The readjack.com All-Bears Post-Ditka Team
September 30, 2009: WIDE RECEIVER
SPLIT END-Marty Booker
In contention: Bernard Berrian, Marty Booker, Curtis Conway, Bobby Engram, Jeff Graham, Muhsin Muhammad, Marcus Robinson
The following just might be all you need to know about the state of Bears wideouts in the Post-Ditka Era:
* The Bears are one of only six franchises whose career leader in receptions is not a wide receiver. One of those six is Baltimore, whose history only goes back to 1996. And another is Kansas City, whose leader Tony Gonzalez is a Hall of Fame tight end who often lined up wide.
* Their franchise leader in receiving yards is Johnny Morris, a man who last played with the team in 1967. That makes him the oldest franchise leader in receiving yards, and one of only three who retired before 1990.
* They are one of three franchises that does not have a wide receiver from the past 30 years as a leader in any of the three ‘triple crown’ categories: receptions, yards, touchdowns. Their leaders: Walter Payton (492 receptions, retired ’87), Johnny Morris (5,059 yards, ’67), Harlon Hill (40 TD, ’62). (The other two are again Baltimore—with Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap leading all three—and KC.)
* They have had one receiver make a Pro Bowl in the past 36 seasons. (Marty Booker, 2001)
* It took 35 seasons for a Bear to break Johnny Morris’ mark of 1200 receiving yards (Marcus Robinson, 1400 in ’99), and 37 seasons for a Bear to break Morris’ mark of 93 receptions (Booker, 100 in ’01).
* Finally, we submit this: the Bears have been a franchise since 1920. In those 89 seasons, players on the team topped the 1000+ yard receiving marker 11 times. (Contrast that with the Colts, who have done it 14 times in the past ten years alone, or hell, with Jerry Rice, who did it 14 times in 20 seasons.)
For our purposes, that final stat is probably most interesting, since six of the 11 came in the past fifteen years. In terms of receiver talent and impressive receiving seasons, the Bears are in an upswing that began in 1993, (the drafting of Curtis Conway), following a dry spell that began in 1971, (the departure of Dick Gordon).
But as we have indicated, an upswing for the Bears ain’t much. Meaning that in the Post-Ditka Era, the team had enough talent at the position to break some records, but not enough to prevent the greatest debate for the RJ AB PD Committee.
Three days ago, cornerback fueled our most intense argument yet: the Harris-Woolford-Vasher battle for the spot opposite Tillman. Wide receiver has brought us another three-way bout, and this one is for both starting spots.
The Finalists (listed reverse-alphabetically by sixth letter in last name)
Curtis Conway, 1993-1999: 81 starts in 92 games, 329 receptions for 4498 yards, 13.7 ypc, 48.9 ypg, 31 TD/12 100-yard games, scored touchdowns in 33.7% of games
Marcus Robinson, 1998-2002: 28 in 51, 187 for 2695, 14.4, 52.8, 20/7, 39.2%
Marty Booker, 1999-2003, 2008: 61 in 82, 329 for 3895, 11.8, 47.5, 25/7, 30.5%
All three candidates have a specific edge. Conway lasted longest. He played the most seasons and the most games, and while he and Booker are tied in receptions, he put up more yards for a higher average and more touchdowns. Both Conway and Booker produced two 1000-yard seasons, and Conway has the edge in 100-yard games 12 to seven.
Booker’s edge comes with his peak years of 2001 and 2002. The franchise record 100 catches in ’01 and then second-highest total of 97 the following year. Curiously, all seven of our “in contention” receivers had two-year stretches in which they vastly out-performed their other seasons: (ordered by receiving yards)
Booker, ’01-’02: 32 in 32, 197 for 2260, 11.5, 70.6, 14/5, 43.8%
Graham, ’94-’95: 31 in 32, 150 for 2245, 15.0, 70.2, 8/9, 25.0%
Robinson, ’99-’01: 22 in 27, 139 for 2138, 15.4, 79.2, 51.9%
Conway, ’95-’96: 32 in 32, 143 for 2086, 14.6, 65.2, 19/7, 59.4%
Engram, ’98-’99: 30 in 32, 152 for 1934, 12.7, 60.4, 9/5, 28.1%
Berrian, ’06-’07: 29 in 31, 122 for 1726, 14.1, 55.7, 11/3, 35.5%
Muhammad, ’05-’06: 31 in 31, 124 for 1613, 13.0, 52.0, 9/3, 29.0%
Booker was a monster in 2001 and 2002, an absolute pass-catching machine who could be replied upon no matter the quarterback or coverage. (In those two seasons, Booker caught passes from three starting quarterbacks: Jim Miller, Chris Chandler, and Shane Matthews.) His lowest output in those two seasons was one catch. He did it twice, once in each year, both grabs going for scores.
And then we have Robinson. He has two edges, though they connect. He was, without question, the most physically gifted of the seven. And that accounted for his ability to score, which was, again, without peer among that group. In Robinson’s breakout 1999 season, he topped 100 yards receiving five times, and is the only Bear receiver of this group to record three 150+ yard games in a season. (His were actually all 160+, with 161 against Washington, 163 against San Diego, and 170 against Detroit.)
Robinson actually has one more edge that is rarely cited, and has more to do with improbability and degree-of-difficulty than personal skills and stats. Quick: which quarterback did number 88 most often connect with for touchdowns? Like Booker, Robinson is most associated with Jim Miller. Miller and Robinson both had breakout seasons in 1999, they both started on the 2001 playoff team (injuries aside), they are both remembered for deep balls, and Robinson was the team’s leading receiver in both of the Jim Miller Mind-Destruction Games:
November 14, 1999, Bears 24 @ VIKINGS 27 (ot)
MILLER: 34-48, 422 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT
ROBINSON: 7-148, TD
BOOKER: 7-134, 2 TD
November 21, 1999, BEARS 23 @ Chargers 20 (ot)
MILLER: 25-38, 357 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
ROBINSON: 6-163, TD
And yet Jim Miller threw only four touchdowns total to Marcus Robinson. That is, incredibly, only two more than thrown to him by Marty Booker. Robinson caught six scores from Anthony Wright during his time with Baltimore, eight with Brad Johnson and nine with Daunte Culpepper in his years with Minnesota.
And the quarterback from whom Marcus Robinson caught the most TDs in his career? Cade McNown, with ten.
That’s right, the player who earned more heat from Bears fans than any of his time would have been absolutely beyond atrocious without Robinson’s aid. Consider: McNown threw 16 touchdowns in his career. One apiece to the following John Allred, Booker, Engram, Eddie Kennison, Ryan Wetnight, and Dez White, the other ten two Robinson. McNown threw for more than 125 yards in only ten games of his career (yuck.), and in nine of those ten including the top seven, Robinson was his leading receiver.
How did we settle upon Conway and Booker? The will of the Committee. Those two simply received the greatest support. Our guess is that the readjack.com All-Bears Post-Ditka Team will be running quite a few three-receiver sets, anyhow. But when they battle the All-Packers Post-Holmgren Team, (or perhaps the All-Packers Post-Infante Team), it will be Conway and Booker in the starting lineup.
A handful of Committee members share their feelings…
Josh Frost: Booker, Conway, Robinson. That 100 reception season was epic.
Brian Glickman: I don’t think Graham should even be a consideration.
Matt Mankameyer (Chiefs fan): Conway, no doubt. His consistency and big game ability tops the others.
Jack M Silverstein: My vote still goes for Robinson, with Booker/Conway fighting for the second spot. And I’ll take Robinson because neither of the other two guys (nor anyone else) has such fabulous numbers that they are a ‘must.’ Robinson is, in my eye, the most physically gifted receiver the Bears had during the PD era, and, perhaps, in any era. Since his PD numbers are near enough to Booker and Conway, especially in TDs, I think that’s reasonable.
Jeff Whitaker: I think without question Conway and Robinson are the two starting WR’s. The stats speak for themselves. Conway gives you the biggest numbers overall and Robinson gives one of the best seasons a Bears WR has ever had.
Read Jack M Silverstein’s post-Bears column every week during the 2009 season!
WEEK 1: Praising Jay
WEEK 2: Passing is fun!
WEEK 3: A tip of the helmet
WEEK 4: With apologies to Tony
One last note…
We were interested to find an entry from the blog Top Ten Chicago Sports, a feature on “the top ten Chicago Bears wide receivers of the past 25 years” this past June. Their list in order:
Conway, Booker, Gault, Robinson, McKinnon, Engram, Wendell Davis, Moose, Waddle.