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Hester, Mongo, Peppers all reach Canton!

Devin Hester will be the first pure returner to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Kansas City Chiefs v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Let’s not waste time with an intro: what a day for your Chicago Bears!

A source has told Windy City Gridiron’s Bill Zimmerman that a trio of former Bears will be announced tomorrow night, Feb. 8, at the NFL Honors program as members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2024. The Chicago Sun-Times’s Jason Lieser has also reported the three Bears are in.

Update: It’s official: Steve McMichael, Julius Peppers, and Devin Hester are all members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2024. Also in the class are Dwight Freeney, Andre Johnson, Patrick Willis, and Randy Gradishar.

Devin Hester will be the first pure returner to reach Canton, elected as a modern-era candidate in his third year of eligibility.

Joining him will be Julius Peppers, who spent four years with the Bears from 2010 to 2013, Hester’s final four seasons with the team. Best known for his time with the Panthers, the great Peppers was elected in his first year of eligibility.

Rounding out the Bears trio is Steve McMichael, elected by the Hall’s senior committee. All three will be enshrined in Canton on August 3.

JACK SILVERSTEIN ON THE 3 BEARS

Julius Peppers, 2010-2013

  • 3x Pro Bowl with Bears, 2010-2012
  • 2010: 1st team All Pro, fourth in Defensive Player of the Year
  • Prize free agent signing in 2010 to lead Lovie Smith’s roster revamp en route to division championship
  • In just four seasons in Chicago, his 37.5 sacks are 15th in franchise history
Detroit Lions v Chicago Bears

We knew coming into this year that the committee was going to elect at least one wide receiver, and the second best bet was that Julius Peppers would be elected on his first ballot. The #2 pick in the 2002 NFL Draft, Peppers was a playmaking star as soon as he stepped on the field with Carolina, displaying an otherworldly mix of skills, athleticism, leadership, production, consistency and durability.

One of the truest marks of a Hall of Famer is how long you can make his case before mentioning any numbers. Peppers was that way. His big-play ability on the defensive line was unmatched. At defensive end, where he spent most of his career, his quickness and power helped him rack up ten double-digit sack seasons, the first in his first season and the last in his second-to-last season. He had the strength to move inside and play tackle, and then spent his three seasons on the Packers playing off the line as a 3-4 OLB.

He had six takeaway returns of 40 or more yards, including a career high 97-yard interception return in 2004. That’s the same number of 40-plus-yard takeaway returns as Brian Urlacher, who was faster and about 40 pounds lighter. Peppers’s athleticism and instinct allowed him to turn completed passes into batted balls, batted balls into interceptions and short returns into long ones.

I recall one such play he made in 2010, his first year with the Bears, against his ex-teammates in Carolina. Peppers was on the left side of the line, looping around the right tackle, who simply went low and threw his left shoulder into Peppers to try to knock him off balance. Carolina’s quarterback rifled a would-be WR screen while Peppers was leaning forward, yet in the time it takes Devin Hester to shift his weight on a punt return, Peppers extended his left arm skyward to bat the ball high into the air. His momentum took him to his knees but he never stopped tracking the ball, and was able to dive forward to complete the interception.

With most defensive ends, that would have been a completed screen pass. With a few others, a batted ball and incomplete pass. With Peppers, it was a takeaway.

In 17 seasons, Peppers was a nine-time Pro Bowler, six-time AP All Pro and was All-Decade in both the 2000s and 2010s. He is 2nd all-time in forced fumbles with 52 and 5th in sacks with 159.5.

Steve McMichael, 1981-1993

  • 2x Pro Bowl: 1986, 1987
  • 2x 1st team AP All Pro: 1985, 1987
  • Upon his retirement, 95 sacks were the most ever for a defensive tackle
  • Named to three Top 100 Bears lists in the summer of 2019, with the Tribune (18th), Bears (19th) and Windy City Gridiron (25th) all placing him in the top 25
  • Sixth player from the 1985 Bears in Canton, joining Walter Payton (class of 1993), Mike Singletary (1998), Dan Hampton (2002), Richard Dent (2011), Jim Covert (2020)
Washington Redskins v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

I wrote a lot about Steve McMichael’s Hall of Fame case in 2022, so I don’t have much more to say about him other than how thankful I am that this happened with him alive to know it and celebrate with his family.

My Mongo archives from 2022:

I also hope that Bears fans recognize that so many senior candidates are worthy and are also battling age and illness, albeit not as stark as ALS. Four days before the Hall announced its three senior finalists, nine-time Pro Bowl linebacker and NFL champion Maxie Baughan died at age 85. Two weeks later, 1960s All-Decade DB Eddie Meador passed away at age 86.

Both Baughan and Meador were in the final 12 of the senior pool; had either been elected, he would not have lived to see the announcement, much less the induction.

While Bears fans can and should rightly continue their pushes for Jay Hilgenberg and Wilber Marshall along with the great coach Clark Shaughnessy, we should all recognize that the senior pool is loaded with Hall-worthy players, many of whom are in their 70s or older. Of the 18 seniors elected in the past five classes, exactly half died before they were elected, including class of 2024’s Art Powell.

When you see other fans pushing for their guys, read up on them, find out what made them great and join the push. Congrats to Mongo and his family!

Devin Hester, 2006-2013

  • 3x Pro Bowl: 2006, 2007, 2010
  • 3x AP 1st team All Pro: 2006, 2007, 2010
  • 2x All-Decade: 2000s (punt return), 2010s (kick return)
  • Set or tied a Bears or NFL record on each of his NFL record 20 career return touchdowns
Green Bay Packers v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

If you thought I wrote a lot about Mongo, then woo! Did I ever write a lot about Devin. I’ll have more to say later but I’ll just say now that his induction at all, let alone in three years, is every bit as historic and monumental as his career.

I’ll leave #23 with the final word, from December 20, 2010, the day he passed Brian Mitchell for the most career combined kickoff and punt return touchdowns and tied Eric Metcalf for the most career punt return touchdowns:

“Just coming out of college, coaches told me I wasn’t going to be nothing but a kickoff and punt returner. … I’m here today to say that I am a kickoff and punt returner, but at the same time, I’m the best to ever do it.”

Amen, GOAT. See you in Canton.

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Jack M Silverstein is Chicago’s sports historian, Bears historian at Windy City Gridiron, a Pro Football Hall of Fame analyst with the Not In the Hall of Fame Committee, a contributor to PFHOF voter Clark Judge’s regular “Judge & Jury” series 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.

Bill Zimmerman is the Deputy Editor of Windy City Gridiron and the host of Bears Banter.