Oct. 4, 2013
By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider
Grant Teaff might not have been able to predict that an undersized linebacker from the Houston ghettos would become one of the most dominant defensive players in the history of the game.
But when Baylor assistant coach Ron Harms brought back film of a Worthing High School linebacker named Mike Singletary, "I honestly looked at about 10 plays and shut the projector off. What jumped out at me was his intensity," Teaff said.
While no other scholarship offers came from major colleges, "Baylor was the first school that came to me, and I decided to go there. . . . I could see myself being there and making a difference,"
Singletary would have made a difference wherever he went. But he definitely did at Baylor as a three-time All-American whose school records of 662 career tackles and 232 in a season may never be broken.
"It would have been very easy for me to say, `Yeah, those people are right and maybe I should do something else,''' said Singletary, who will be honored during Saturday's game as one of the program's outstanding players of the 1970s decade. "But I'm thankful that Baylor gave me the opportunity. I had a lot of people around me that believed in me. And, of course, I believed in myself."
The intensity that caught Teaff's eyes right away was on display for the world to see in his phenomenal 12-year NFL career with the Chicago Bears, where Singletary's trademark was the focused, wide-eyed looks that he gave before every play.
Introducing her husband at the 1998 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductions, Kim Singletary said, "If I were to ask you to describe Mike Singletary, No. 50 for the Chicago Bears, no doubt you would mention the arms extended with fingers pointing, hollering signals before the ball is snapped; or feet in constant motion, anticipating the running back's next move. But most likely you remember the eyes, wide with intensity in anticipation of the quarterback's call, often before he even called the play."
But at Baylor, other than the mind-boggling tackle stats, Singletary's claim to fame was singlehandedly breaking Baylor's equipment budget by cracking 16 helmets in four years. Football team managers made a point of keeping four or five extra helmets on hand, just in case.
"The first time my helmet broke was when I hit (running back) Dennis Gentry in practice," Singletary said. "He came up the middle, and I tried to rock him. When my helmet broke, people began yelling, `Your helmet's cracked!' I was just glad it wasn't my head. And then on the next play, I I hit Gentry again and my helmet split again. . . . To get a good hit, I thought you needed to run through someone and get your facemask right in the middle of their chest and drive them back."
Thirty-three years later, no Baylor player has come close to Singletary's records. He holds the top three single-season marks with 232, 188 and 145 tackles, and his 662 career stops are 240 more than the No. 2 guy (linebacker Joe Pawelek amassed 442 in 2006-09).
Singletary was also the cornerstone of a Baylor defense that held opponents to a school-record 129 points in 11 regular-season games and led the Bears to the 1980 Southwest Conference championship by a record three-game margin.
"There are times when I have to pinch myself when I think of all the things the Lord has blessed me with to accomplish," said Singletary, who has also been inducted in the Baylor Athletic, Texas Sports and College Football halls of fame. "He never let me give up. I set out to do something and came very close to accomplishing everything I wanted."
Much like he was coming out of high school, Singletary was passed over by every team in the first round of the 1981 NFL Draft and went to Chicago in the second round with the 38th overall pick.
By the end of his career, Singletary was arguably the best middle linebacker in the history of the game, surpassing Chicago's Dick Butkus and the Green Bay Packers' Tommy Nobis. Piling up 1,488 career tackles (885 solo), 51 pass breakups, 12 fumble recoveries and seven interceptions, he was selected to 10 consecutive Pro Bowls, named All-Pro eight times and NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1985 and '88.
"It was probably the best thing that ever happened to me," Singletary said of his draft-day snub. "I came into pro football with a chip on my shoulder. I wanted people I played against to think that I could have made a difference for them."