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Taking a behind-the-scenes look at Hall of Fame process

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Super Bowl LII isn't the only life-changing event that will take place this weekend in Minnesota.

On the day before the championship game between the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles, the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee will meet to select the Class of 2018.

This is of particular interest to Bears fans this year, of course, because former star middle linebacker Brian Urlacher is one of 15 modern-era finalists.

Urlacher's case for induction will be presented by longtime writer Dan Pompei, the Chicago representative on the 48-person Selection Committee. The committee consists of one media member from each geographical area with a current NFL team, a 33rd representative from the Pro Football Writers of America and 13 at-large delegates.

Pompei, who has covered the NFL since the 1980s, was given the 2013 Dick McCann Award by the Pro Football Writers of America for long and distinguished reporting in the field of pro football.

According to Pompei—who recently spoke to ChicagoBears.com about the process and Urlacher's candidacy—the committee meets in a hotel ballroom, sitting around a large rectangular or horseshoe-shaped table. Hall of Fame president David Baker and executive director Joe Horrigan open the proceedings by addressing the group.

The committee begins by voting for two senior finalists (linebacker Robert Brazile and guard Jerry Kramer) as well as a contributor candidate (general manager Bobby Beathard). They must receive the same 80 percent affirmative vote as the modern-era finalists to be enshrined.

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NFL Hall of Fame writer Dan Pompei presents the Bears Good Guy Award.

After those votes are taken, presentations begin for the 15 modern-era finalists.

"I wouldn't say they're similar," Pompei said. "Each person has their own angle and their own way of doing it. Each person gives a little speech about why the candidate they're representing is a good candidate. They talk about his accomplishments and what made him special.

"After the person's finished talking, the floor is open for discussion about that candidate. Different people chime in with different thoughts and questions and then the presenter has a chance at the end to refute anything, wrap it up or add anything that he would like to add."

Pompei has done his homework and will be prepared for just about anything.

"There's usually not an attack on a candidate," he said. "But if you have a candidate as I have a candidate this year, I will try to find out what the potential knocks against him are so I'm prepared to refute those knocks if in fact they come up."

Pompei isn't expecting many negative comments about Urlacher and is convinced that the former Bears great deserves to be voted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

"He won defensive rookie of the year, he won defensive player of the year, he was an eight-time Pro Bowler," Pompei said. "I think that shows he was a dominant player initially. He was one of the very best players in the league and he was a player who sustained success.

"The only players who accomplished what he accomplished—defensive rookie, defensive player and at least eight Pro Bowls—were "Mean" Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, Lawrence Taylor and Charles Woodson. So he's in some really rare company.

"I think he was kind of a transcendent talent because of his combination of size, athleticism and football intelligence. I don't know if there ever was another player quite like him who really took that position in Lovie Smith's defense and redefined it. I think he was really special that way."

Because Pompei is giving the presentation for Urlacher, he conceded that he feels responsible for helping the former Bears star get into the Hall of Fame.

"Here's how I feel," Pompei said. "If he gets in, it's all on him. If he doesn't, I'm going to feel pretty bad that I blew it because I think he deserves to get in.

"You always feel a little pressure because you want the right thing to happen and like I said he deserves it in my opinion. So there's always a little pressure on you. But pressure is good. Pressure brings out the best in people."

The other 15 modern-era finalists are tackles Tony Boselli and Joe Jacoby; safeties Brian Dawkins and John Lynch; receivers Isaac Bruce, Randy Moss and Terrell Owens; guards Alan Faneca and Steve Hutchinson; running back Edgerrin James; cornerbacks Ty Law and Everson Walls; linebacker Ray Lewis; and center Kevin Mawae.

Once the presentations are over, the committee will pare the list from 15 to 10 and then from 10 to 5. Each of the final five candidates must then receive an 80 percent affirmative vote to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. There is no set number of new enshrinees, but the committee's rules stipulate that between four and eight new members will be selected each year.

All ballots are collected and counted by the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche. No vote totals are announced—only the winners of the various reduction ballots are revealed to the selectors and Hall of Fame representatives.

The selection meeting generally takes about eight hours. While that certainly makes for a long day, Pompei has enjoyed serving on the committee for the past 11 years.

"It's a great privilege and it's a great honor," he said. "It's something that's very important and I take very seriously. And I'm very happy to be able to help a process that changes lives and I think really is an important part of the NFL experience."

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