Rick Casares, 82, a Bear Who Got Yards With Grit, Dies
Published: September 17, 2013
Rick Casares, a fullback for the Chicago Bears in the 1950s and ’60s who bulled through defensive lines to become, for a time, the leading rusher in team history, and who once led the National Football League in rushing, died on Friday at his home in Tampa, Fla. He was 82.
His wife, Polly, confirmed his death.
Two decades before Walter Payton rewrote rushing records in Chicago and across the N.F.L. with dazzling, acrobatic performances, Casares, a former star at the University of Florida, pounded the way forward for the Bears, often scratching out 3 and 4 yards at a time. He frequently played injured and later in life had two knee replacements, shoulder surgery and other operations.
“He was the toughest guy I ever played with,” Mike Ditka, a former Bears tight end and coach, told The Tampa Tribune. “I remember him playing on a broken ankle.”
In 10 seasons with the Bears, from 1955 to 1964, Casares — who stood 6 feet 3 inches and weighed about 230 pounds — became the team’s career rushing leader, with 5,657 yards. (Payton, in 13 seasons, from 1975 to 1987, ran for 16,726.) In 1956, Casares led the league with 1,126 yards, at the time the second-highest season total in N.F.L. history. He also led the league that year in rushing touchdowns and total touchdowns scored.
He played in five consecutive Pro Bowls, from 1955 to 1959, and remains third on the Bears’ career rushing list. Neal Anderson is second, with 6,166 yards in eight seasons, from 1986 to 1993.
Despite his injuries, Casares wanted more carries than he was given in his later years with the Bears, and he once publicly questioned the team’s coach, George Halas, after Halas changed the Bears’ offense in 1961. Casares’s carries were reduced sharply the next year, and he was never again central to the offense.
He was on the team when it won the 1963 N.F.L. championship, but he had an injured ankle and did not play.
Casares was traded to the Washington Redskins in 1965 and played sparingly. He played for the Miami Dolphins in 1966, the team’s first year in existence, carrying the ball 43 times in six games.
“The best years of my life were in Chicago,” Casares told The Chicago Tribune in 2010.
The Bears held a commemoration for the 1963 team at Soldier Field during their game on Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.
Richard Jose Casares was born on July 4, 1931, in Tampa. A grandfather was Spanish, while the rest of his family traced its lineage to Italy. When Casares was 7, his father was murdered, prompting his mother to move with him to her native New Jersey. Casares became a promising boxer as a teenager, but his mother refused to allow him to pursue the sport professionally.
He returned to Tampa, where he became a statewide high school star in football, baseball, basketball, and track and field. He also played several sports in college, and he led the Gators to victory in the Gator Bowl after the 1952 season.
After missing his senior season to serve in the Army, he was drafted in the second round by the Bears in 1954.
After his playing days, Casares opened a nightclub in Tampa, the Huddle Lounge. He also worked in real estate.
Casares and his wife, the former Polly Wilkins, were married in 1969. In addition to her, survivors include a stepdaughter, Dawn Cleary, and a grandson.