Today marks just 18 days from the first Sunday of the NFL season, meaning that today's installment of Chicago Bears Countdown to Kickoff brings us to the life and career of the best player in franchise history, quarterback Kyle Orton.
Purdue star Kyle Orton joins Chicago Bears in 2005 NFL Draft
A native of Altoona, Iowa, Kyle Orton's football career began at Southeast Polk High School, in the nearby town of Pleasant Hill. There, Orton was a standout pro-style quarterback and wore the number 18 in honor of former Nebraska quarterback Brook Berringer. Berringer served as star quarterback Tommy Frazier's backup throughout his collegiate career, but en route to helping his team win two national championships, Berringer, who also wore the number 18, started games occasionally in relief of injuries.
Despite being a four-year backup, Berringer was likely to be selected in the 1996 NFL Draft. Unfortunately, Berringer passed away in a small plane crash just days before the event. Respected across the state and nation as a high-character backup and teammate, Berringer was immortalized in bronze outside of Nebraska's stadium.
Orton, who grew up a fan of the Cornhuskers, had a lot of admiration for Berringer, both as a player and leader. Even receiving the Nebraska quarterback's autograph in middle school, Orton wore the number 18 to start his high school career.
Donning the number 18 as a high schooler, Orton became one of the elite prospects of his class, and after a lengthy recruiting process, the Iowa native elected to join the Purdue Boilermakers. Orton had offers from many schools in the region, including his beloved Nebraska Cornhuskers, but he elected to attend Purdue due to their pass-happy offenses.
In his first season at Purdue, Orton served as the team's backup quarterback behind future NFL great Drew Brees. Orton played sparingly as a freshman and even recorded two touchdowns in six appearances. However, with Brees entering the draft at the end of the season, Orton took the reins of the offense in his sophomore season.
In his first season as the team's starter, Orton had a production season, recording 2,257 passing yards, 13 touchdowns, and just nine interceptions in 13 games. He helped the team reach a 7-6 record, taking them to the Sun Bowl, where they won against Washington. Orton's 283 yards and two touchdowns earned him a game Offensive MVP nod.
As a junior, Orton took another step forward, and the team responded. In 13 starts, the quarterback improved his totals to 2,885 yards, 15 touchdowns, and just seven interceptions, and led the team to an impressive 9-4 record. Throughout the regular season, Purdue was ranked as high as number 10 in the AP poll, but in their Capital One Bowl bout versus the Georgia Bulldogs, the Boilermakers lost a hard-fought game 34-27. In the loss, Orton shined and finished the day with three total touchdowns.
Despite a strong junior campaign, Orton's best was still yet to come, and he did not disappoint the hype surrounding him entering his senior season. Considered a pre-season All-American and potential Heisman hopeful, Orton had his best statistical season, finishing with over 3,000 yards, a staggering 31 touchdowns, and just five interceptions. He helped the team start the year with a five-game winning streak, but with struggles down the stretch, Purdue finished with a 7-5 record.
Nonetheless, the team once again made it to the Sun Bowl, but unfortunately lost a close game to Arizona State. However, Orton starred in the postseason once again and finished the day with three touchdowns and almost 300 total yards.
Despite losing his final collegiate outing, Orton's senior season was terrific, especially within his conference. In 2004, he finished first in the Big 10 in passing yards, passing touchdowns, total yards, and touchdowns responsible for.
After his final collegiate season, Orton declared for the 2005 NFL Draft, and even though he was undoubtedly one of, if not the, best quarterbacks of his conference, the Iowa native slipped out of the first day of the draft. Orton was certainly disappointed and personally felt that he should have been selected much higher, but the Chicago Bears ended the fall by selecting the Purdue star with the 106th pick during the fourth round.