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BREAKING: Steve McMichael Named Pro Football Hall of Fame Finalist

The former Bears defensive tackle officially recognized for his greatness.

NFL: Super Bowl XX Manny Rubio-USA TODAY Sports

The Pro Football Hall of Fame’s senior committee has chosen three finalists for induction into the 2024 Class — and one of them will make Bears fans very happy.

Stephen Douglas McMichael, aka Mongo, aka Ming the Merciless, finally made it.

As announced today by the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the three finalists are:

  • Randy Gradishar, Broncos, All Pro middle linebacker of the famed Orange Crush defense, 1978 Defensive Player of the Year and this year’s favorite for induction
  • Steve McMichael
  • Art Powell, All Pro end (the precursor to WR), who spent most of his career in the AFL with the New York Titans (later the Jets) and Oakland Raiders

Gradishar, McMichael and Powell were selected by the 12-person senior committee, and in early 2024, likely mid-January, they will be presented to the full 50-person committee for a final vote.

While inclusion today as a finalist does not guarantee enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, recent history suggests that the final vote is essentially a formality. That would mean that an official announcement for Mongo is coming in about five-and-a-half months, with his induction a year away.

Still, the fact that Mongo has reached the cusp of Canton is incredible, and rather miraculous, as a year ago he was not even on the initial list of 25 senior semifinalists.

“So wait, is Mongo in or not?” The process, explained

Officially, McMichael and the other two seniors announced today are “finalists,” meaning they still have to be voted in.

Yet you might hear people who follow the Hall closely casually refer to these three finalists, along with coach/contributor finalist Buddy Parker, as “in.”

So which is it?

Here’s how it works.

McMichael, Gradishar and Powell were chosen by the 12-person senior committee, which includes Chicago’s Dan Pompei. The two-time NFL champion head coach Buddy Parker was chosen by a different committee, the 12-person coach/contributor committee. (Incredible insight in this recent Eye Test for Two podcast with voter Paul Kuharsky who presented Parker’s case.)

Those 24 voters are all part of the full 50-person committee, which votes on the modern-era candidates (Devin Hester, Julius Peppers, Andre Johnson, etc.) as well as the senior finalists and coach/contributor finalists.

In the same meeting when the full committee votes on the modern-era candidates, they will hold a yes-no vote on McMichael, Gradishar, Powell and Parker. Candidates are not pitted against each other and merely need to receive 80% “yes” vote for induction. The same will happen with the final five modern-era candidates, who also have to pass an 80% yes-no vote.

In recent years, this final vote has become a formality, as the full voting body has not rejected a finalist since 2017, and has not rejected a player finalist since 2012. The last time the full body rejected a finalist in a final vote:

  • Contributor: Paul Tagliabue, 2017
  • Senior: Dick Stanfel, 2012
  • Modern: Tagliabue, 2007
  • Modern-era player: Harry Carson and Michael Irvin, 2005

All four of those people were subsequently elected. With last year’s expansion of the senior pool from 1-2 candidates per year to up to three, and with the widely known challenge of breaking through the senior backlog, the 50-person committee rejecting a senior finalist would reflect poorly on the system without solving any problems, as a rejected candidate can not be swapped out for another candidate that same year.

In other words, if the full committee voted against McMichael in January, they wouldn’t be able to replace him with one of the other 12 semifinalists. And McMichael could pop back up in the future, meaning a vote against one of the senior finalists is merely leaving a candidate in the pool with no numerical upside. Rejecting a finalist would be a bad look for the voters and the new process.

How McMichael catapulted to the cusp of Canton

The senior committee performs an important service for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in recognizing individuals who may have fallen through the cracks during the modern-era selection process. It’s hard to imagine a body like McMichael’s falling through anything other than a table near a wrestling ring, but historically the Hall of Fame has overlooked certain positions, like McMichael’s defensive tackle spot.

Upon his retirement after 1994, McMichael’s 95 sacks were first all-time among defensive tackles. Due to players coming after him as well as the expansion of sacks from 1960 to 1981, today he ranks 8th among pure defensive tackles, trailing seven DTs all already enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and right in line with Hall of Famers Warren Sapp (96.5 sacks), Bob Lilly (95.5) and Merlin Olsen (91.0). (Note sack numbers quoted are from Pro Football Reference, which uses unofficial tallies from before the stat became official in 1982.)

Furthermore, the last two years have added two defensive tackles to the Pro Football Hall of Fame with similar resumes: Joe Klecko of the Jets via last year’s Senior Committee and Bryant Young, the 49ers great elected in the class of 2022.

McMichael was more than just sack numbers for the Chicago Bears. While the ‘80s Bears underachieved, the ‘80s Bears defense did not, especially from 1984 to 1988, in which they finished in the top 5 every year in both fewest yards allowed and fewest points allowed, finishing 1st in yards in ‘84, ‘85 and ‘86 and first in points in ‘85, ‘86 and ‘88.

That 1988 season is crucial to McMichael’s candidacy, as he was sometimes overlooked on a star-filled defense, viewed perhaps more as a benefactor of his great teammates Mike Singletary, Dan Hampton and Richard Dent, all in Canton, and Wilber Marshall, one of the top defenders on two champions: the ‘85 Bears and the ‘91 Washington team.

Yet Marshall went to Washington after 1987, and in 1988, the Bears D was back to #1 in the NFL. Hampton retired after the 1990 season, and in 1991 the Bears defense finished 9th in points and 4th in yards. Singletary retired after the 1992 season, and in 1993 the Bears defense finished 3rd in points and 4th in yards.

By then, McMichael and Dent were the only two defensive starters remaining from 1985, and were the leaders of a new generation of Bears defenders including 1993 Pro Bowlers Mark Carrier and Donnell Woolford, middle linebacker Dante Jones, who in 1993 set the Bears franchise record for tackles in a season with 189, a mark that stands today, and 100-sack man Trace Armstrong.

“I don’t know if Steve McMichael has ever really been considered for the Hall of Fame, but I think he’s as strong a candidate as anyone when you look at what he has done from a longevity standpoint and the way he has played,” Armstrong said in December of 1993. “He’s closing in on 100 sacks and, for a defensive tackle, that’s unheard of.”

A Hall of Fame personality that perhaps overshadowed a Hall of Fame career

The 1993 Bears aren’t discussed as a great defense, but they were the conclusion of a run that started in 1983 in which they finished in the top-5 in points and yards allowed seven times apiece, and peaked as perhaps the greatest defense in NFL history.

The only Bear defender to play in every game of that 11-year run was Steve McMcMichael.

Mongo brought a Hall of Fame personality that seemed larger than life wherever he went and helped give the famed Bears defenses of the 80s their edge and swagger.

In April of 2021, McMichael announced that he was diagnosed with ALS. According to, the mean life expectancy after diagnosis is two to five years. He now waits for an official vote in early 2024. But for now, he knows that he has been honored as one of the greatest players to ever put on an NFL uniform.

Jeff Berckes is assistant editor for Windy City Gridiron, hosts multiple podcasts, and runs livestreams on 2nd City Gridiron YouTube.

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.