Chicago Bears Countdown to Kickoff: 31 Days with Joe Fortunato

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Chicago Bears, Joe Fortunato
Chicago Bears, Joe Fortunato / Robert Riger/GettyImages

Joe Fortunato's retirement and life after the Chicago Bears

In the latter years of his career, Fortunato became the veteran of the linebacking group and even helped usher along a future Hall of Famer in Dick Butkus, who joined the team in 1965, Fortunato's penultimate year with the team. The Mississippi State product remained a full-time starter for the team through his final 1966 season, where he recorded his first fumble recovery for a touchdown in his entire career.

Following his 12th NFL season, all of which occurred with the Chicago Bears, Fortunato retired as an NFL Champion, a five-time Pro Bowler, and a four-time All-Pro selection. Perhaps even more impressively, he played in all but one game of his career and made 153 starts in 155 appearances.

Following his retirment, Fortunato stayed very close to the game of football and more speicifcally, the Chicago Bears. After hanging it up as a player, the former linebacker joined the team as a defensive assistant under George Halas. Fortunato remained with the staff through the 1968 season, the first without Halas on the sidelines since 1957. Fortunato served as the team's defensive coordinator under Jim Dooley, but after just one season, he retired for good and returned to Mississippi where he pursued a career in oil.

In his later years, Fortunato served as a co-owner of the Big Joe Oil Company, where his wife, Catherine, also worked. The two also served their community to the best of their abilities and held a number of charitable fundraisers, mainly the Joe Fortunato Celebrity Golf Classic, an event that raises money for young student-athletes in the area and provides them scholarships to help them play at the next level.

Together, Joe and Catherine also worked closely with the National Football Foundation and helped lead the Missouri-Louisiana Chapter of the organization. The two were recognized years ago for their dedication to the foundation.

Outside of his work off the field, Fortunato has received a number of recognitions for his time in the league and is still a celebrated icon in football history even today. Following his retirement, Fortunato was named to the 1950s NFL All-Decade team, has been inducted into both the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame, and even joined Mississippi State's Ring of Honor as just the seventh member.

Unfortunately, Fortunato has not been inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame, making him the only defender from the 1950s All-Decade squad to elude Canton, Ohio.

Just a few years ago in 2017, Fortunato passed away at the age of 87 in Mississippi. His school, the Chicago Bears, and the football community, in general, took the time to honor the late Bears legend following his passing, with Bears chairman George H. McCaskey stating that "Joe Fortunato was not only a great player for the Chicago Bears, including being a part of our 1963 championship at Wrigley Field.

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He was a key figure in one of the greatest linebacker trios in Bears history alongside Hall of Famer Bill George and Larry Morris. The Chicago Bears family extends our condolences to the Fortunato family on the passing of Joe."