Tom Waddle, Bears WR 1989-1994
The first few pages of Tom Waddle's Bears diary may read as follows: May 16, 1989-Signed by Bears as undrafted free agent from Boston College. September 4, 1989, cut by Bears. September 5, 1989, signed to developmental squad by Bears. September 22, waived by Bears. September 25, re-signed by Bears. February 1, 1990, left unprotected in free agency. September 3, 1990, released by Bears. September 4, 1990, signed to active roster due to injury of Kozlowski. August 26, 1991, cut by Bears. August 27, 1991, signed to active roster again due to injuries. February 1, 1992, protected in free agency by Bears.
And so goes the saga of Tom Waddle. Signed by the Bears because of his superior hands in 1989, Waddle just couldn't find a permanent place on the roster. He was good, but just not good enough. Regarding all of his "cuttings", Waddle commented in 1999 that when "Ditka would call me up to his office, I knew I was going to be cut; I didn't have a problem with that. However, I was afraid he was going to come across the desk at me and whip my ass." This may have been an exaggeration, because Waddle was in fact Ditka's favorite type of player. This is probably why Ditka kept trying to find a place for him. In between all of his releases, Waddle did see spot playing time in 1989 and 1990. He caught a pass each against San Francisco in 1989, and Washington and the Raiders in 1990. In 1991, the team was short of receivers going into the opener, so Waddle was actually activated as the third receiver for this game. Despite being referred to as "The slow white guy", Waddle clinched the 1991 opening victory with a 37-yard diving TD reception, and became an instant fan favorite. He reminded everyone of the overachiever without physical tools that somehow makes it in the big-league.
For the remainder of 1991, Waddle became the go-to guy in the Bear's passing game. Against the Jets on national TV, he caught 8 balls for 102 yards, making an impression on the nation. Perhaps his shining moment in the NFL and as a Bear was his performance against Dallas in the 1991 playoff loss. Waddle scored the Bears only touchdown and caught 9 passes for 104 yards. Many of these catches were spectacularly acrobatic, and sent him to the sidelines with assistance after a hammering by Dallas linebackers. At points during the game, the entire Soldier Field crowd was chanting "Waddle, Waddle, Waddle." His breakout 1991 season earned him a place on the "All-Madden Team", a tribute to the toughest, no-nonsense players in the NFL.
#87 entered the 1992 season as the Bears' starting wide receiver opposite Wendell Davis. In the opener, he endeared himself further to the fans of Chicago when he caught the winning touchdown pass from Jim Harbaugh with one second left. Who else would make the clutch catch off the "13-Wing Jet" play, the Harbaugh-to-Waddle specialty. Against Atlanta in 1992, Waddle delighted fans by burning the NFL's fastest man, Deion Sanders, for a touchdown. On November 29th at Cleveland, he caught a 70-yard touchdown bomb from Peter Tom Willis, again defying his "slow" title. He wound up the season with strong numbers in 1992. In 1993, he led the team in both receptions and receiving yards in 1993. In '94, Dave Wannstedt continued his push for more speed, and Waddle was relegated to third-receiver duties. He actually was injured for much of the season after a knockout blow to the chin from safety Thomas Everitt at Tampa.
As 1995 training camp opened, Waddle was due a new contract from the team. Coach Wannstedt made it clear that he would not pay above the league-minimum salary for a player with Waddle's skills. Besides, the team had just signed speedy receiver Michael Timpson to a million-dollar contract to take Waddle's place. Much to the disdain of fans, Wannstedt stood firm. His position was that Waddle could take a one-year offer for league minimum, or sign a larger contract, but face the possibility of being cut. Waddle briefly considered a larger offer from his hometown team, the Cincinnati Bengals, then decided to bow out of the game. He stated that even at the young age of 28, his body had been beaten on so much in the last four years, that he was ready to call it quits.
Waddle can still be seen in the Chicago area as a co-host of Bears Sunday Live. He is still a fan favorite at each Bears event he attends-as he reminds us all of the little engine that could.
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