6:50 p.m. update: The original version of this story said Steve McMichael was a “finalist.” That’s because two weeks ago, the Hall announced a list of 31 senior “semifinalists.” Last year was the first year of the Hall releasing these rounds of senior candidates in the way they do the modern-era candidates; they called the first group “semifinalists” and the second group “finalists.”
However, today’s list is being called 12 “semifinalists” even though the list two weeks ago was also “semifinalists.” I imagine that’s because the final three candidates will be called “finalists.”
In order to make this story not run counter to the language the Hall is using while also not using their confusing language, I’m changing all references to “2024 finalists” to “2024 final 12.” Thanks!
In a stunning turn of events over the past two years, Bears legend Steve McMichael has gone from never reaching the Pro Football Hall of Fame semifinalist round as either a modern-era candidate or a senior candidate to being announced today as one of the final 12 in the senior pool.
While there is no direct connection between how a player performs as a modern-era candidate vs. how he performs as a senior, the shocker here is that McMichael has jumped in one year from outside the semis all the way to the finals despite an absolute loaded senior pool.
Here is Mongo’s case:
What comes next? Save the date: August 22
On Aug. 22, the 12 voters on the senior committee, including Dan Pompei, will meet to advance three seniors to the full board of selectors. The three who are selected aren’t official until the full board votes just before the Super Bowl, but for seniors, that is basically a rubber stamp. Here are the voters.
Who are the final 12?
Here are the list of the final 12, organized by their 2023 finish.
2023 finalist, finished 4th through 6th (i.e. the “next up”)
- Randy Gradishar, LB, 1974-1983
- Sterling Sharpe, WR, 1988-1994
Other 2023 finalists:
- Ken Anderson, QB, 1971-1986
- Maxie Baughan, LB, 1960-1974
- Eddie Meador, DB, 1959-1970
Other 2023 semifinalists:
- Roger Craig, RB, 1983-1993
- Joe Jacoby, OT, 1981-1993
- Otis Taylor, WR, 1965-1975
Not on the 2023 semifinalist list:
- Steve McMichael, DT, 1980-1994
- Art Powell, WR, 1959-1968
- Al Wistert, two-way lineman, 1943-1951
2023 modern-era finalist:
- Albert Lewis, CB, 1983-1998
Did any 2023 finalists not reach the 2024 final 12 list?
Yes, four, or one-third of the group. The biggest surprise was Dolphins guard Bob Kuechenberg, who was an eight-time modern-era semifinalist and finished in the “next three up” last year along with Gradishar and Sharpe.
The others were Packers quarterback Cecil Isbell, who played just five seasons through 1942, linebacker Tommy “Mr. Falcon” Nobis and Cowboys/Giants cornerback Everson Walls.
What does this all mean for Mongo? My quick reaction:
- He’s in the final 12! McMichael making the 12 is enormous, for many reasons, but perhaps the biggest is that until now, the voters have been voting on their own with no formal meetings. Obviously many voters talk to each other, and they might read articles that make the case for someone. But they only meet once, and that’s what ultimately sends people to Canton.
- Dan Pompei gets to make the case directly. While the modern-era committee has designated voters for each team, the senior committee does not. But our designated voter, Dan Pompei, is on the senior committee. He’s a hugely respected figure and he now gets to make McMichael’s case to the other 11 voters, and help drive debate and discussion.
- No other Bears, no other modern d-linemen. There was only one other modern defensive lineman in the semis, and Mongo passed him: Vikings great Jim Marshall. So with no other Bear and no other true d-lineman, Mongo holds his own lane.
- No guarantees. As you can see above, reaching the 12 does not mean you’re going to stay there the next year. Even Kuechenberg fell. With Gradishar and Sharpe holding the inside track (and Gradishar basically a lock — I would be stunned if he’s not elected — that means there is essentially one open slot.
- The super-senior factor. There is a push on to elect “super seniors.” Different people define that differently, whether pre-NFL/AFL merger, pre-Super Bowl era, pre-1950 substitution rule or pre-World War II. However you define it, Gradishar and Sharpe are definitely not super seniors, nor is McMichael.
- The Al Wistert factor. As both a super-senior and a lineman, Al Wistert could be the person getting that final slot. And that would be bad news for Mongo, as even a 4-6 finish brings no guarantees the next year.
In any case, this is a huge deal for McMichael, his family and Bears fans everywhere. With 1-2 slots available (again, I’m guessing only one, as Gradishar is a lock and Sharpe seems super-duper likely), everything will come down to the voter meeting. We shall see!
But wait: What about Clark Shaughnessy and Virginia McCaskey?
They are in the coach/contributor category. Shaughnessy, the architect of the modern-T formation with the Bears in 1940 and then worked with the Bears defense from 1951 to 1962, including as defensive coordinator, made the list of final 12 coach/contributors. Virginia McCaskey, in her first ever PFHOF consideration, did not.
Shaughnessy is a long-shot for the one candidate from this group. The frontrunner appears to be Bob Kraft. That vote, per voter Clark Judge, is Aug. 15.
Do Wilber Marshall and Jay Hilgenberg still have a shot at Canton?
Yes, as senior candidates. But something will need to change in the way that voters view their cases.
What about Devin Hester and the other Lovie-era standouts?
They are modern-era candidates, and that vote doesn’t start until the fall.
Jack M Silverstein is Chicago’s sports historian, Bears historian at Windy City Gridiron, and author of the forthcoming “6 Rings: The Bulls, The City, and the Dynasty that Changed the Game.” His newsletter, “A Shot on Ehlo,” brings readers inside the making of the book, with original interviews, research and essays. Sign up now, and say hey at @readjack.