We’re heading into the dog days of the offseason, counting the days until the Chicago Bears 2014 season kicks off. Thanks to Bear Goggles On contributor and the fine editor of Blackhawk Up Keith Schultz’s suggestion, we’re going to do a Top 100 list of the all time Chicago Bears. It’s a fun way to pass the time and take a stroll down memory lane.
As we continue on our top 100 Bears countdown, native Chicagoan Chris Zorich comes in at #89. Zorich grew up on the mean streets of the south side of Chicago before staring at Chicago Vocational High School as a linebacker. He was one of the top high school recruits in the country and ended up choosing to attend college at Notre Dame. Zorich put on enough weight and muscle in college to move to DT where he dominated; he won the Lombardi award in 1999, given to the nation’s best interior lineman, and was a two-time All-American.
Given his local roots, stint at one of Chicago’s favorite colleges, and max-effort playing style, Zorich was a popular draft pick when the Bears selected him in the 2nd round of the 1991 draft. Head coach Mike Ditka was so enamored with Zorich that he had to be talked out of drafting him in the first round by the rest of the coaching staff. The Bears ended up with him in round 2, but he didn’t play much his rookie season and only collected 10 tackles. Zorich was listed at 6’1, 266 pounds his senior year at ND, but 6’1 was a stretch and 266 is too small to play DT in the NFL.
The Bears gave Zorich a mandate to get bigger and stronger if he wanted to see the field. He came back for his 2nd season with the Bears at a ripped 285 pounds and by the end of the ’92 season had earned a spot in the Bears starting lineup. He only started 2 games but had 2 sacks, 53 tackles, a fumble return for a TD and showed sings of becoming a force inside for the Bears.
In ’93, Zorich’s 3rd season with the Bears, he earned the starting DT job in training camp and had a monster year. Zorich led all NFL DTs with 121 tackles, had 7.5 sacks and was named an alternate to the Pro Bowl. Zorich had a solid three-year run as a starter. He never matched the production of ’93 but had 5.5 sacks and 72 tackles in ’94 and 58 tackles and a sack in ’95. Nagging injuries started to add up for Zorich and by his third year as a starter, he lacked some of the explosiveness that made him such a special player in ’93. Regardless he was a solid force on the interior of the Bears line and was a fan favorite.
A knee injury sidelined Zorich for the ’96 season and his comeback in ’97 was hindered by back problems and a broken thumb. He clearly wasn’t the same player post knee surgery and the Bears released him 3 games into the ’97 season. The move was unpopular with fans, but after Zorich was picked up by the Redskins and couldn’t produce there either I think most fans understood that he was done. Even Zorich knew and retired after the ’97 season.
During his time with the Bears, Zorich was lauded for his off-field activities just as much if not more than his play on the field. Zorich gave back to the community where he grew up, raising money for underprivileged kids through his charitable Christopher Zorich Foundation. Zorich was a multiple winner of the Brian Piccolo award and given the nickname the “Care Bear” by local media. Unfortunately Zorich’s foundation eventually went defunct and he ran into some legal trouble over un-dispersed donations and tax issues.
The recent legal issues put a sour spin on the Zorich story, but for a time it was a good one. The local kid who made it off the south side streets to star for the Chicago Bears and then gave back to the community to help kids do the same. It ended poorly, but that doesn’t mean Zorich didn’t do some good for the Bears both on and off the field while he was with the team.
What do you think of the ranking? Too high? Too low? I guess you’ll have to check back to see who finished ahead of him to judge for yourself. We’ll be counting down a different person each day as we inch our way to the September 7th season opener.