Today brings us just 78 days away from the start of the 2022 NFL season, meaning that today's installment of Chicago Bears Countdown to Kickoff will focus on the most impressive player to wear the number 78 in franchise history, offensive tackle Keith Van Horne.
Keith Van Horne's Path to the Chicago Bears
Originally hailing from Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania, Keith Van Horne grew up in southern California and would eventually attend Fullerton Union High School as a teenager. There, a lumbering Van Horne decided to join the school's football and basketball teams and became a dominant force as an offensive line on the gridiron.
By the time his high school career began to close, Van Horne became a highly recruited player, garnering attention from all over the country. The offensive tackle would eventually elect to play at the University of Southern California, where he quickly became an opposing presence in the (then) Pac-10.
At USC, developed physically into a 6'7" 265 lb anchor on the offensive line, but his impact was perhaps even bigger than he was. Joining the team in 1977, Van Horne was a major contributor during the school's National Championship run following the 1978 season. Following his senior season, Van Horne notched an impressive individual accomplishment with a consensus First-Team All-American nod and subsequently entered his name into the impending 1981 NFL Draft.
Keith Van Horne Becomes Super Bowl Champion with Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears used the 11th overall pick in 1981 to select Van Horne, making him the highest-drafted offensive lineman of his class. Van Horne would go from blocking for the likes of Marcus Allen and Charlie White in college to making lanes for the late great Walter Payton with the Bears, but the transition proved to be fairly fluid.
Throughout his rookie season, the massive offensive tackle worked himself into starting position and ended up as the team's lead right tackle for the final 12 games of the team's 14-game schedule. The following year, Van Horne started only nine games after being forced to miss five due to injury but had a completely healthy season in 1983, where the tackle started in 10 of the team's games. In 1984, Van Horne reclaimed his role as a full-time, healthy starter, and cemented himself as a part of an impressive offensive line that included Jimbo Covert and Jay Hilgenberg at left tackle and center respectively.
By 1985, Van Horne, who started all 16 games throughout the year, worked with Covert and Hilgenberg to set the tone of the offense while the team's legendary defense ran through their opponents. In the postseason, Van Horne started every game, including Super Bowl XX, which the team famously would win.
Keith Van Horne's Retirement and Life After Football
Following the team's Super Bowl run, Van Horne remained in Chicago for eight more seasons before retiring in 1994. In 13 years with the Bears, Van Horne played in 186 games while logging 169 starts, just 15 starts shy of Walter Patyon's franchise record.
In the years after his retirement, Van Horne, who dealt with lingering pain and health issues related to his playing career and the treatment that was provided for him, joined a lawsuit against the NFL alongside former teammates Jim McMahon and Richard Dent.
Van Horne has detailed several times he received improper care as a player, including being misdiagnosed despite having a broken leg, and remains an advocate for NFL players' and ex-players' well-being and treatment.