Caleb Williams and the Weird History of Chicago Bears First Overall Picks

Chicago Bears, Caleb Williams
Chicago Bears, Caleb Williams / Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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The Chicago Bears are just weeks away from selecting quarterback Caleb Williams with the first overall pick, and many believe that the Heisman winner's arrival will take the franchise to places they have not been to for decades. Still, like any player in his shoes, Williams will be under heightened scrutiny that will force comparisons to some of the best quarterbacks in the game.

For example, with the Bears selecting Williams first overall, the quarterback will immediately join, and be compared against, a group of current players in Joe Burrow, Trevor Lawrence, Baker Mayfield, and Bryce Young, as well as historic picks such as Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, and John Elway. Williams will also garner comparisons against the quarterbacks throughout the Bears' history, and his stats and performances will likely be held against those of Jay Cutler, Sid Luckman, Mitch Trubisky, and, of course, Justin Fields.

The expectations for Williams are high, but while pundits will be pining for the quarterback to reach the heights of an Offensive Rookie of the Year award or a Super Bowl appearance, Chicago Bears fans can take solace in the fact that he is practically guaranteed to become the best first overall pick in team history, an impressive feat for a franchise with such a rich history.

Who Are the Other First Overall Picks in Chicago Bears History?

The Chicago Bears have participated in every single NFL draft dating back to 1936, but before this year, the team had only ever drafted first overall twice, in 1941 and 1947. The players selected, Tom Harmon and Bob Fenimore, failed to live up to the expectations of the first overall pick, but it illustrates just how much the draft process and the league as a whole has changed over 80 or so years.

1941 marked the first time the Chicago Bears held the first selection of the draft, thanks to a technicality in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles, and the team was swift to pick Michigan superstar Tom Harmon. Harmon's career as a Wolverine is the stuff of legend; he won both the Heisman Trophy and Maxwell Award in his final season, finished as the nation's leading scorer in back-to-back years, and was named a consensus All-American twice. The best game of his collegiate career came in his final season against the rival Ohio State Buckeyes, where Harmon dominated in every phase of the game, seen below, wearing number 98.

Harmon was somewhat of a cultural phenomenon as well, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt notably requested a sit-down, one-on-one lunch with the collegiate star. Additionally, Harmon, who had an interest in becoming a professional actor, was able to star in the film Harmon of Michigan, a movie loosely based on his collegiate career.

Even heading into the draft, Harmon was adamant that he would not be pursuing a career in professional football, but George Halas insisted on selecting the back anyway. Harmon never signed with the Bears, although it likely did not matter as he was drafted into the Second World War shortly after the event.

Harmon saw action and fortunately survived a harrowing plane crash before the war's end. Upon his return to the States, Harmon decided to pursue football once more, and he was able to play for the Los Angeles Rams for two seasons, where he logged just over 500 yards. After his stint with the Rams, Harmon did become an actor, often appearing as a broadcast announcer, a role he also filled in real life.

Still, for a player who was the Chicago Bears' first overall pick, Harmon's career in the windy city, or lack thereof, was certainly a disappointment, despite his contributions to American culture and freedom. Fortunately, the team would get another shot with the first overall pick just six years later.

The Bears kicked off the 1947 draft by selecting another star offensive weapon in Bob "the Blonde Bomber" Fenimore. An All-American at Oklahoma State (then Oklahoma A&M), Fenimore was a key part of the team's national title run the year prior, the first and only in school history. Known as an all-around player who excelled as a rusher, a passer, a punter, and a tackler, Fenimore was a sure-fire first-overall pick, and he was able to sign with the team ahead of the 1947 season.

As a rookie, Fenimore contributed 408 total yards over 10 games, the fifth-highest mark on the team. He also logged three touchdowns on offense while adding two interceptions on defense. The Blonde Bomber did not kick as a Bear as he did in college, but he still contributed to the special teams as a returner, and he was a factor in all three phases of the game.

Unfortunately, his rookie season would also be his last. After the season, Fenimore decided to hang up his cleats and move back to Oklahoma, where he became a life insurance salesman, citing that he could make more money doing the latter. Fenimore never returned to the professional ranks.

Like Harmon, the Blonde Bomber's professional career was a disappointment, especially after being selected atop of their respective draft classes. It is hard to put too much blame onto the players, who were entering a league that had a lot less promise than today, especially to pursue other fruitful career options and military obligations.