New Monsters of the Midway
Muhsin Muhammad’s time with the Bears is best remembered for its six-word eulogy. In 2008, Muhammad had just returned to the Panthers after three forgettable seasons in Chicago. In his final year, he’d caught just 40 passes for one of the league’s worst offenses. When Sports Illustrated’s Peter King asked him about those dark days in Chicago, Muhammad didn’t hold back. “That’s right, ” he said. “It’s where receivers go to die.” It would seem cruel if it weren’t so true.
I grew up about 45 miles from Soldier Field and spent plenty of Sundays there. Muhammad’s stay in Chicago was an extension of the franchise’s identity for the past half-century. From Doug Atkins and Bill George to Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary, from Dan Hampton and Richard Dent all the way to Brian Urlacher, the Bears have long been defined by defense. Even the way Walter Payton played felt like a safety who just happened to run the ball.
To be a Bears fan was to give up on offense, and nowhere was that sacrifice bleaker than at receiver. The Bears’ all-time leader in receiving yards is Johnny Morris, a flanker type who played from 1958 to 1967. In 10 seasons, he totaled 5, 059 yards and 356 catches, another Bears receiver record. On average, it comes out to a little less than 42 yards a game. He had one season with more than 1, 000 yards. No Bear has ever had more than two.
Founded in 1920 as the Decatur Staleys, the Bears are one of the league’s original franchises. Even with 94 years’ worth of players, only the Buccaneers have a career receiving leader — Mark Carrier — with fewer yards than Morris, and Carrier did it in 33 fewer games. For nearly a century, Chicago has been, in almost every way, the most receiver-starved team in league history.
Chicago’s playmaking past is so barren that the team’s trade for Brandon Marshall two years ago made him the best receiver in team history before he even caught a pass. By the standards he set in Denver, the seasons Marshall spent in Miami were pedestrian. They also would have been the best two-year stretch the Bears have ever had. Even Marshall’s enormous talent wasn’t enough to calm the fears that he would end up another victim of the receiver-eating sarlacc pit that is Soldier Field.
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How did the Bears get the nickname Monsters of the Midway?
The nickname Monsters of the Midway was originally applied to the University of Chicago "Maroons", a strong college football team under the leadership of Amos Alonzo Stag. "Midway" is a reference to the Midway Plaisance, a long, green swath of boulevard space bordering the southern end of the campus between 59th and 60th Streets and running from Washington Park to Jackson Park on Chicago's South Side. The U of C decided to drop its football program in 1939, about the time when the Bears became dominant in the NFL by beating the Packers every year; the tag was appropriated by the Bears,…