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Bill George's quick thinking helped him middle linebacker. See more pictures of football players.

Bill George

Bill George's football career, with apologies to Neil Armstrong, might be summed up as "one tiny step backward for a middle guard, one giant leap forward for pro football defense."

While no one can swear which middle guard in a five-man line first dropped back to play at middle linebacker and create the classic 4-3 defense, George (1930-1982) gets more votes than anyone else. Certainly he was the first to star at the middle linebacker position.

Coming out of high school, George had mostly wrestling scholarship offers, but he turned them all down for a chance to play football at Wake Forest. He earned some All-American mentions for the Demon Deacons and was drafted in the second round by the Chicago Bears in 1951.

The 6'2", 230-pound lineman was small for a defensive tackle, so the Bears moved him to middle guard. Coach Clark Shaughnessy summed up George: "He is a rare physical specimen both from the standpoint of power and agility. He's absolutely fearless on the field. He has a brilliant mind, an ability to size up a situation quickly and react to it, and also the ability to retain the complicated details of his job."

It was George's ability to diagnose and react quickly that led the Bears to believe he could move a step backward and become a super middle linebacker -- a demanding position requiring sometimes pass rushing and sometimes pass defense, along with sure tackling, the speed to range from sideline to sideline, the agility to avoid blockers coming from all directions, and a sixth sense of knowing what the offense might do next. It was the perfect spot for George.

George was named All-NFL from 1955-61 and again in '63. In 1963, he led the stellar Bears defense that took Chicago to the NFL championship. He was also picked for eight Pro Bowls. In 1972, he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. "It's a little embarrassing but I’m thrilled to death," he said modestly.

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