Best Bears players not headed to Hall

Posted Mar 8, 2018

One NFL writer thinks Jim McMahon is the best player in Bears history who will never be voted into the Hall of Fame. Senior writer Larry Mayer weighs in with four other possibilities.

Jim McMahon
Former Bears quarterback Jim McMahon during a Bears win over the Cowboys in 1988.

Inspired by his belief that former Bears running back Matt Forte deserves to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Adam Rank wrote an interesting feature on this week.

In the piece, Rank picks the best player from each NFL team who will never be enshrined into the Hall of Fame. For the Bears, he selects quarterback Jim McMahon, a fierce competitor and leader who helped the franchise win its first Super Bowl title, capping a magical 1985 season.

McMahon's stats were pedestrian by today's standards; he threw for 2,392 yards with 15 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and an 82.6 passer rating in 1985. But the punky QB's value to the team was undeniable. It was especially evident in 1986 and '87 when the Bears lost in the playoffs without an injured McMahon after posting records of 14-2 and 11-4.

While McMahon was an excellent leader and fearless quarterback, I feel there are four Bears more deserving of Hall of Fame consideration who likely will never be honored in Canton:

1) Ed Sprinkle

The ferocious defensive end, who was once described by George Halas as "the greatest pass rusher I've ever seen," played his entire 12-year NFL career with the Bears from 1944-55. Sprinkle was voted to four Pro Bowls and named to the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 1940s.

Sprinkle was labeled "the meanest man in football" in a 1950 article in Collier's Weekly. But the Bears star always stressed that he played within the rules. "I never really played dirty football in my life," Sprinkle once said. "But I'd knock the hell out of a guy if I got the chance."

2) Jay Hilgenberg

Hilgenberg was selected to start seven straight Pro Bowls from 1985-91 and was named all-pro in five consecutive seasons from 1986-90, clear evidence that he was the most dominant center of his era. After arriving in Chicago as an undrafted free agent from Iowa, he anchored one of the greatest offensive lines in NFL history.

During the prime of Hilgenberg's career, the Bears led the league in rushing for four straight seasons from 1983-86, captured five consecutive NFC Central championships from 1984-88 and won Super Bowl XX.

3) Jimbo Covert

Covert teamed with Hilgenberg, playing all nine of his NFL seasons at left tackle with the Bears from 1983-91. Selected with the sixth pick in the 1983 draft out of Pittsburgh, Covert was selected to two Pro Bowls and was named to the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 1980s.

A dominant blocker with a mean streak, Covert helped the Bears win six division championships and appear in three NFC Championship Games.

4) Charles Tillman

Tillman played 12 of his 13 NFL seasons with the Bears. He was voted to two Pro Bowls, helped the team win three division championships and one conference title, and was named the 2014 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year. Fueled by his patented "Peanut Punch," he forced 42 fumbles, including a career-high 10 in 2012.

Tillman also set Bears records with nine defensive touchdowns, eight interception return TDs and 675 interception return yards. His 36 interceptions are the most by a cornerback in franchise history and third most overall behind safeties Gary Fencik (38) and Richie Petitbon (37).