Chicago Sun-Times

Finks era still the gold standard for Bears, Phil Emery

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There's no such thing as a perfect draft -- through the Steelers drafting four Hall of Famers in 1974 (Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth and Mike Webster) is pretty close. The Bears did pretty well in 1964, drafting Dick Butkus fourth overall and Gale Sayers fifth. Both are in the Hall of Fame, but neither played in a postseason game.

The gold standard of Bears drafts still is 1983, when they drafted seven players who became starters on the 1985 Super Bowl team -- OT Jim Covert (first round), WR Willie Gault (first), CB Mike Richardson (second), SS Dave Duerson (fourth), G Tom Thayer (fourth), DE Richard Dent (eighth) and G Mark Bortz (eighth). And they signed another starter, WR Dennis McKinnon, as an undrafted free agent.

That's still the most starters from one draft on a Super Bowl winning team. It was so good that even an embarrassing gaffe turned into gold. Barricaded in their war room, the Bears drafted Thayer without realizing he had signed with the USFL's Chicago Blitz and former Bears assistant George Allen hours earlier.

Bears general manager Jim Finks admitted the mistake but didn't flinch. ''Looking at the bright side, he'll get some fine coaching and maybe end up in our stable someday.''

Finks turned out to be right. Thayer played three seasons in the USFL, then signed with the Bears in time for the 1985 season. He started at right guard on the Super Bowl team and played eight seasons for the Bears.

It was a fortunate recovery, but Finks made his own luck by drafting a good player in the first place. When Finks came to the Bears in 1974, he inherited the fourth overall pick in 1975 and drafted running back Walter Payton one pick after the Colts took guard Ken Huff and one pick before the Browns took defensive end Mack Mitchell.

Finks had a golden touch. He drafted eight Hall of Fame players with the Vikings, Bears and Saints. His first No. 1 pick in the NFL was Carl Eller. His last No. 1 pick was Willie Roaf, who is going into the Hall of Fame 18 years after Finks died of cancer in 1994.

Finks wasn't perfect. He once traded a fifth-round draft pick he didn't have. In 1979, the Bears were ready to draft Notre Dame quarterback Joe Montana with their third-round pick before Finks took Montana's name off the board and selected running back Willie McClendon. (You could argue that Finks had a hand in turning four losing franchises into winners: the Vikings, Bears, Saints -- and 49ers.)

But he had a knack for evaluating players, managing people and surrounding himself with those he trusted. It's no coincidence that the Bears front office was mired in dysfunction before he arrived and since he left. Even if Phil Emery has a great 2012 draft, it can't be ignored that his job is much bigger than that.

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This page contains a single entry by Mark Potash published on April 26, 2012 1:26 PM.

Bears now have $5 million in salary cap space was the previous entry in this blog.

Can Bears GM Phil Emery avoid the draft injury bug? is the next entry in this blog.

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