Chicago Bears Countdown to Kickoff: 56 Days with Bill Hewitt

Chicago Bears
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Eight Sundays from today, the Chicago Bears and the rest of the NFL will return from their long summer hiatus from football, meaning that we are only 56 days until the start of the NFL season. To celebrate, today's installment of Chicago Bears Countdown to Kickoff brings us to the life and career of the best player in franchise history to don the number 56, Hall of Fame end Bill Hewitt.

Bill Hewitt's path from Michigan to the Chicago Bears

Hailing originally from Bay City, Michigan, Bill Hewitt attended the University of Michigan, where he was a star on the Wolverine's football team from 1929 to 1931. Over his three seasons in the Big 10, Hewitt's final year was by far his best, and he finished with an All-Conference nod and was honored as the team's MVP.

Hewitt played the end position in college, splitting time between the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, serving as a tight end and defensive end, respectively. The versatile and athletic player that he was, Hewitt brought a great deal of value to the football field, and a number of professional clubs took notice of the young, Big 10 standout, including the Chicago Bears.

With no NFL Draft in 1932, Chicago Bears owner George Halas personally recruited Hewitt, who eventually joined the team with a new contract. Immediately, Hewitt was an impact player for the Bears, and would quickly rise to the top of the league.

Bill Hewitt becomes All-Pro end with Chicago Bears

As a rookie, Hewitt started in 12 of the team's games, logging 106 offensive yards and a touchdown on just eight touches, including a 29-yard gain that not only went for a touchdown but was the longest rush by any player that season. Even in his first season, Hewitt would play both offense and defense, The following season, Hewitt had a stellar season, adding nearly 300 yards and two touchdowns while splitting time on defense.

The end received an All-Pro nod after the season, with the team advancing to the first-ever NFL Championship Game, where they were victors over the New York Giants. The game and league-winning touchdown came at the hands of a trick play that involved Hewitt receiving a pass from Bears legend Bronko Nagurski and then lateraling to a wide-open teammate, who would score an easy touchdown. With this play, the Bears won the first league championship game, with Hewitt being an integral element in the play, the game, and the season.

Following the 1933 Championship game, Hewitt turned in another great season, recording a league-leading five receiving touchdowns en route to earning his second straight All-Pro nomination. At the end of the year, the Bears once again made the NFL Championship, but the Giants were able to exact their revenge from the year prior.

Over the next two seasons, the Bears fell out of postseason contention, but Hewitt remained atop of the league, starting in all 24 of the team's games over the span to the tune of over 400 yards, 6 touchdowns, and an All-Pro selection in 1936. Hewitt had become one of the biggest names in the league and gathered a reputation for his abilities on defense.

While Hewitt was at times a league-leading offensive weapon throughout his career, he was also known as the "Offside Kid" due to his ability to get off the snap swiftly and cleanly from the end position. Hewitt reportedly averaged over 50 minutes of game time per outing, and his athleticism and agility for his size were a big part of his success as a successful and versatile player.

Bill Hewitt leaves Chicago Bears, retires from NFL

After considering retirement following the 1936 season, Hewitt was eventually traded to the Philadelphia Eagles, where he played for four seasons before retiring following the 1939 season. As an Eagle, Hewitt added 700 yards and 10 touchdowns to his career totals. Hewitt would come out of retirement for the 1943 season as a member of the Steagles, a team that was formed of Steelers and Eagles players during the Second World War.

Following his retirement, Hewitt has received several accolades and awards for his time at the high school, college, and professional levels of football. Perhaps no feat is bigger than an induction into the Professional Football Hall of Fame, where Hewitt joined alongside the likes of Jim Brown, YA Tittle, Norm Van Brocklin, and Vince Lombardi. Hewitt was also inducted into the University of Michigan Athletics Hall of Honor and is also enshrined in the Philadelphia Eagles Hall of Fame.

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Hewitt had his number 56 retired by the Chicago Bears, making him the only player in franchise history to wear the number. Hewitt was also a member of the NFL's recent 100th anniversary All-Time Team, one of several former Bears to be elected. Unfortunately, many of these accolades would occur after Hewitt's untimely death just four years after retiring.