For the first time in 77 years and just the third time in team history, the first pick of the NFL draft belongs to the Chicago Bears.
Here’s a look at the team’s two previous No. 1 picks.
Bears owner George Halas’ “astute handling of trades,” as the Tribune called it, gave the team three of the first 10 picks in the 1940 draft, including the top spot.
Harmon, a Gary native, was considered by many who covered college football — including the Tribune — to be its best player that year. He was a two-time All-American, named the Associated Press athlete of the year in 1940 and received the Maxwell Award as the college football player of the year.
When the paper gave him its Silver Football trophy in early 1941, he said, “This moment is perhaps the happiest in my life.” That was just months after the University of Michigan running back became the school’s first Heisman Trophy winner.
But instead of signing a contract with the Bears, Harmon signed one for $15,000 with Columbia Pictures — to star in a film called “Harmon of Michigan.” The Tribune called the movie’s storyline “a weak, stupid and incredible affair, punctuated with banal dialog and incident.” He followed that up with a sports director radio contract in Detroit.
Harmon did play football in Chicago in 1941, but not for the Bears — before more than 98,000 fans at Soldier Field as part of the Chicago Tribune All-Star Charity Football Game.
He also played four games during the 1941 season with the New York Americans of the original American Football League, then spent four years in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He was awarded a Purple Heart and a Silver Star for his bravery and survived two plane crashes — one in which he was the sole survivor.
Harmon spurned the Bears after the war for an announcing job and was traded to the Los Angeles Rams for halfback Dante Magnani and tackle Fred Davis. He later became a television sportscaster.
Harmon died of a heart attack at 70 in 1990 after a round of golf. He was married to model/actress Elyse Knox, whose wedding dress was fashioned from the parachute that saved Harmon’s life during World War II. They had three children, including former “NCIS” actor Mark Harmon and Kristin, who was married to actor/musician Ricky Nelson. Their grandchildren include actress Tracy Nelson and singer-songwriters Matthew and Gunnar Nelson.
Unlike Harmon, Oklahoma A&M College (now Oklahoma State University) halfback “Blonde Bomber” Bob Fenimore did sign with the Bears — but not before a trade was considered with the Buffalo Bisons of the All-American Conference. Trade talk was abandoned, however, after Bisons team doctors reported calcium spots on Fenimore’s injured knee.
The two-time All-American led the nation in total offense with 1,758 yards during the Aggies’ 8-1 season in 1944 and helped the team win the Cotton Bowl. He did the same the following year with 1,641 yards, pushing the Aggies to a perfect 9-0 record and the 1945 Sugar Bowl win but was sidelined with the injury most of the 1946 season.
Fenimore was Halas’s choice for the No. 1 pick — despite the ailment.
“As for calcium spots on Fenimore’s knee, that’s the bunk,” Halas told the Tribune in January 1947.
As he prepared to play in the College All-Stars game in August 1947, Fenimore told reporters: “I don’t wear a knee brace. I should, but it slows me down. Every bit of speed counts, you know.” He wouldn’t participate in the game, however, because of the injury.
Fenimore played in 10 games during the 1947 season but wrote a letter to Halas stating he would sit out the next one because of back and groin injuries incurred from exercising on a horse apparatus at a gym. He remained in Oklahoma, where he became an insurance salesman.
He died at 84 in 2010.