The 2023 NFL season is inching closer daily, and with just 60 days remaining until the team's home opener against the Green Bay Packers, the Chicago Bears Countdown to Kickoff continues with the best player in franchise history to wear the number 60, defensive lineman Wally Chambers.
Wally Chambers' path to the Chicago Bears
A native of Phenix City, Alabama, Chambers attended Mount Clemens High School, where the nearly 6' 6" athlete became a dominant and versatile defensive lineman. Despite an impressive high school career, Chambers graduated in 1969 with zero scholarship offers. Looking to continue his career at the collegiate level, Chambers himself drove to the campus of Eastern Kentucky University, where he was able to meet with then-head coach Roy Kidd.
Kidd quickly accepted Chambers into the school's football program, and after playing sparingly as a freshman, the defensive lineman quickly became a dominant force recognized not only within his conference but across the entirety of college football. In his final three seasons, Chambers led the team in tackles every year, cumulating in a share of the school's Most Valuable Player Award as a senior, an All-Conference nomination, and invites to postseason All-Star games such as the North-South Shrine game and the Senior Bowl.
Chambers' best season came as a senior when he was voted a member of the All-America team, making him the first player in school history to do so. Following his final collegiate game, Western Kentucky elected to immediately retire Chambers' number 76 jersey. Many years later, Eastern Kentucky would also induct Chambers into the school's athletic Hall of Fame.
Wally Chambers becomes multi-time Pro Bowler with Chicago Bears
Chambers subsequently entered his name into the 1973 NFL Draft, where he was taken by the Chicago Bears with the eighth overall selection. As a professional, Chambers, who had a great deal of position versatility in college, settled into the team's starting defensive tackle, and he certainly proved why he deserved that spot, even as a rookie.
Chambers finished his first season with a start in all 14 of the team's games to the tune of nine sacks and two fumble recoveries. Following the season, Chambers was voted the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year as well as the Pro Bowl, where he was the lone representative of the Bears.
By his second season, Chambers already had his starting spot heavily secured, and after a six sack season, the defensive tackle was voted to the All-Pro team in '74. The following season, Chambers enjoyed perhaps the best season of his career, logging 14 total sacks in just as many games. Chambers finished the year fourth in the Defensive Player of the Year voting but was voted to his second Pro Bowl and second All-Pro team.
In 1976, Chambers enjoyed another great season, finishing the year second in Defensive Player of the Year voting behind legendary Steelers linebacker Jack Lambert. With eight sacks on the year, the interior rusher made the Pro Bowl and First-Team All-Pro. Unfortunately for Chambers, the Eastern Kentucky product suffered a gruesome knee injury that forced him to miss the vast majority of the following 1977 campaign.
After his injury-hampered season, the Bears traded the former first-rounder to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in exchange for the fourth overall pick in the ensuing 1979 NFL Draft. While the pick was able to land the Bears a legend in Dan Hampton, Chambers's fate was not as fortuitous in Tampa. Across his two-year stint with the Buccaneers, Chambers logged 8.5 total sacks before retiring in 1980 due to health and injury concerns.
Wally Chambers' legacy with Chicago Bears and life after football
Chambers' time with the Bears was a short but impressive five-year period in which he logged 37 total sacks in 60 games, which is good enough for the 16th most sacks in team history, just one behind Julius Peppers. During his time in Chicago, he also made three Pro Bowls and three All-Pro teams, as well as his Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
After retiring from the NFL as a player, Chambers remained heavily involved in the game of football, serving as a defensive line coach for Northern Iowa, East Carolina, the New York Jets, and the Ohio Glory of the World League of American Football. Chambers stepped away from the game of football once and for all following the 1992 season and retired to Saginaw, Michigan with his wife Patsy.
Unfortunately, Chambers had several health-related concerns stemming from his time and injuries as a professional and was often limited to a cane or wheelchair for the last decade or so of his life. Sadly, Chambers passed away in 2019 at the age of 68 due to an underlying heart condition.