The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced today its list of 102 modern-era nominees for the class of 2019, and four Bears (and kind of five) made the cut. Here is everything you need to know about what happens next.
So, who are the nominated Bears?
Thanks for asking! They are:
- Olin Kreutz, center, 1998-2010 (played 2011 with the Saints)
- Dave Krieg, quarterback, 1996 (played from 1980-1998, with 12 years in Seattle)
- Wilber Marshall, linebacker, 1984-1987 (played until 1995 with four teams, mostly Washington)
- Clark Shaughnessy, coach, 1951-1962 as defensive coordinator (and famously helped design the T-Formation before the 1940 NFL championship between the Bears and D.C.)
Also nominated is Richie Petitbon, who played the first 10 of his 14-year career with the Bears and starred on the 1963 championship team, but is nominated as a coach with Washington. He served under Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs as defensive coordinator from 1981 to 1992, where he guided a dominant defense to three Super Bowl victories.
Does Patrick Mannelly think any of these former Bears belong in the Hall of Fame?
He sure does! I don’t know what he thinks about Krieg, Marshall, Petitbon or Shaughnessy, but last year Mannelly told me that Kreutz was one of eight of his former teammates whom he considers Hall-worthy (including the already-inducted Orlando Pace, and the since-inducted Urlacher).
How do people get nominated?
Anyone can nominate someone for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, provided potential nominee meets the requirements. For example, I was among those last year who nominated Olin Kreutz for 2019.
Is anyone else nominated other than that list of 102?
Yes. Along with the modern-era nominees, there is a senior committee for people who have been retired for 25 or more years, and a contributor committee for non-players and coaches.
The class of 2019 has one senior finalist and two contributor finalists. They are:
- Senior finalist: Johnny Robinson, safety, Dallas Texans / Kansas City Chiefs
- Contributor finalist: Pat Bowlen, owner/executive, Denver Broncos
- Contributor finalist: Gil Brandt, executive, best known with the Cowboys
(For folks looking for more information on Robinson, longtime Chargers wide receiver and Hall of Famer Lance Alworth laid out the case last month for his old opponent.)
How and when will the class of 2019 be elected to the Hall of Fame?
In five rounds of voting between this November and the day before Super Bowl LIII, the 48-member selection committee will select the class of 2019, which will include up to five modern-era nominees.
The rounds of voting:
- 25 semifinalists: November
- 15 semifinalists: January 2019
- 10 finalists: Day before Super Bowl LIII
- 5 finalists: Day before Super Bowl LIII
- Class of 2019: Day before Super Bowl LIII
Each of these slots will also include votes on the other three finalists, though those numbers are outside of the modern-era nominees.
On the day before Super Bowl LIII, the selection committee will meet and vote in Atlanta (home of the Super Bowl). They will trim the list from 15 to 10 and then from 10 to five. They will then give a “yes” or “no” vote to each remaining candidate. Each candidate must receive at least 80% “yes” votes to be inducted.
Who is in the selection committee?
Each NFL team has one voter from that team’s city (so two each from New York and Los Angeles, for instance), and then there are 16 at-large voters. The full list of voters is here. When the committee meets the day before the Super Bowl, each finalist will have his case presented by the voter from his city.
Here is a great inside look at the wheeling, dealing and cajoling that takes place during the voting process, from Sports Illustrated’s Robert Klemko in 2014.
Who is the Chicago voter?
That would be Dan Pompei, now of Bleacher Report, The Athletic and WSCR. Pompei wrote a great column last year explaining how he planned to present Brian Urlacher’s case, for example, a plan that obviously worked.
Have any of the four (five) Bears ever advanced past the initial nominee pool?
Yes. Clark Shaughnessy was a finalist in 1970, 1975 and 1976, and although I cannot find him listed as such by either Pro Football Hall of Fame or Pro Football Reference, multiple sources cite him as a semifinalist in 2010.
Wait a second — where the heck is Jay Hilgenberg? Hasn’t he been nominated recently?
Yes, he has, but since he retired 25 years ago, Hilgenberg is now eligible only within the seniors committee.
You know who is one of the nine voters on the seniors committee? Why, none other than Dan Pompei! If anyone can lead the charge for Hilgenberg, it’s Dan. Our own Jacob Infante gives Hilgenberg a 75% chance of getting in.
Which nominees are in their first year of eligibility? And why does that matter?
In the spirit of Groucho Marx, I’ll answer the second question first.
The nominees in their first year of eligibility matter because these are the people who have never been nominated and thus have a chance to “bump” other people who have been nominated previously. In other words, just because a player or coach was a finalist last year does not mean they’ll get in this year, because newly eligible nominees might supersede them.
Offensive tackle Mike Kenn and linebacker Karl Mecklenburg, for instance, are each nominees this year in their 20th year of eligibility. If they are not elected, they will go into the pool of potential senior nominees.
And of course last year’s Hall of Fame class included four inductees in their first year of eligibility, including our own Brian Urlacher.
As for the first question, here is the list of nominees in their first year of eligibility:
- Champ Bailey, cornerback — Washington, Broncos
- London Fletcher, linebacker — Rams, Bills, Washington
- Tony Gonzalez, tight end — Chiefs, Falcons
- Ed Reed, safety — Ravens, Texans
Who were the other 10 finalists in 2018?
Included on the nominee list automatically is anyone who received at least four votes for finalist the previous year. Two of last year’s finalists, Joe Jacoby and Everson Walls, were in their final year of modern-era eligibility, and hence will have to be voted in as seniors.
The remaining eight finalists of 2018 who are nominated this year:
- Tony Boselli, offensive tackle — Jaguars, Texans
- Isaac Bruce, wide receiver — Rams, 49ers
- Alan Faneca, offensive guard — Steelers, Jets
- Steve Hutchinson, offensive guard — Seahawks, Vikings
- Edgerrin James, running back — Colts, Cardinals, Seahawks
- Ty Law, cornerback — Patriots, Jets (two stints), Chiefs, Broncos
- John Lynch, safety — Buccaneers, Broncos
- Kevin Mawae, center — Seahawks, Jets, Titans
Which of the five Bears has the best chance to get elected in 2019?
As I have explained in articles about the Hall of Fame credentials of Peanut Tillman, Devin Hester, and our Packers rival Sterling Sharpe, the Hall of Fame process has its share of flaws, as does any Hall.
With that considered, I would rank the odds like this, from least to most likely:
5. Dave Krieg. He made three Pro Bowls in his 19-year career. Other quarterbacks nominated include league MVPs (Randall Cunningham, Steve McNair), a Super Bowl runner-up (Donovan McNabb) and a four-time Pro Bowler (Jeff Garcia). I don’t expect Krieg to reach the semifinals.
4. Richie Petitbon. If Petitbon gets in, he would be the first inductee enshrined primarily for his time as a coordinator. As one of 11 coaching nominees on an imposing list that includes Don Coryell, Bill Cowher, Tom Flores, Mike Holmgren, Jimmy Johnson and Dick Vermeil, it is unlikely.
(Shout out to Petitbon, by the way, a dynamic defensive back whose 37 interceptions as a Bear puts him 2nd in franchise history, one behind leader Gary Fencik and one behind Peanut Tillman. He holds the record for the longest defensive touchdown in Bears history, a 101-yard pick-six against the Rams in 1962. And he had one of the team’s five interceptions in the 1963 championship game. Jacob drafted him in the WCG All-Time Fantasy Draft, so you can learn more about him here.)
3. Clark Shaughnessy. I am putting Shaughnessy ahead of Petitbon only because he has made it past the initial round of nominees. One of the problems with the Hall of Fame process that I haven’t yet written about is that the coaching nominees really should have a separate category apart from the players, just like the seniors and the contributors.
Furthermore, someone like Shaughnessy should be nominated as a contributor rather than a coach, considering that his work on the T-Formation when he was not even an NFL coach is one of the foundations of his candidacy. Back in 1975, five years after his death at the age of 78, sports editor George Puscas of the Detroit Free Press called Shaughnessy “the most inventive genius of modern football,” noting that “For sure, one of these years, Clark Shaughnessy will make it.”
Forty-three years later, and 126 years after his birth, Shaughnessy still hasn’t made it. But his candidacy remains a hot one. If any bygone nominee deserves to wiggle through the process and into the Hall, it’s Shaughnessy.
2. Wilber Marshall. Marshall only spent four seasons in Chicago but left his mark and then some. He was a starter on the famed ‘85 Bears, was first-team All Pro in 1986 and made the Pro Bowl in 1986 and 1987. His departure from the team in 1988 — when the Bears declined to match Washington’s offer sheet — is one of the significant flashpoints that defined the fall of our would-be dynasty. Marshall went on to star in Washington for five seasons; he was a starter on their victorious Super Bowl team of 1991 and was named first-team All Pro in 1992. His final season was 1995 with the Jets.
Since then, he has been discussed as a possible Hall of Famer but his candidacy has never blossomed. He has been vocal about his disappointment in his lack of advancement, let alone enshrinement. The problem now is that this marks his 18th year of eligibility, and the last time a player was elected even after 10 years of eligibility was Terrell Davis who got in with the class of 2017 in his 11th year, and who would have been in the running for a first-ballot selection if his career wasn’t cut terribly short by injuries.
The good news for Marshall is that the last two players to come close to his 18 years before getting elected were both linebackers: both Charles Haley (2015) and Kevin Greene (2016) were elected in their 14th year of eligibility.
Marshall has four more years than those guys, trails each in Pro Bowls, and does not have a singular statistic to point to the way that Greene and Haley have sacks. Marshall’s competition at linebacker includes 2018 semifinalists Mecklenburg and Leslie O’Neal.
1. Olin Kreutz. Olin was arguably the top center of his era, and was honored as such when he was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 2000s, behind fellow 2019 nominee and two-time finalist Kevin Mawae. Mawae made the round of 10 each of the past two years, so the odds are good that he will go in ahead of Kreutz.
But not only will Kreutz likely have to wait behind Mawae, he likely is also in direct competition with the rest of the offensive line nominees, including 2018 finalists Boselli, Faneca and Hutchinson.
Centers in general tend to get hosed in the Hall voting. Of the 45 modern-era offensive linemen in the Hall, only eight are strictly centers. The last modern-era center to get in was Dermontti Dawson in 2012, his 7th year of eligibility. To find the last five modern-era centers enshrined, you have to go all the way back to Jim Langer, who was first ballot in 1987, and that’s only if you count Bruce Matthews in 2007, who played less than 30% of his career at center.
Compare that to the last five wide receivers (which takes us back to Andre Reed in 2014), or the last five running backs ( back to Marshall Faulk in 2011) or the last five quarterbacks (Steve Young in 2005).
Simply being nominated for the Hall is an honor, as Olin would be the first to tell you. I’ll be writing my own picks for the 2019 class at some point between now and November, but I’ll just say now that I hope the coming years will see more equality in honoring players of different positions.
I will be writing about the Hall of Fame process all the way through to the announcement in February, so if you have any questions, whether procedural, historical, or opinionated, feel free to reach out on Twitter or drop something in the comments of my most recent HOF story. I accept all fascinating and daring football research challenges.
Jack M Silverstein is Windy City Gridiron’s Bears historian, and author of “How The GOAT Was Built: 6 Life Lessons From the 1996 Chicago Bulls.” He is the proprietor of Chicago sports history Instagram “A Shot on Ehlo.” Say hey at @readjack.