On August 4, legendary Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher took his rightful place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, cementing his legacy as one of the greatest linebackers to ever step onto the gridiron. The most recent superstar in Chicago’s vaunted history of inside linebackers, Urlacher truly personified what it meant to be a Monster of the Midway.
The eight-time Pro Bowler became the thirty-fifth Bears player to enter the Hall of Fame, and the twenty-eighth to have spent most of their career with the team, both the highest total among all NFL franchises.
This begs the question: who will be the next Chicago Bear to enter the Hall of Fame?
There are more than a handful of talented players to have donned the navy blue and orange in recent years, but are any of them good enough to be enshrined in Canton, Ohio? Let’s take a look at how notable former Bears players stack up with the standards of the Hall of Fame.
Close, but no cigar
There are several talented Bears players who have yet to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but the unfortunate reality is that some of them may not have a résumé that is extensive enough to be voted in. These players include:
- Matt Forte
- Gary Fencik
- Wilber Marshall
- Otis Wilson
- Olin Kreutz
The most notable snub of the bunch is Kreutz, as he has six Pro Bowls, two All-Pro nominations and a nomination to the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team. He admittedly deserves some consideration given how good he was in his prime, but, considering the fact that it took e-mails from our own Jack M. Silverstein and the Chicago Tribune’s Brad Biggs to even get him on the ballot last year, it’s unlikely that he will make it in any time soon. He could potentially be a candidate to be inducted as a senior induction when he becomes eligible in 2026.
The other four on this list were all all-time Bears greats in their own right, but they lack the illustrious credentials to make it into the Hall of Fame. If there was a Hall of Very Good, though, they would more than likely make it in.
Hall of Fame-worthy Bears who won’t go in as Bears
Julius Peppers is one of the most impressive physical specimens the game of football has ever seen. Ranking fourth all-time in total sacks, the nine-time Pro Bowler has a reasonable claim as the best pass rusher of the 21st century. Even at 38 years old, he has been able to prove year in and year out that he can get to the quarterback at a high level. He made quite the mark in Chicago, being named to three Pro Bowls and totaling 37.5 sacks in his four seasons with the Bears. However, Peppers will obviously be inducted into the Hall as a member of the Carolina Panthers, where he has spent the bulk of his career.
Jared Allen is also another legendary pass rusher who will more than likely find his way into the Hall when he becomes eligible in 2021. With the eleventh-most sacks in NFL history, Allen reached double digits in sacks eight times in his 12-year career. With five Pro Bowls, four All-Pros and consistency as a dangerous pass rusher, Allen will presumably become enshrined at some point. Allen only played in 18 games with the Bears, though, so he will not be inducted as a member of the Monsters of the Midway.
First year of eligibility: 2020
The Robin to Urlacher’s Batman, Lance Briggs was one of the best linebackers in the league for the better part of the 2000s. He was named to seven straight Pro Bowls, spanning from 2005 to 2011, and he was voted onto three All-Pro teams. Briggs topped 100 combined tackles eight times in his twelve-year career, cementing himself as one of the premier tacklers in the NFL.
Briggs has an impressive list of accomplishments - one that matches up with those of a few Hall of Famers - but it’s not a list that would stand out if compared to other Hall of Fame linebackers.
Briggs’ seven Pro Bowl appearances tie or surpass the individual number of appearances of eight of the 28 linebackers inducted into the Hall. However, of those eight linebackers, six of them had more All-Pro nominations than him, two of them won Defensive Player of the Year and four of them won an NFL championship or a Super Bowl. To add on to that, all but one of those eight linebackers - Ray Nitschke, who was a seven-time All-Pro and won five NFL championships - were inducted more than ten years after their playing careers had ended. Some had to wait far longer than that, including Dave Robinson, who had to wait 39 years after his retirement before he entered the Hall.
That said, Briggs will likely have to wait quite a while before he gets a bust with his face on it, if he gets inducted at all. It’s unfortunate, because he was truly one of the best linebackers in the league at his peak.
Chances of getting in: 35 percent
First year of eligibility: 2021
Charles “Peanut” Tillman will forever be known as one of the best fumble forcers in NFL history. The all-time leader among defensive backs with 44 forced fumbles, his patented “Peanut Punch” helped make him a fan favorite in the Windy City. Combined with his abilities in coverage - he deflected 126 passes and had 38 interceptions, eight of which having been returned for touchdowns - and Tillman was a feared cornerback for much of his career.
However, his résumé might not be impressive enough to secure him a spot in the Hall of Fame.
The main issue is the lack of recognition that Tillman received throughout his career. With two Pro Bowls and one All-Pro nomination, he would have the fewest number of each among all defensive backs inducted into the Hall of Fame if were inducted. Although Tillman arguably deserved more recognition for his talents, it’s the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Underrated.
Plus, although Tillman was a turnover machine in his own, unique way, his interception total isn’t necessarily Hall of Fame-worthy. In fact, his 38 interceptions are tied with twelve other players for just ninety-first in NFL history. Although that ranking is awe-inspiring when considering how many players have played in the league, it isn’t nearly as impressive when stacked up against the greatest defensive backs of all time.
Tillman also faces a stacked group of players to go up against when his first year of eligibility comes in 2021. Charles Woodson will also be eligible to enter the Hall that year, as well as other legends like Peyton Manning, Calvin Johnson and Jared Allen, just to name a few. In 2023, the likes of Kam Chancellor and Darrelle Revis will both be eligible for the Hall. Plus, legendary defensive backs like John Lynch, Steve Atwater and Ty Law have yet to have been inducted, and odds are that at least one of them will still be fighting for an induction when Tillman become eligible. Needless to say, he will be going up against a lot of talented defensive backs for a Hall of Fame nod when the time comes around.
Tillman will forever been known as one of the best defensive backs to ever put on a Chicago Bears uniform. Unfortunately for him, his chances of becoming a Hall of Famer aren’t very high.
Chances of getting in: 20 percent
First year of eligibility: 2022
Since it was opened in 1963, only three special teams players have ever been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Of those three, none of them are returners. That said, it would seem as though the odds are against Devin Hester to ever be enshrined, let alone as a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
But, since the Hall is meant to recognize game-changers at their respective positions, wouldn’t it make sense to include the best returner of all time?
Hester has the most punt return touchdowns in NFL history with 14, 13 of which having come as a member of the Bears. Add in his six kick returns for touchdowns - including his legendary kick return on the first play of Super Bowl XLI against the Indianapolis Colts - and Hester also holds the record for the most overall returns for touchdowns.
Hester surely won’t go into the Hall for his efforts as a wide receiver, even though his ability to step in right away and produce after converting from being a cornerback is admirable. That lack of impressive production at another position, though, would be the one thing that would hurt his chances the most.
Former Washington Redskins return specialist Brian Mitchell has the all-time record for most kick return and punt return yards, having been a reliable returner for 14 seasons. He was a mediocre backup running back at best, though - he never topped 350 rushing yards in a single season - so he will likely never make it into the Hall. Although Hester’s positional stats are better than Mitchell’s, it’s that lack of impressive production at another position that could hurt the returning dynamo’s chances of making it into the Hall.
It will likely take Hester quite a while to get inducted, but he was a unique returner whose dominance is unparalleled to any other returner in league history. If there’s anyone who can break the dry spell of returners in the Hall of Fame, it’s him.
Chances of getting in: 65 percent
Eligible for senior induction, was eligible for modern-era induction last year
Moving on to an older Bears legend, Jay Hilgenberg was one of the best offensive linemen in the team’s history. The seven-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro certainly has a great list of accolades to his name, and he was a key part of Chicago’s Super Bowl XX victory.
When comparing Hilgenberg to the twelve other centers inducted in the Hall of Fame, it’s fair to say that the former Bears standout fits right in. Only three centers have more Pro Bowl appearances than he does, and his five All-Pro appearances meet the benchmark for what a majority of Hall of Famers at the position have reached. Hilgenberg also has a Super Bowl to his credit, and having an NFL championship to your name is a strong boost for one’s Hall of Fame credentials.
The only thing that could be holding Hilgenberg back is his inability to gain traction as a modern-era Hall of Fame finalist. He has been eligible to enter the Hall since 1999, but has consistently failed to advance as a modern-era candidate. Now eligible to enter as a senior finalist, his résumé is more than good enough to earn himself a nomination through the senior committee.
Hilgenberg isn’t necessarily a lock for the Hall of Fame, but he does have the accomplishments necessary to do so. It might take him a while to make it in, but he figures to be a good bet to make it in eventually.
Chances of getting in: 75 percent
Eligible for senior induction
The only player on the NFL 1980s All-Decade first-team offense to not have been inducted into the Hall of Fame, Jim Covert was one of the best left tackles in the NFL for much of his career. He was a feared lineman who blended impressive technique with brute strength, and many of his opponents saw him as one of the best offensive linemen of his time. Teammates Richard Dent and Otis Wilson, the former of whom being a Hall of Famer himself, both told Windy City Gridiron in an interview last October that Covert deserved to make it into the Hall of Fame.
As well-respected as Covert may be among his peers, though, his résumé may not be good enough to be voted into the Hall.
Despite the All-Decade nod being a Herculean accomplishment, Covert has just two Pro Bowls to his name, in addition to two All-Pro nominations. There are only five offensive tackles in the Hall of Fame who have fewer Pro Bowl appearances, and all of them played a majority of their careers in the 1920s or 1930s. The Pro Bowl itself was created in 1938.
Covert also only played for nine seasons, which is fewer than any other offensive tackle who has been inducted into the Hall over the past 49 years. Although he was a starter for Chicago during all nine of those seasons, his nine seasons as a starter are still fewer than 186 of the 273 players in the Hall of Fame.
Covert is eligible as a senior candidate for the Hall, and he has the reputation and level of play of a true Hall of Famer. However, given his relatively short career and his lack of accolades throughout his tenure with the Bears, the odds of his making it into the Hall of Fame aren’t incredible.
Chances of getting in: 30 percent
Jacob Infante is a Chicago Bears writer at SB Nation’s Windy City Gridiron. He is also an NFL Draft writer at USA Today SMG’s Draft Wire. He can be reached through Twitter @jacobinfante24 or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.