green Bay, ending Chicago’s dim playoff hopes. Signed: 2003 Started in: 2003 Released: 2004

Jonathan Quinn, Middle Tennessee State: Recommended by new Offensive Coordinator Terry Shea to help install his offense. Hoped to only fill mentor role. Was thrust into action when Rex Grossman blew up his knee in the season’s third week. Absolutely abysmal: threw three picks and one touchdown with a 53.7 rating in 2004. Signed: 2004 Started in: 2004 Released: 2005

Craig Krenzel, Ohio State: Picked in the fifth round in 2004, ended up starting due to the utter misery that was Quinn’s play. Became the starter on October 31st and won three games in a row–not bad for a rookie–but was helped immensely by his defense and poor competition. Injured on Thanksgiving at Dallas and was supplanted by Chad Hutichinson. Drafted: 2004 (5) Started in: 2004 Released: 2005

Chad Hutchinson, Stanford: Claimed off a surfboard following Rex Grossman’s knee injury that ended his 2004 season. Defeated the Minnesota Vikings in his first start, looking like the answer to the Bears’ quarterback problems of the past. Played very average in four straight losses to end the 2004 season. Looked to start in 2005 after Grossman’s last injury, but was atrocious in the preseason. Cut. Signed: 2004 Started in: 2004 Released: 2005

Kyle Orton, Purdue: Pressed into duty when Grossman injured his ankle, and Hutchinson stunk, in the 2005 preseason. Became only the second rookie quarterback since 1970 to win 10 starts, but like Krenzel he was helped greatly by a great defense. Deserves a lot of credit for steadying the ship in 2005 prior to Grossman’s return. Orton has also been installed as the third starter of the 2007 season. Drafted: 2005 (4) Started in: 2005, 2007

Rex Grossman, Florida: In 2006, Grossman became the first Chicago Bears quarterback since 1995, and only the third since 1981, to start all 16 games in a season. Alternately celebrated as a potential MVP and vilified as the team’s worst problem, he led the 2006 Bears to the Super Bowl. Then generally stunk in that game. Entered the 2007 season with a goal of throwing 30 touchdowns and less than 10 interceptions, Grossman was benched after three games, then returned to start four more before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Final 2007 statistics: 4 touchdowns, 7 interceptions and a 67.1 QB rating. Drafted: 2003 (1) Started in: 2003-2007

Brian Griese, Michigan: Signed: 2006 Started in: 2007 Griese relieved Grossman as the Bears’ starting quarterback in week four at Detroit. Griese put up fairly stunning numbers for a Bears quarterback, even winning two close comeback games at Green Bay and Philadelphia. But generally he played hot and cold, finishing with a 3-3 record in games he started, 3-4 in games in which he played a bulk of the snaps. Signed: 2006 Started in: 2007

16 Responses to “Chicago Bears Quarterbacks 1979-2007”

  1. John Munzenmaier on December 12th, 2007 at 10:03 am

    If you think you have suffered with the list of quarterbacks that you mentioned in your blog, just think what I have gone through. As a Chicago Bear fan for more than 50 years, I have had to suffer with not only the guys on your list but also with quarterbacks like Jack Concannon, Gary Huff and Bobby Douglas. Oh why oh why does my team have a blindspot for quartebacks!

  2. I’m blowing a line that I’m going to use in a later blog post, but there’s an old saying that “even a broken clock is correct twice a day.” The Bears have whiffed over and over and over and over on QB’s for about the last 60 years, literally. Actually I’d say since 1948, when they drafted Bobby Layne then gave him to the Lions. It’s absolutely pathetic and almost unimaginable. Did Bobby Layne put a curse on the Bears?

  3. John Munzenmaier on December 12th, 2007 at 7:19 pm

    In 1948 the Bears had Sid Luckman and Johnny Lujack as quarterbacks in addition to Bobby Layne. Luckman, by that time, was over the hill, and Lujack showed great promise as a star. In a 1949 game against the Chicago Cardinals, for instance, he threw 6 touchdown passes, and in 1950 he was selected All Pro at the quarteback position. (He was also an outstanding defensive back, by the way) Then for some reason he retired from pro football after the 1951 season, having spent only 4 seasons with the Bears. I guess Coach Halas felt that since he had two top quarterbacks in Luckman and Lujack, he did not need Layne, and that’s probably why he traded him to the now defunct New York Bulldogs. Eventually Layne ended up with the Lions, and the rest is history. That trade would come back to haunt the Bears in the 1950′s.

  4. You may want to check your records a little closer. During the strike year of 1987 a “scab” quarterback named Steve Bradley started for the Bears. Bradley a standout high school athlete from Knox, IN and then starred at Indiana University was to be the John Elway equivalent with his height and tremendous talent. Oops one problem – Stevie could not stay away from the nose candy and thus despite being told to come clean for his drug testing -could not oblige.

  5. Well I certainly can’t attest to anyone’s, ahem, habits, but I will add a disclaimer to the article that this does not include the three 1987 replacement games.

  6. This is pathetic. IMO as long as the McCaskey family owns the team this will go on and on.

  7. my god why am i a bears fan? what ineptitude chosing the most important position in football. much of it seemingly is an organization that can’t pass on a inexpensive player. “shopping at dollar general for a quarterback with the mcCaskey’s” that explains it!

  8. I wanted more info on the Chicago Bears scabs. I know and went to high school with the QB Steve Bradley (for Knox, IN high school, IU allstar QB, and I believe played for the Bengals) but found very little info on his accomplishments. Please, send me some stats, I know he’s no Luckman or Harbaugh, I’m just curious as he was IU’s allstar.

  9. MY BAD!! Maybe I should have mentioned AS WELL AS KNOWING Steven C. Bradley, I’ve been with him for a VERY LONG TIME! As we are no longer together (YET STILL MARRIED) I can assure MS. #*@#ING GERKE that Steven was not using “nose candy” (perhaps you were, or still are ,don’t know). Who, the hell do you think you are?!! If you’d like to talk to my lawyer, PLEASE WRITE BACK IMMEDIATELY!! But, what I do know, MS.Gerke (and, yes I’m refaining myself) is that you know absolutely NOTHING about his qualities, skills, and pure talent as an athlete. Shame on you. Rachel

  10. With Jim McMahon you just had to take the good with the bad because more often than not you got the good.

  11. All we are saying is give Rex a chance

  12. Sorry Greger, But how old are you?! Did you ever WATCH a game after the second year McMahon played? Did you ever see him off the bench more times than not, at that point (i.e. “OW, Coach D., I’ve hurt my ankle”, “OOH, Coach D., I think there’s something wrong with my wrist”, “EWW, Coach D., I have a note from my mommy that says she THINKS I may have a tummy ache cause you keep yelling at me in the locker room for not playing, therefore I must not be allowed to play this (12th) game, either. BUT, since you all DO have me CONTRACTED to stay with this ORG., I guess you still owe me my MILLIONS! YEAHHHHHHH”). You CANNOT be serious about McMahon, he played less games in the years he was contracted as a QB than ANYONE I can think of. After the Superbowl, he felt he was a HERO, we OWED HIM, and he didn’t need to try anymore, thus he didn’t.

  13. angery EXbearfan on April 27th, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    fuck the bears they dont give a fuck about qb’s or winning. It’s mid round 7 in the 2008 draft and they have passed on every qb.

  14. How many other QB’s besides McMahon won Championships for the Bears? You had Sid Luckman one of the greatest QB’s of all time. Don’t give me Bill Wade we got him from the Rams off the scrapheap. How easy you forget the 3rd game of the ’85 Season. Without him we might not have won the game. He was 12-20 for 256 yards and scored 2 touchdowns. Mike Tomczak, Steve Fuller, Jim Harbaugh you have got to be kidding me. Even had he stayed healthy there’s no guarantee the Bears would’ve repeated. Look at the Cheeseheads. Brett Favre was healthy in ’97 and every season after but the Packers didn’t repeat.

  15. Steve Fuller is an unsung hero who played so well in the absence (injury) of Jim McMahon. The Bears would have been left out in the cold with no Superbowl ring if Fuller had not stepped up but Hollywood McMahon got all the glory when he suddenly became able to play in the big game.

  16. I heard that he was to eager do a Eastenders cameo! lmao. Sounds a bit dodgy to me. There’s a part of me that kind of wishes this is not true lol.

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