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Bears great Joe Fortunato, who won '63 NFL title, dies at 87

NATCHEZ, Miss. -- Joe Fortunato, the speedy linebacker who helped the Chicago Bears win the 1963 NFL title, has died. He was 87.

Fortunato died Monday in Mississippi, where he starred at linebacker and fullback at Mississippi State.

"Joe Fortunato was not only a great player for the Chicago Bears, including being a part of our 1963 championship at Wrigley Field, he was a key figure in one of the greatest linebacker trios in Bears history alongside Hall of Famer Bill George and Larry Morris," Bears chairman George H. McCaskey said in a statement Thursday. "The Chicago Bears family extends our condolences to the Fortunato family on the passing of Joe."

In 12 seasons with the Bears, Fortunato was a three-time All-Pro selection and a five-time Pro Bowl pick. He had 16 interceptions and 22 fumble recoveries and was selected to the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 1950s. From Mingo Junction, Ohio, Fortunato was inducted into the Mississippi State football Ring of Honor last month.

Fortunato later was an assistant coach on the 1967 and 1968 Bears teams that were featured in the 1971 made-for-television movie "Brian's Song," which told the story of running back Brian Piccolo's friendship with teammate Gale Sayers and Piccolo's untimely death.

Fortunato then returned to Mississippi, where he ran Big Joe Oil Company.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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