Why offensive linemen merit a look even with 28 Bears in hall of fame

Jay Hilgenberg, Jimbo Covert should be among Bears being considered for future induction.

A weekend seeing six Bears players wearing Pro Football Hall of Fame jackets, and busts of all 28 team members enshrined in Canton at the team's 100-year celebration, made one thing apparent.

There needs to be more Bears in the hall of fame.

Considering the Bears have the most in already, the idea probably seems greedy to some.

Yet, it's not difficult to make arguments for players like Steve McMichael, Wilber Marshall, Lance Briggs or Charles Tillman on defense. McMichael, for example, has stats almost identical to Bucs hall of famer, Warren Sapp, except, McMichael made almost 300 more career tackles.

What's really criminal is how the Bears' offensive line has been slighted.

In particular, center Jay Hilgenberg and left tackle Jimbo Covert deserve consideration from the Super Bowl era while center Olin Kreutz is another who might eventually find his way to Canton.

Both Hilgenberg and Covert have been on the ballot in the past. Hilgenberg played for the Bears from 1981 through 91, had a 13-year NFL career, and began starting in 1983, the same season Covert became starter.

Hall of fame defensive end Richard Dent doesn't see how it's possible the Bears have no one from their offensive line enshrined considering Walter Payton's rushing yardage.

"People assumed Walter would gain yards with no blocking," Dent said. "That's something that you see for a while, but yet when that '83 (draft) class came in, those guys were blocking, those guys were making a lot of things happen.

"And I just think it's worthy without a doubt for a guy like Jimbo Covert."

Dent went against Covert daily in practice and called it great preparation for Sundays.

"I knew I wasn't going to face anybody better than him," Dent said.

Dent confirmed what Bill Parcells pointed out -- Covert was the only player they went against who needed no help blocking Lawrence Taylor.

Both Bears linemen have plenty of awards and honors, which often are critical for linemen because statistics are difficult to use for blockers.

Hilgenberg made seven Pro Bowls and twice was All-Pro, while Covert was in the Pro Bowl twice and twice an All-Pro. And Covert made the NFL's 1980s All-Decade team.

The Bears led the NFL in rushing each year from 1983 through 1986 with those two on the line.

"I mean, it is what it is, but if you took the concepts that we had, what we were coached by Dick Stanfel in the run game, you could devastate run defenses now in the NFL," Hilgenberg said.

Obviously they had Walter Payton running the ball, but he was 29 through 32 years old when they ranked No. 1. That's senior citizen age for running backs. While Payton was still great, he benefited from the great blocking more then.

In the three years after Payton retired, the Bears were third and second twice in rushing behind Neal Anderson, so the line with Hilgenberg and Covert on it still produced holes for the running game.

Longevity often is a question for players going into the hall of fame, unless they were a spectacularly gifted player like running back Gale Sayers obviously was.

In Covert's case, it's often brought up how he had back problems that limited him to eight seasons, with two of those partial seasons.

If that's an argument against, though, explain how Dwight Stephenson is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Dolphins center played as many seasons as Covert, but only had four seasons when he played more than nine games. Covert started 23 games more than Stephenson. Hilgenberg played the same position and started 65 more games.

It's always pointed out how Stephenson was the key blocker for Dan Marino, and the Dolphins were first or second in passing in each of Marino's first four years with Stephenson still in the lineup. With Stephenson in the lineup, the Dolphins were first in fewest sacks allowed six straight seasons.

However, Marino's quick release and pocket savvy entered into this, besides the blocking. After all, the Dolphins led the league in fewest sacks allowed during the two years right after Stephenson retired, too, and they allowed fewer sacks then for each season (7 and 10) than at any time when Stephenson was playing.

This isn't to suggest Stephenson doesn't deserve to be in the hall of fame, but rather to point out this: If his career is a standard, both Covert and Hilgenberg are on equal footing. And they should be wearing hall of fame jackets in the future.

Twitter@BearsOnMaven

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Gene Chamberlain
EditorGene Chamberlain
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Gene Chamberlain
EditorGene Chamberlain
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