With just 81 days until the 2023 season starts against the Green Bay Packers, today's edition of Chicago Bears Countdown to Kickoff will focus on the life and career of the best player in team history to don the number 81, Hall of Fame defensive lineman Doug Atkins.
Doug Atkin's path to the Chicago Bears
Originally from Humboldt, Tennessee, Atkins attended Humboldt High School, where he was a standout on the basketball team at the center position. Quickly, Atkin's size and athleticism became well known on the court, and he decided to accept a scholarship offer to join the University of Tennessee's basketball team.
After a season of collegiate basketball, where Atkins totaled 129 points over 13 games, then Tennessee head football coach Robert Neyland recruited the 6'8" athlete to join the football team, which Atkins agreed to ahead of the 1950 season.
In his first year of football, Atkins helped the football team reach an 11-1 record, eventually winning their first national championship in a decade. In his final two seasons of football, Atkins would step away from the basketball team after his first season, the lengthy defensive end was an integral part of Tennessee's dominant defense. As an individual, Atkins was nominated to two consecutive All-SEC teams as well as voted as an All-American in his final season.
After a historic career at the University of Tennessee, where Atkins helped the team reach a 29-3-1 mark over his three seasons on the squad, Atkins was entered into the 1953 NFL Draft, where he was selected 11th overall by the Cleveland Browns.
Atkins would only spend two seasons with the Browns, winning the Championship in 1954, before being traded to the Chicago Bears following the year. George Halas has stated that the acquisition of Atkins was "one of the finer trades I ever made", and while it doesn't make sense for the Browns to trade away a future Hall of Famer so quickly, it is reportedly due to Atkins himself making Browns' coach Paul Brown frustrated after the player loudly burped in a team meeting.
Doug Atkins starts Hall of Fame career with Chicago Bears
Nonetheless, by the time the 1955 season came along, Atkins was already practically a full-time starter for the Bears. Unfortunately, Atkins had to miss a considerable part of the 1956 season due to an injury.
The ensuing 1957 season was perhaps the start of Atkin's Hall of Fame-caliber career with the Bears, as the defensive end made his first Pro Bowl and All-Pro team. In fact, from 1957 to 1960, Atkins made four consecutive Pro Bowls and All-Pro teams, only losing the latter designation for the following two seasons.
By 1963, Atkins had made seventh straight Pro Bowls and was elected to the First-Team All-Pro for the first time in his career after posting a 12-sack season, his best in Chicago. In the postseason, Atkins was an integral part of the team winning the NFL Championship, his second ring as a player and his first and only with the Chicago Bears.
Following his career season, Atkins played for three more seasons with the Bears, adding a Pro Bowl in 1965. Following 1966, Atkins requested a trade from the Bears, eventually landing with the New Orleans Saints, where the defensive end played three more seasons before retiring after 1969.
Doug Atkins legacy and retirement
Unfortunately, sacks were not officially logged by the NFL until 1982, but Atkins (unofficially) tracked 94.5 sacks across his final 10 years in the NFL, including seven with the Bears. At worst, Atkins is fourth in Bears history with 64.5 sacks, surpassed only by Dan Hampton, Steve McMichael, and Richard Dent, although his totals may be closer to these eventual Super Bowl champions.
Following his retirement from the NFL, Atkins was elected to both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame. With the Bears, Atkins is regarded as one of the first truly elite defensive specialists in NFL history, and is also praised as one of the original "Monsters of the Midway". Atkins spent the remainder of his life working various jobs and spending time with his family before unfortunately passing away in December 2015.