Chicago Bears Countdown to Kickoff: 31 Days with Joe Fortunato

Chicago Bears
Chicago Bears / Robert Riger/GettyImages
2 of 3
Doug Atkins, Y.A. Tittle, Bookie Bolin, Joe Fortunato, Larry Morris
Chicago Bears / Robert Riger/GettyImages

Joe Fortunato wins NFL Championship with Chicago Bears

In his first three seasons with the team, Fortunato was able to start in all but two games. Over this stretch, his best season came in 1956, where he logged two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown, and two fumble recoveries. This was also the team's best season of the stretch, and despite George Halas stepping down as head coach prior to the start of the year, the team reach the NFL Championship game, where they unfortunately lost to the New York Giants. Fortunato started during the game, but the defense struggled as a unit, allowing a devastating 47-point total to their opponent.

Ahead of the 1958 season, Halas returned as the head coach, and Fortunato had his best season yet in the NFL. Starting in all 12 games for the fourth time in his career, Fortunato finished with an interception, a fumble recovery, and his first Pro Bowl nomination. Unfortunately, the Bears just missed qualifying for the championship game, finishing second in the conference after their third 8-4 finish in five seasons.

Over the next three seasons, Fortunato remained a dependable player on the Chicago Bears defense and started in all 38 regular games. During this time, he recorded five interceptions, four forced fumbles, and seven (unofficial) sacks. Despite a strong defensive performance that helped the Bears finish with eight wins twice in three seasons, the Bears failed to return to the playoffs from 1959 to 1961. However, Fortunato was part of one of the best linebacking cores in NFL history during this time and played alongside Larry Morris and Bill George, who had transitioned from nose tackle to middle linebacker, making him the first middle linebacker in NFL history.

Luckily, this trio was able to play together for a long time, and over the next four years, they remained at the top of the league. This period was the best of Fortunato's career, as the linebacker made four straight Pro Bowl and All-Pro teams. Over these four seasons, Fortunato totaled seven interceptions, eight fumble recoveries, and 12 sacks. His best season as an individual came in 1963 when he generated five turnovers en route to helping the Chicago Bears win their first NFL Championship in nearly 20 years.