With exactly one month remaining until the first Sunday NFL slate, Chicago Bears Countdown to Kickoff continues today by looking at the life and career of the best player in franchise history to don the number 31, linebacker Joe Fortunato.
Joe Fortunato joins Chicago Bears defense ahead of '55 Season
Hailing originally from Mingo Junction, Ohio, Joe Fortunato's football career took off at Mississippi State University, where he played as a fullback and linebacker. Before his arrival in the SEC, Fortunato spent a year at Virginia Military Institute, where he was a member of the school's football program. Nonetheless, Fortunato spent the majority of his college career as a Bulldog, where he helped rewrite the school's record books.
Across three seasons at Mississippi State, Fortunato logged over 1,000 rushing yards on offense while contributing four interceptions on defense. His best collegiate season came perhaps during his junior campaign, where he was nominated First-Team All-SEC and First-Team All-American.
By the end of his final collegiate season, Fortunato was respected nationwide as one of the best linebackers in the country, especially considering his unique combination of size, speed, and strength. However, upon entering the 1952 NFL Draft, Fortunato was not selected until the seventh round, where he was selected by the Chicago Bears with the 80th overall pick.
Despite being drafted, Fortunato spent two years immediately following his graduation serving in the army in Georgia. It was not until the 1955 season that he joined the team and in doing so, immediately became a starter on a talented Chicago Bears defense. As a 25-year-old rookie, Fortunato had the fortune of playing alongside legends in Bill George and Doug Atkins and even had a number of amazing coaches, including George Halas himself and former Bear Bulldog Turner, who was serving as a defensive assistant for the team.