Tim Wrightman would like to be something more than an answer to a Trivial Pursuit question.
Wrightman earned a notch in the trivia Hall of Fame in 1982 when he became the first NFL player to jump to the fledgling USFL.
Wrightman was a third-round draft choice out of UCLA by the Chicago Bears. Under Coach Mike Ditka’s system of relying more heavily on the tight ends, Wrightman figured in the Bears’ plans.
But Wrightman heard the siren call of George Allen and the new league and signed with the Chicago Blitz.
Three years later, two of which Wrightman did not see any action, he is back with the NFL. Back with the Bears. And hopeful of a second chance.
“Regrets? No, not really,” Wrightman said. “It was something that at the time seemed like the right decision to go with George Allen. Unfortunately, after the first year, things didn’t work out so well and I didn’t play the last two seasons.”
Bigger names followed Wrightman into the USFL. But the fact that a collegiate player--a third-round draft choice of an established NFL team--was choosing the USFL gave the new league a small springboard.
“Listen, I got a lot out of working under George Allen,” Wrightman said. “I don’t think my signing was particularly significant and maybe it is something that is a bit of a trivial thing now. But I was glad to have another chance with the Bears this time around.”
Wrightman was a free agent entering the 1985 Chicago Bears’ training camp. He showed Ditka, a former tight end, that he was still worth the high consideration by the Bears.
“He may not have the best hands in the league or great speed but I like what I see out there,” Ditka said. “Timmy is not afraid to go out and hit. And he works hard, very hard in practice.”
Wrightman knew with a veteran club he didn’t have a roster spot cinched.
“I knew coming in that I would be rusty, especially after a two-year layoff,” said Wrightman, who has had to battle an assortment of injuries in his brief pro career. “But I knew that Mike was fair and would give me a good look.”
Wrightman also knew that trying to get a job with a coach that used to be a tight end would work in his favor.
“He knows that it’s not always the spectacular plays that you make on a catch or anything like that,” Wrightman said. “He knows that there are things that go on in a play on the line that are important and are crucial to the success of a play.”
Wrightman was an All-American at UCLA and some thought he might go higher in the NFL draft back in 1982. He caught 73 passes and 10 touchdowns with the Bruins and was an All-Pacific 10 selection in his junior and senior seasons.
After he signed with the Blitz and received the hoopla surrounding the inaugural signing, he faded from the limelight. He caught only six passes in his three seasons with the USFL and saw the Blitz franchise shifted to Arizona.
But he didn’t give up hope he would be able to land a regular job in the pros.
“I wanted to have a chance to play with the Bears,” Wrightman said. “I was glad they drafted me. I did stay in Chicago after all.”
In his rookie NFL season, Wrightman may wind up seeing sparse playing time. But he is grateful to have a chance to redeem himself.
“Making the club was the goal,” Wrightman said. “Then, I have a chance to prove to everyone that I can play and contribute.”
Emery Moorehead was the club’s top tight end one year ago and was backed up by Pat Dunsmore. However, Ditka has shown a willingness to go to a two tight end alignment at times, something that would give Wrightman more playing time.
“I know Mike believes in using the tight ends,” Wrightman said. “I also know with the guys that they already have here that there is going to be a lot to learn. But who could you learn better from than one of the best tight ends to ever play, Mike Ditka?”