Just 44 days remain until the start of the NFL season, meaning that Chicago Bears Countdown to Kickoff continues today by examining the life and career of the best player in franchise history to don the number 44, defensive back Terry Schmidt.
Future Chicago Bear, Terry Schmidt drafted by New Orleans Saints
A native of Columbus, Indiana, Terry Schmidt attended Columbus North High School athlete, where he was a star both on the field and in the classroom. Athletically, Schmidt participated as a three-sport athlete, earning multiple letters in football, basketball, and track while academically qualifying for the National Honor Society.
Following his standout career at Columbus North, Schmidt accepted a scholarship from nearby Ball State University, where he continued his dominance both on the gridiron and in the classroom. On the football team, Schmidt contributed three strong seasons from the free safety position, logging a total of 13 career interceptions, which was the most in school history at the time of his graduation.
Schmidt was awarded the team MVP nod after his junior season and received several recognitions following his senior season, such as invites to the East-West Shrine Bowl and All-American Football Game. Perhaps even more impressively, Schmidt was named an Academic All-American as a senior en route to graduating Cum Laude from Ball State.
Upon the completion of Schmidt's collegiate career, the standout defensive back entered the 1974 NFL Draft, where he was selected by the New Orleans Saints as the 121st overall pick during the fifth round.
The Saints elected to move him from free safety to cornerback where Schmidt, who donned the number 40 as in New Orleans, started in nine of the team's games as a rookie, where he logged four interceptions, even returning one for a touchdown. After a second year that saw the Ball State standout make eight starts in 13 games, the Saints elected to trade Schmidt to the Chicago Bears prior to the 1976 season.
Terry Schmidt joins loaded Chicago Bears secondary
As a Chicago Bear, Schmidt, who switched his jersey number to 44, transitioned to more of a reserve role in the team's secondary. Over his first two seasons with the team, Schmidt appeared in 19 total games and logged a start in 1977. Despite a slow start to his tenure in Chicago, the Indiana native earned a starting spot at the cornerback position the following offseason.
Upon becoming a starter in 1978, Schmidt joined a talented defensive backfield that included Bears legends in Gary Fencik and Doug Plank. Schmidt played in all 16 of the team's games where he logged two interceptions, tied for fourth most on the team. The following year, Schmidt returned as a full-time starter. With six interceptions on the season, Schmidt helped the Bears reach the postseason for the second time in three seasons and even started in the team's lone playoff game.
Over the next three seasons, Schmidt proved to be a reliable and talented cornerback. From 1980 to 1982, Schmidt started in 41 of the team's games, where he logged seven total interceptions and two forced fumbles. Schmidt missed seven games to end the 1982 season, snapping his regular season streak of 73 consecutive starts at the cornerback season.
Upon returning from injury in 1983, Schmidt returned to a role as a reserve defensive back and only made three starts in 29 games over his final two games with the team. However, despite serving primarily as a backup in his penultimate season, Schmidt nearly matched his career high with five interceptions over three starts, including a pick-six.
Terry Schmidt's retirement from Chicago Bears and career after football
Nonetheless, Schmidt retired from the Chicago Bears following the 1984 season. Schmidt, alongside longtime teammate Doug Plank, is one of a number of great Bears players who retired previous to the team's Super Bowl run the following season.
Nevertheless, Schmidt played an integral part in building a championship culture for the Bears through his nine seasons with the team. In those nine years, Schmidt totaled 21 interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns, and three fumble recoveries. In team history, that interception total is ranked 15th all-time, just one below legendary linebackers in Brian Urlacher and Dick Butkus.
After stepping away from the game of football, Schmidt received a number of accolades and awards, including an induction into the Ball State Athletics Hall of Fame just after his retirement in 1984. However, Schmidt's time after the Chicago Bears is perhaps best known for his career as a dentist.
Schmidt attended Loyola University's College of Dental Surgery after his career in the NFL and graduated as co-Valedictorian and Magna Cum Laude. In his work, Schmidt has focused on caring for veterans and soldiers, as well as doing missionary work in impoverished areas of Central and South America.