I don’t have a better reason for being a lifelong Chicago Bears fan than this: I was 13 when the team drafted Walter Payton.
Done and done. I’m a Bears fan because I’m a Walter Payton fan and he never played football for anyone else, Emmitt Smith. He never ran out of bounds, Franco Harris. He gave us every yard in his remarkable legs, Jim Brown. He never got disgusted with his sorry team and quit, Barry Sanders, and he never got broken, Billy Sims.
Walter Payton was God’s idea of a Chicago Bears player, and he was most deserving of his Hall of Fame induction.
The good news is that Payton was not the only Bear to find his way into Canton; no franchise has more players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The better news is that there is always room for a few more. To that end, allow me to introduce you to five fellows who soldiered alongside Payton at Soldier Field who have yet to be enshrined.
5. Strong Safety Doug Plank – You don’t know his name, but you know his number. Mad genius defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan never called players by their names, but he liked Plank so much he designed a defense around him. You might have heard of it: the 46. Because Plank was so adept at causing general havoc wherever he was, Ryan concocted a scheme that mirrored Plank’s antisocial tendencies, culminating in what looked like a defensive jailbreak for the quarterback, with offensive linemen getting treated like traffic cones and receivers being mauled without mercy. It will be easy to argue that Plank doesn’t have great interception numbers, to which I’d reply that his tackling numbers would get him in by themselves…if tackling was kept as an official statistic when he played. Still, the freakin’ 46 was named for this guy? Put him in!
4. Running Back Neal Anderson – How is John Riggins in the Hall of Fame and Neal Anderson isn’t? Seriously, look at Riggo’s “numbers” and you’ll see a guy that played for a long time and only had a couple of good seasons. Anderson, on the other hand, only had to be The Guy Who Followed You-Know-Who. Think about anyone that has had to follow an immortal; in most cases, they suffered because of the constant comparison. Anderson, however, was a 4-time Pro Bowl player and 3-times 1st Team All Conference and, like Payton before him, bore the brunt of the entire offense. Anderson gets lost in the wash of Walter Payton’s illustrious career, and it’s high time he gets recognized.
3. Linebacker Wilber Marshall – He was a 3-time Pro Bowl linebacker, twice 1st Team All Pro, and the 1992 NFC Defensive Player of the Year, but that doesn’t begin to tell the story. When Marshall played for the Bears, his name might as well have been “felonious assault with intent.” Don’t take my word for it: the Youtube clip of Marshall destroying Lions QB Eric Hipple (at around the 3:16 mark) should come with one of those Parental Advisory labels. This guy lived to light people up and played all over the field. Besides his personal awards, he was an integral part of two Super Bowl champion defenses (the Bears and later the Redskins). Wilber Marshall was the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth when he played.
2. Center Jay Hilgenberg – Dwight Stephenson this and Mike Webster that, when is Jay Hilgenberg finally going to get the love he deserves? This guy was Walter Payton’s center and all he did was manage 7 Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl while being the fulcrum of the legendary Bruise Brothers offensive line. Hilgenberg was both smart and tough and more than able to handle whatever an opponent threw at him because he practiced against the best defense in the business every day. Seriously, this is an oversight that needs to be corrected immediately because Hilgenberg is one of the game’s all-time best at his position.
1. Tackle Jimbo Covert – He and safety Kenny Easley are the only two First Team 1980s All-Decade members not in the Hall of Fame. How can an offensive tackle be named in the same breath as none other than Anthony Munoz (the other First Team 1980s All-Decade tackle), be considered as the best at his position for an entire decade, and not be a member of the Hall of Fame? Like Munoz, Covert re-defined the position; tackles went from being athletic, Forrest Gregg-types to monstrous, Covert types. I saved Covert for last because his argument for Canton is the easiest to make: he was recognized as being the best among the best by the people who played with and against him.