Who: Legendary Chicago Bear general manager, responsible for drafting Walter Payton.
Breakdown: After the Bears stumbled through a decade of incompetence, George Halas decided to take a bold step. Toward the end of 1974, he hired Jim Finks—the Vikings’ esteemed GM—to head the Bears. It was the first time a non-Halas would run the team. Finks was a sharp negotiator and an unparalleled judge of talent. Whether the Bears had the first, 10th or 20th pick of the 1975 Draft, he was committed to find a way to land Payton.
Pearlman’s take: When the Bears won Super Bowl XX, Finks’ name was rarely—if ever—mentioned. But it should have been. He was the architect of the franchise, adding such stalwarts as Payton, Roland Harper, Gary Fencik, Wilber Marshall and Otis Wilson. Finks’ stubborn refusal to use a high draft choice on a quarterback drove players crazy, but, well, who’s prefect?
From Sweetness: In a shocking acknowledgment that his beloved organization was rudderless, on September 12, 1974, Halas hired Jim Finks, architect of the great Minnesota Vikings teams of the early ’70s, to replace his son, George Halas, Jr., as general manager. For the first time in franchise history, a non-Halas was in charge. “I have the authority to hire or fi re anybody in the organization,” Finks said in his introductory press conference. “The Halases have agreed to turn over the full operation to me.”
A quarterback with the Steelers from 1949 to 1955, Finks’ claim to fame was once beating out an obscure rookie named Johnny Unitas for a roster spot. Upon retiring, Finks served as the backfi eld coach at Notre Dame for one and a half seasons, then was brought in as a chief scout and assistant coach by Calgary of the Canadian Football League. Within nine months he was the Stampeders’ general manager, and in 1964 he was wooed by the Vikings to hold the same position. When, three years later, Coach Norm Van Brocklin quit Minnesota, Finks hired an unknown CFL castoff named Bud Grant. The move, initially lampooned, went down as a stroke of genius.
Grant became one of the great coaches in NFL history, and Finks’ reputation as a gridiron guru was sealed.
A fast- talking, chain- smoking hard- bargainer, Finks had a confident strut that masked a reputation for being honest and fair. His arrival was greeted gleefully in Chicago, a city fatigued by chronic losing. The headlines spoke for themselves—Finks: He’s a Real Bear (Chicago Sun-Times); New Papa Bear (Chicago Tribune); The Bears Bear Down (The Chicago Daily News). On his first day, Finks promised every returning employee a fair shake, and he was true to his word. Instead of firing Gibron and his staff midway through a miserable four-win season, he waited until after the final game.