Where Are They Now: Bill Wade

For a while during the early part of 1967, newly retired quarterback Bill Wade thought that there was a good chance he could become the next head coach of the Chicago Bears.

"There was a lot of speculation going around the team at that time. We wondered how long the old man would stay around," Wade said. "I was thrilled when Coach Halas, who had told me that he was preparing to retire, said that he ‘had a surprise for me if I'd show up in Chicago on May 1'. That sounded pretty interesting and I was definitely considering making the trip back to Illinois to find out what he had in store. "

Wade was one of the more seasoned members of the team that year, having played with the Rams for seven years before signing with Chicago in 1961. Interestingly enough, one of the men also rumored to be in competition for the future position as Bears head coach was George Allen, Wade's friend and mentor when both were with the Rams.

"George had an incredible football mind," Wade said. "He could come up with things that nobody else had even considered in terms of strategy. I first met George when he was a Rams assistant. Since both of us were relatively new to professional football at the time, we spent a lot of time together. It was a good relationship and I was delighted that he was in Chicago while I was playing."

As Wade recalls, there was a coach's meeting shortly after the conclusion of the 1966 season. Since Wade had been working with the team as an informal quarterback consultant, he was in attendance. Halas came into the room brandishing a new overcoat, asking the coaches who he should give the job to.

"Chuck Mather immediately said ‘Give it to Bill. He deserves it.'"

That sounded fine to me and I greatly appreciated the gesture. It was a real boost to my hopes. Shortly after the meeting, Halas called me aside trying to convince me to come back to the team the following year. That wasn't really in my plans, as I'd been getting ready to return for good to my home in Tennessee. Also, I felt certain that he only wanted me to return in the quarterback coaching capacity. That held no interest."

On May 1,Halas called Wade again promising him a ‘wonderful surprise should he come to training camp.' Wade relented, intrigued by what the coach might have up his sleeve.

"My hopes were high. It would have been a perfect fit for me and for the team," Wade remembers. "Then on May 8,Jim Dooley was named head coach of the Bears. I was dumbfounded and more than a little angry. Ironically, Dooley had been on my list to become my first assistant should I have gotten the job. I had then, and still have, the highest admiration for Jim, but never really felt he should have become a head coach."

A dejected Wade left the team and returned to Nashville, out of football at last after 30 arduous years.

"There was no way I'd return to the Bears after that. I had a family to support. Coaching football clearly would have been a great financial sacrifice for all of us. So I returned to my hometown and entered business there. It was good to be living back near family and friends. Eventually my first wife and I divorced. Finally things turned around and I remarried a wonderful woman who is a physician. We now live on a beautiful farm near where I grew up."

Of all the Bears on the team during Wade's tenure, he says that he felt closest to Doug Atkins who was also a native of Tennessee.

"Doug and I always spoke the same language, even though our football careers we were on opposite sides of the ball. He was a fine man and a fine player. You never got less than 100% from Doug even when he was tired or injured. He was somebody you could take at his word. He was always there for his friends."

Atkins and Wade still keep in touch, although physical infirmities have prevented the two from enjoying any face-to-face contact recently.

"I just spoke to him the other day," Wade said. "His knees are bothering him some, and I am blind, so we do our communicating the best way we can. We're still close. In personality, he's the same guy that he was years ago."

Wade remains seventh on the Bears all-time passing list, with 9,958 yards while completing 767-of-1,407 attempts. Although he never was accorded the nationwide fame that quarterbacks such as Jim McMahon enjoyed, he seems satisfied with his career and at peace with himself.

"So much has changed in football since I left," Wade said. "It's been 50 years since I first started in the professional game. The endorsements and the television contracts have altered everything from salaries to overall lifestyle. I'm not saying one time is better or the other worse, they're just different.

"The world moves at a faster pace now. It was a quieter era when we played. In many ways, I think we were closer to the fans. There was great love and support in Chicago when we won the title in 1963, much of which continues even today. I appreciated all of the opportunities that I had and tried to make the best of my time on the field. But it was good to get home at last. I am surrounded by loved ones and have led a very contented life."


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