Doug Plank becomes iconic figure in Chicago Bears defensive history
As a rookie, Plank became an immediate starter for the defense at the strong safety position where he logged two interceptions and a sack through 14 games. He also ended his first season as the team's leading tackler, a feat that has only been replicated as a rookie by Brian Urlacher.
Over the next two seasons, Plank's production remained steady, and despite missing three games as a third-year player, he finished with eight interceptions and a sack between 1976 and 1977. After a strong first three years to start his NFL career, Plank's status would change dramatically between the '77 and '78 seasons, when the team hired famed defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan and brought in star defensive tackle Doug Atkins.
With Ryan, Plank became both a better player and an iconic figure in Chicago Bears' history. After a storied history as an NFL assistant, Ryan designed the 46-defense in his first season with the Bears. This famed scheme was in its most basic form a basic 4-3 defense that saw the safety creep up into the defensive box, effectively creating a 4-4 defensive front. Because the defense played with two boundary corners, 10 players were lined up at or near the line of scrimmage, and with Plank serving as the safety that was brought up to the linebackers level, the defense was named after his jersey number 46.
In his first season in Ryan's defense, Plank's interception total dropped to just one on the year, but he became known around the league as an aggressive, hard-hitting, and lightning-quick defensive back, even coining the nickname "The Hit Men" with fellow safety Gary Fencik. The following year, Plank recorded three interceptions in the NFL's first 16-game season and followed up his performance with one interception season in 1980.
Unfortunately, a downside of being such a ferocious defensive back is the risk of injury, and the next season, Plank was forced to miss a handful of games due to injury. He still finished the year with an impressive four fumble recoveries and three interceptions, but this would prove to be his final (mostly) healthy season as a Bear. The very next season, Plank suffered a season-ending injury during the team's first game, and unfortunately had to retire from the NFL following the 1982 season.
Plank left the NFL after an eight-year career that was spent solely with the Chicago Bears. In 101 available games, the safety logged 96 starts where he recorded 15 interceptions, 14 fumble recoveries, five sacks, and a safety. His interception total is tied for best for 33rd in franchise history, but numbers and accolades (or a unique lack thereof) do not define his tenure with the Bears, but rather his implementation of Ryan's schemes and his leadership on the vaunted Bears' defense.
Unfortunately retiring before the Super Bowl-winning 1985 season, Plank's influence remained on the defense and his former teammates who won a ring like Dan Hampton, Mike Singletary, and of course, Fencik himself, who referred to his former safety mate in the team's sensational Super Bowl Shuffle.