Former seven-time Pro Bowler and '85 Bear for life Jay Hilgenberg pointed out on multiple occasions at the franchise's centennial celebration the profound changes between the game he played for 12 seasons and today's NFL.
The longtime road-grading center pointed out how "offensive coordinators have gained control" of a game decreasingly played in a physical phone booth and relying more on the perimeter with teams using zone running schemes and every blade of grass.
"It’s all good. It is what it is," Hilgenberg said. "But when you take the concepts that we had, we were coached by [Pro Football Hall of Famer] Dick Stanfel in the run game. You could devastate defenses now in the NFL."
That certainly doesn't mean Hilgenberg has abandoned his fandom or doesn't appreciate the style of offense Matt Nagy has installed with the Bears. Conversely, Hilgenberg sounded like someone who'd love to get inside Nagy's head and talk ball.
"I said one time, when they dissect Matt Nagy’s brain, it’s going to be the shape of a football," Hilgenberg joked. "It’s fun. He entertains the crowd. It’s must-see Sunday TV going down to Soldier Field."
Perhaps as much as the design of his offense, Nagy's approach to coaching his players is entirely different than it was decades ago, when Hilgenberg was led for his final 10 seasons in Chicago by Mike Ditka.
"I think these guys have more fun than we [did]," Hilgenberg said. "Actually, I doubt that. They show it. We couldn’t have a smile all the time around Ditka."
An important qualifier from Hilgenberg. Few teams had the number of personalities, from the "Punky QB" Jim McMahon and William "Refrigerator" Perry to "Sweetness" Walter Payton and "Mongo" McMichael. We were lucky enough to hear and share a handful of the incredible stories from that team, but trust us when we tell you there are countless more we'll either never hear and/or be able to share on this family website.
"You probably couldn’t stand there," Hall of Famer Richard Dent said when asked what Walter would have been up to at Bears100. "If he’s in the room, you’d want to know where he’s at. Because he probably was going to be up to something."
Added Mongo: "I told Coach Nagy, I know the league rules say you can’t make them hit anymore, but you can run the sh*t out of them."
We'll see if Nagy heeds that advice. We already know a few of his patented philosophies, like "Be You," and the celebratory #ClubDub "Boom" would have went over in Ditka's locker rooms like a lead balloon. Of course, as Hilgy points out, Ditka's locker rooms also didn't experience the level of turnover that they do nowadays in the free-agency era. Nagy is a players coach, but part of it is by design.
"It’s a great atmosphere to work in," Hilgenberg said. "It’s what’s right today. It wouldn’t have worked back when we played. When I played was before free agency, it was a different era. These guys, this is a lot better right now."