Chicago Bears Top 100: #51 Curtis Conway

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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.

The Bears selected WR Curtis Conway out of USC 7th overall in the 1993 draft. Head coach Dave Wannstedt (Boo!) made it clear that the Bears wanted to add speed at the wide receiver position after possession types like Tom Waddle and Wendell Davis failed to reach 1,000 receiving yards in ’92. Conway and his 4.3 speed were supposed to open up the Bears offense, but Conway struggled off the bat with a bunch of minor injuries that led to the media and some players questioning his toughness. It didn’t help Conway’s cause when he constantly complained about the cold weather in Chicago and about training camp being too hard.

Conway’s first season with the Bears was a disappointment; He stated just 7 games due to a myriad of minor injuries and only had 19 catches, 231 yards and 2 TDs for the season. It certainly wasn’t what fans expected from the 7th overall pick. Conway toughened up a little his 2nd year, only missing 4 starts but the production still wasn’t there (39, 546, 2). At that point of his career I know I considered Conway a bust, but it was premature. In hindsight expecting a speed receiver to flourish with a noodle-arm QBs like Steve Walsh wasn’t fair. In 1995 when Erik Kramer took over at QB, Conway had a breakout season with 62 catches, 1,037 yards and 12 TDs. He was solid in ’96 (81, 1,049, 7) though the touchdowns declined significantly with game manager Dave Kreig taking over for Kramer. Conway was primed for another big year in ’97 but he suffered his first “real” injury of his career when be broke his collarbone during the preseason and missed 9 games. The Bears juggled their QBs over the next two seasons and Conway struggled to find consistent success and stay healthy. With the emergence of Marcus Robinson and Bobby Engram during the ’99 season the Bears decided not to offer Conway a contract when he hit free agency and he signed with the Chargers as a free agent before the 2000 season.

Conway went on to have a productive 3-year career with the Chargers, starting all but 5 games from ’00-’02 and catching 181 passes for 2,689 yards and 16 TDs. He played two more years after his time in San Diego; Spending one semi-productive year with the Jets in ’03 (46, 640, 2) and a frustrating year with the 49ers in ’04 (38, 403, 3) where he only started 5 games despite being healthy. Conway retired after the ’04 season with 594 catches, 8,230 yards, and 57 total touchdowns for his career.

It is too bad the Kramer / Conway connection only lasted roughly 2 seasons worth of games because both players could have had much more prolific careers with the Bears. Kramer was the only Bear QB Conway played with that had the arm to let him run under deep passes. Unfortunately Conway was saddled with weak armed QBs like Steve Walsh, Steve Stenstrom, Dave Krieg, and Shane Matthews for most of his Bears career. Even Conway noted in a ’97 interview that he would be averaging 1,300-1,500 yards per year on most teams. The Bears definitely didn’t utilize Conway’s talents as well as they could have, but he did have back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons which only two other Bears receivers have down in their history (Booker, Marshall). Conway’s prime was short-lived, but it was fun to watch and productive enough that it earns a spot on this list.

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.

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