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Long UW-Chicago Connection Renewed by Gordon, Pettis Joining Bears

The Huskies and the Windy City began close relationship with a famous surgeon.

The University of Washington football team for decades used to regularly pull talented players out of Chicago with the help of Dr. Alfred Strauss, a highly accredited surgeon in the Windy City, influential alum and once a Husky running back himself.

Now the Huskies send them there.

In the space of two weeks, former UW cornerback Kyler Gordon went to the Chicago Bears as a second-round draft pick and Dante Pettis, the ex-Husky wide receiver and record-breaking kick returner, signed as a free agent with this NFL team.

One to shut down the passing game, the other to spruce it up.

On Wednesday, Pettis, 26, posted a photo of himself signing a contract with his third NFL team, joining the Bears following stints with the San Francisco 49ers and the New York Giants over four prior seasons.

It appears that Pettis is going to great lengths to reconnect with his glorious football past, which involved setting the NCAA record for career punt-return touchdowns with 9, earning first-team Associated Press All-America honors and getting drafted in 2018 as the 44th player overall in the second round.

Two months earlier, Pettis was back on campus getting acquainted with the new Husky coaching staff and posing for a photo surrounded by Kalen DeBoer and his receivers coach JaMarcus Shephard. 

Pettis has career NFL totals of 52 catches for 739 yards and 9 touchdowns, but he played in just three games for the Giants last season after going on injured reserve with a left shoulder injury. He had 10 receptions for 87 yards and a score in 2021.

Curiously, Pettis has returned just 13 punts in 33 games in his time in the NFL, with a long runback of 14 yards. Somebody needs to fix that situation.

The Husky-Chicago relationship goes back more than a century with the German-born Strauss setting up his practice there, becoming a nationally renowned abdominal surgeon, helping found the UW medical school and diving deep into the recruitment of Midwest football players for his alma mater. He sent more than 75 players to Seattle, including five who became All-Americans.

The UW-Bears connection goes back exactly 50 years, when Sixkiller-era offensive guard Ernie Janet became the first UW player to join the Chicago franchise as a second-round pick and the 37th selection overall. He played for the Bears from 1972 through '74.

He was followed by Robin Earl, a Husky fullback who was in Chicago from 1977 to '82. He blocked for Walter Payton before he was converted into a Bears tight end. Earl went to Chicago as a third-round pick and the 61st player taken in the draft.

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Cornerback Vestee Jackson was next, playing for the Bears from 1986 to '90. He was a second-round pick and the 55th player selected, and had 15 of his 18 career NFL interceptions with Chicago.

Kicker Jeff Jaeger finished up his NFL career with the Bears, his pro fourth team, and played his final four pro seasons in the city from 1996 to '99.

Olin Kreutz stayed the longest and played the best in Chicago. The former UW center spent 13 seasons with the Bears from 1998 to 2010. A six-time Pro Bowler, he came to the team as a third-round pick and the 64th player selected overall.

Kreutz, however, was not the first Husky drafted by Chicago in 1998. He was preceded by teammate and safety Tony Parrish, who went to the Bears in the second round as the 33rd player taken overall. He spent four seasons with the Bears.

In 2002, former UW quarterback Chris Chandler joined the Chicago franchise for two seasons near the end of his 17-year NFL career, making the Bears one of his eight pro teams.

The last Husky to play for the Bears was defensive tackle Terry "Tank" Johnson, who in 2004 was a second-round pick and the 47th player chosen. He stayed three seasons before off-field issues ushered him out of Chicago and eventually scuttled his NFL career. 

Now come Gordon and Pettis, who will bid to become the ninth and 10th Huskies to pull game time during the regular season for the Chicago franchise, and the first in 16 seasons. Gordon was a second-round pick, the 39th player chosen, and someone people are promoting as an immediate starter. They are envisioning Pettis finally launching his pro career in a significant manner.

If he was still with us, Dr. Strauss, that well-known Chicago medical presence and one-time UW ball carrier who died in 1971, no doubt would fully approve. 

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