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Recently-deceased Bears star Rick Casares ought to count for more

FILE- In this Aug. 11 1962 file phoChicago Bears' Rick Casares is hit by Pittsburgh Steelers player during an exhibitiNFL

FILE- In this Aug. 11, 1962, file photo, Chicago Bears' Rick Casares is hit by a Pittsburgh Steelers player during an exhibition NFL football game in Atlanta. Casares, a star running back for the Bears who was once their all-time leading rusher, died at his home in Tampa, Fla., on Friday, Sept. 13, the Bears announced Sunday, Sept. 15, 2013. He was 82. (AP Photo/File) (AP Photo/ho)

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Updated: September 17, 2013 9:49PM

Rick Casares, the former Bears star who died at 82 last week, was a bruising fullback who ran with heart when a guy like that could make a difference in the NFL.

But history hasn’t done justice to Casares’ outstanding 10-year career with the Bears (1955-64). When Casares was traded to the Washington Redskins in 1965, his 5,657 rushing yards ranked sixth on the NFL’s all-time list. When he led the NFL in rushing with a Bears-record 1,126 yards in 12 games in 1956, he was just 20 yards shy of the all-time NFL record held by the Philadelphia Eagles’ Steve Van Buren.

The 6-2, 225-pound Casares held most of the Bears’ franchise rushing records, including most yards in a game (190 on 17 carries against the Lions in 1956), a season and a career; most touchdowns in a season (12) and a career (49); and most 100-yard games in a season (seven) and a career (13).

But it didn’t take long for progress — more dynamic players and an expanded NFL schedule — to overwhelm Casares’ accomplishments. Casares left the Bears the year Gale Sayers arrived. Sayers broke Casares’ records with 14 rushing touchdowns in 1965, 197 yards in a game and 1,231 yards in a season in 1966 and his 14th 100-yard game in 1968.

Walter Payton broke Casares’ record for career rushing yards and most 100-yard games in a season with nine in 1979.

A second-round draft pick from Florida in 1955, Casares made the Pro Bowl in his first five seasons. He scored four touchdowns against the 49ers in 1956. He led the Bears (9-2-1) to the NFL Championship Game in 1956 and scored their only touchdown in a 47-7 loss to the New York Giants.

Casares was known for scoring from close range. He scored four touchdowns against the 49ers in 1956 — three from the 1-yard line and one from the 3. But as a rookie in 1955, he scored on an 81-yard run — no Bear has had a longer touchdown run since. When the Sun-Times ranked the top 50 Bears of all-time, Casares was No. 22. Seventeen of the players ahead of him are in the Hall of Fame, or will be.

Casares was a part-time player in 1963, sharing fullback duties with Joe Marconi until he suffered season-ending ankle and knee injuries against the Packers. He celebrated with the Bears when they beat the Giants in street clothes. But his contribution to the Bears is appreciated best by those who played with him more so than the history books.

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