Before the likes of Gayle Sayers and Walter Payton dazzled the crowds at Wrigley and Soldier Field with their athletic prowess and magnetic connection to the end zone, Rick Casares was the heart of the Chicago Bears’ ground attack.
Casares was born on Independence Day, 1931, in Tampa and after moving to New Jersey, became a golden gloves boxing champion as a teenager. In high school, Casares’ football squads won two All-City championships. He also starred in basketball and track, earning All-State honors in basketball three times while also winning the state title in Javelin in 1950.
Casares received a football scholarship to the University of Florida and played five different positions including quarterback, halfback, fullback, punter and kicker while scoring Florida’s first ever touchdown in a bowl game at the 1953 Gator Bowl against Tulsa. He was also an All-SEC basketball player for the Gators and was even team captain during the 1952-53 season.
In 1954, the Bears selected Casares with their second-round draft choice. After a year in the Army, Casares suited up for the orange and blue in 1955 but saw his new squad drop into an 0-3 hole to start the year. Casares made sure the Bears wouldn’t lose a fourth straight, scoring his first two NFL touchdowns including an 81-yarder in a 38-10 victory over the Baltimore Colts.
The following season, Casares reached All-Pro status for the first time as he accumulated a league-high 1,126 rushing yards to go with 12 touchdowns. Casares’ heroics propelled the Bears into their first NFL Championship Game in 10 years.
Although the Bears fell in the ’56 NFL title game, they did reach the promise land again in 1963, this time securing the NFL prize. Casares spent 10 seasons with the Bears and retired as the team’s all-time leader in rushing yards and touchdowns. He finished his storied career by spending 1965 with the Redskins and 1966 with Miami.
Casares is immortalized in the words of former teammate Mike Ditka who called Casares, “the toughest man to have ever played for the Chicago Bears.”
He was inducted into the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame as a “Gator Great.” He was inducted into the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in the 2009-2010 class.