Rocket-armed quarterback Rudy Bukich dies at 85

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When Rudy Bukich entered in the NFL in 1953, football was still a run-first, pass-second game, and a quarterback’s primary job was to hand off.

But Bukich, who died Monday at the age of 85, had an arm that could put even today’s best passers to shame.

In his book Greatest Quarterbacks, Peter King wrote that Bukich had the strongest arm in NFL history, and quoted multiple witnesses who said they saw Bukich do something that sounds impossible: Throw a football 100 yards.

“It’s true,” Bukich’s former teammate Mike Ditka told King. “I saw Rudy do it. I was on the field that day. Now, I’d seen him try it before, and it’d go maybe 95. But he did throw it 100 that one time.”

Bukich was named Player of the Game in the 1953 Rose Bowl after quarterbacking USC to a 7-0 win over Wisconsin, and the Los Angeles Rams chose him in the second round of the 1953 NFL draft. After his rookie season Bukich spent two years in the military, and after that he bounced around the NFL, from L.A. to Washington to Chicago to Pittsburgh, without ever making a major impact in the league.

But when Bukich returned to Chicago for his second stint with the Bears in 1962, coach George Halas saw something he liked in Bukich’s strong arm. Bukich’s best season came in 1965, when he led the Bears to a 9-3 record while throwing for 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions, extremely impressive stats for the time. That year Bukich was named a second-team All-Pro.

Bukich had only one more season as a starter, however, and retired in 1968. He won’t be remembered as one of the great quarterbacks of his era, but those who saw him throw will always remember the rocket arm that may have been the strongest the game of football has ever seen.