Todd Bell did not suit up with the 1985 Bears, but those who
did still consider him a part of the team.
Those former teammates were saddened Wednesday by news that
Bell, 47, died after suffering a heart attack and crashing
his car into a house in Reynoldsburg, Ohio, according to
police and Ohio State University officials. One of the most
feared safeties of his era, Bell played for the Bears from
1981 to '84 and again in '86 before spending two seasons
with the Philadelphia Eagles and retiring.
A day before Bell's death, former teammate Shaun Gayle said
he and his teammates from '85, who have formed a corporation
to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their Super Bowl title,
didn't want to wait for a tragedy to bring them together.
Bell's phone number was on Gayle's desk, and he had been
meaning to call him.
"Todd was still part of us,'' Gayle said. "It's one of those
things that unless you have actually been on a team and
created that bond that happens on the field, it's hard to
explain. To lose a guy is really difficult; it's like losing
a family member. Todd inspired a lot of people.''
Gayle counts himself as one of the inspired. He knew Bell
since he was in high school. Gayle's older brother played at
Ohio State, and when he would visit on weekends, Woody Hayes
encouraged him to sit in on meetings. There, he met Bell in
the defensive backs room. When Gayle was a freshman with the
Buckeyes, Bell was a senior.
"That was my introduction into seeing how a strong safety
plays the game,'' said Gayle, who stood up in Bell's wedding
alongside Walter Payton and Mike Singletary. "I had no idea.
I had never seen a strong safety hit linemen or tackle
people that way. It was something to see.''
One of the most memorable hits in Bears history occurred in
a 1984 playoff game with the Washington Redskins when Bell
obliterated running back Joe Washington, forcing a fumble.
The Bears' defense topped the charts that season, and
coordinator Buddy Ryan called Bell, who went to the Pro
Bowl, the key.
A contract dispute prevented Bell from playing in '85. He
wanted $500,000 and the Bears offered $400,000, so he sat
out the entire season. Bell requested a trade just before
the deadline, but it was not granted. Meanwhile, Dave
Duerson replaced Bell and also went to the Pro Bowl.
When Bell returned in '86, he wasn't the same. He was nagged
by a hamstring injury and fell out of favor with the
coaching staff. He finished up with the Eagles, where Ryan
was coaching, eventually moving to weak-side linebacker.
"I can't really look back and have regrets,'' Bell said
after returning to the Bears. "I'm just sorry I wasn't part
of that Super Bowl XX.''
Gayle believes Bell when he looks back on what happened:
"That's not how Todd operates. He's not going to look back.
He's a man of principle, and when he makes a decision, he
goes with it.''
After retiring, Bell returned to Ohio State, where he worked
in the Office of Minority Affairs.
"It's absolutely stunning,'' former teammate Leslie Frazier
said. "I'm still shaken by the news. His sense of humor will
probably be the lasting memory I have. He was a ferocious
player and an intimidating tackler, but off the field we had
so many laughs and good times.''
Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera was at Halas Hall
when he saw the news scroll across the TV.
"I was shocked,'' said Rivera, who last visited with Bell
last year while scouting at Ohio State. "Todd was a man of
principle and character. This is unbelievable.''