Chicago Bears Countdown to Kickoff: 26 Days with Matt Suhey

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With just 26 days remaining until the first Sunday of the NFL season, today's installment of Chicago Bears Countdown to Kickoff brings us to the life and career of the best player in franchise history to wear the number 26, full back Matt Suhey.

Penn State Lineage Brings Matt Suhey to the Chicago Bears in 1980 NFL Draft

Originally hailing from Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, Suhey attended the nearby State College Area High School in Pennsylvania. There, Suhey played both football and wrestling and was a dominant force in both sports. Matt played football alongside his brother, Paul, and the two were consistently at the top of the state's high school rankings. The future Chicago Bear was recognized as a three-time consecutive All-State selection on offense while his brother was named an All-State linebacker.

Following his graduation from high school, Matt Suhey followed family tradition and attended the nearby Penn State University. The family's and school's relationship runs deep, as Suhey's grandfather, Bob Higgins, was a longtime coach of the Nittany Lions. Higgins' daughter married Matt's father Steve, who served as an All-American guard at Penn State under Higgins. Since, a number of great players in the Suhey family have played for Penn State, with Matt joining the team alongside his brother, Paul, and his older brother, Larry.

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Matt Suhey had perhaps the best collegiate career, rivaled only by his Cotton Bowl-winning father. From 1976 to 1979, Matt was an integral part of the offense at the running back position and failed to record less than 500 total yards in any season. In fact, after serving mainly as a rotational player as a freshman, Suhey turned into a star back that consistently led the Nittany Lions.

In his second season under head coach Joe Paterno, Suhey's 739 yards and eight touchdowns helped the team post an 11-1 record en route to Fiesta Bowl win. As a bigger rushing threat, Suhey quickly turned into a nearly untackle-able force who would consistently survive the defense's first attempt to bring him to the ground.

As a junior, Suhey had a similar season, again posting eight touchdowns and adding about 100 yards to his total from the year prior. The team reached an 11-1 record once again but ultimately lost the ensuing Sugar Bowl.

In his final collegiate season, Suhey truly broke out and logged a career-high 1,072 total yards, although his touchdown total dropped to just five. The team slipped to an 8-4 record, but they did punctuate the season with a win in the Liberty Bowl, which served as Suhey's last game at Penn State. He ended his career with 2,818 yards and 26 touchdowns, totals that hold him near the top of the school's all-time player rankings.

Following his final college game, Suhey entered his name into the 1980 NFL Draft. Highly touted as one of the most physical runners of his class, Suhey was selected by the Chicago Bears with the 46th overall pick during the second round. He was the second player drafted by the team after Otis Wilson and was just the seventh running back selected in his class.

Matt Suhey Transitions to Sweetness's Full Back with Chicago Bears

Upon joining the Chicago Bears, Suhey transitioned to playing fullback, a position that suited the large rusher very well. With a legend like Walter Payton already on the roster, it was clear that Suhey would not be the team's leading rusher, but he had an important role in serving as Sweetness's lead blocker, as well as his friend. As a rookie, Suhey appeared in all 16 games but made only one start, and accumulated just north of 1,000 total yards. The following year, Suhey capitalized on starting fullback Roland Harper's departure, and the Penn State product seemingly became a starter in the backfield in 1981.

In his first season as the team's starting full back, Suhey had an impressive breakout season and logged nearly 700 yards as the team's second option in the backfield. An injury held Suhey to just nine appearances the following year, but in 1983, a healthy Suhey returned for perhaps his best season as a pro.

In his fourth season, and his third as the team's starting fullback, Suhey recorded over 1,000 yards for the first and only, time in his career. His yardage total was second-highest on the team, ahead of lead receiver Willie Gault, and was only surpassed by Payton's monstrous 2,000-yard season, which Suhey himself was partly responsible for as the lead blocker.

In 1984, Suhey had another solid season blocking for Payton, who again totaled over 2,000 yards, and contributed 736 yards and six touchdowns en route to the Bears finishing with a 10-6 record, the best in the division. The team made it to the NFC Championship game, where they, unfortunately, lost to the San Francisco 49ers. Suhey played in both postseason contests but didn't have a lot of production, with Payton serving as the main offensive focus during the run.

In 1985, the Chicago Bears as a unit were set for revenge and had their eyes on the Super Bowl. Suhey had another strong season in front of Payton and recorded over 750 yards. His touchdown total dipped to just two on the year, perhaps due to the emergence of rookie defensive tackle William Perry, who famously served as a goalline fullback, and would often get the ball just a yard or two shy of the endzone.

Nonetheless, Suhey helped the offense excel once again, and the team's 15-1 record granted them the number one seed in the NFC side of the playoff bracket. Of course, the team would eventually go on to dominate in Super Bowl XX, with Suhey, Payton, Perry, and several defensive greats such as Richard Dent, Dan Hampton, and Gary Fencik all winning their first Super Bowl ring.

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Following the team's championship run, Suhey remained as the team's lead fullback despite the addition of rookie Neal Anderson, who was by profession a running back, but was potentially coming for Suhey's job with Payton still securing the team's lead back position. Suhey held off Anderson in 1986 and recorded over 500 yards and two touchdowns.

The team had anticipated Payton's retirement soon after the Super Bowl, but with Sweetness still, on the roster in 1987, the team decided to move Anderson to the starting full-back spot, relegating Suhey to more of a rotational role in the offensive backfield. Suhey started only two games and recorded under 100 yards over 12 contests.

However, with Payton retiring after the '87 campaign, Anderson took over the duties of the offense's lead back, with Suehy returning as the team's starting fullback1,400-yard. In 16 games, all as a starter, Suhey logged over 400 yards and two touchdowns and helped Anderson finish as the year's leading rusher with an impressive 1,400-yard season.

The following year, Suhey was replaced as the team's fullback by second-year player Brad Muster, who waited patiently during the 1988 season. In 1989, Suhey's final year with the team, the Penn State product logged just 124 yards and two touchdowns in zero starts over 16 games. The team finished with six wins, their lowest mark since Mike Ditka's first season as head coach in 1982.

Matt Suhey's Retirement, Chicago Bears Legacy, and Life After Football

Following the year, the writing was somewhat on the wall for Suhey, and the fan-favorite full-back retired from the NFL after a decade-long career that was spent solely with the Chicago Bears. He finished his career with over 5,000 total yards and 25 offensive touchdowns, a strong showing for a player who was never the team's lead back nor the first option in the backfield.

His 2,946 rushing yards rank 12th best in team history and is only about 100 yards short of Roland Harper's total, the fullback that he replaced in his second season. His total is also sandwiched tightly between Willie Galimore and Ronnie Bull, signifying that despite never serving as the team's lead back, Suhey's production falls in line with the storied history of Chicago Bears rushers.

Following his football career, Suhey remained incredibly close to his football roots, including his longtime teammate Walter Payton. During Payton's illness during the later years of his life, Suhey served as a great teammate and friend and went as far as driving Payton to his doctor's appointments. Following Sweetness's death from a rare live disease, Suhey acted as the the executor of Payton's will and remains close to Payton's family to this day.

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He also remained close to several former teammates, specifically from the Super Bowl team, including left tackle Jimbo Covert, whose Pennsylvania ties led him to the University of Pittsburgh, Penn State's in-state rival. Covert selected Suhey to present him during his Hall of Fame ceremonies (pictured above), where the tackle took a number of friendly shots at the Nittany Lions and the Suhey family's dominance through the history of the program.

Suhey never made the Hall of Fame himself but was recognized by several organizations, particularly for his play in the State College area. Suhey was honored by his former high school for his stellar collegiate and NFL career. The family has remained close to the historic football played in the area, and one of Suhey's sons, Joe, played at Penn State from 2007 to 2010, making him the fourth generation of Penn State Nittany Lions. Today, Suhey works in marketing and has become involved with the AquaPenn Spring Water Co. after purchasing a membership at the Chicago Board of Trade.