Believe it. Bears might have four Hall of Famers in lineup
RICK TELANDER email@example.com January 6, 2011 10:00PM
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
This is the bye week, the week to speculate, so here goes:
The Bears might have four Hall of Fame players on the field when they play their NFC divisional playoff game at home on Jan. 16.
Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers, Devin Hester and Lance Briggs were recently voted to the 2010 Pro Bowl, and all four are working steadily toward the exalted status that comes from being enshrined in Canton, Ohio.
Yes, each has flaws, question marks, uncertainties, future concerns, crazy competition.
But then, other than Jim Brown, Marion Motley, Johnny Unitas, Alan Page, Jerry Rice, Lawrence Taylor and a handful of others, who didn’t?
Even in Bears history, the qualifications are daunting. You want to join George Halas, Red Grange, Gale Sayers, Dick Butkus, Walter Payton, Mike Ditka and pals, you better bring some credentials.
Comparisons are deceiving
The middle linebacker has been considered overrated by some, but then, overrated compared to what?
It may be the tall, athletic Urlacher’s misfortune to play in the same era as the Ravens’ squat, bulldozer-of-a-middle linebacker Ray Lewis. But Lewis is close to being the best football player of all time, and his style of mayhem only proves that there are at least two ways to play the head assassin on defense.
Indeed, Lewis plays like Butkus did. Urlacher plays like Jack Ham, like Jack Lambert, like former Bears star Mike Singletary, even — all of them Hall of Famers.
Once a safety, Urlacher plays like a lean-muscled deer, one with the neck of an elk, defending the pass and running to the sidelines as well as any middle linebacker ever.
He had three down years, the worst being 2009 when he missed almost the entire season because of an injured wrist. But at 32, he is back with a vengeance, leading the 2010 NFC North champion Bears with 141 tackles. He is the all-time tackles leader in Bears history. That makes him worthy right there.
A former Defensive Rookie of the Year and two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Urlacher will be playing in his seventh Pro Bowl, something only five Bears have done before — and all five are in the Hall of Fame.
Another year or two and the bullet-headed one is a lock.
Players respect Briggs
Outside linebacker Briggs is not only steady and ferocious, he has gotten his fellow NFL members’ attention. Starting in his third season, the 6-1, 242-pound Briggs has been selected to the Pro Bowl six straight years.
He’s still young, having turned 30 this season, and he and Urlacher have fed off one another the way two great entertainers do: by knowing each other’s habits, strengths and weakness so well that the pair is greater than the individual parts.
If Briggs plays at this level for four or five more years, he should make it to Canton.
Defensive end Peppers might not seem like a real Bear yet — he came to town as a free agent for about $90 million last spring — but he could leave his mark in Chicago like few defensive linemen ever.
He has been averaging slightly more than eight sacks per season since he joined the NFL in 2002, and this year he had those eight sacks plus two interceptions and three forced fumbles.
When the 6-7, 285-pound Peppers ran down Eagles sprinter-quarterback Michael Vick this season, it halfway blew people’s minds.
‘‘He’s as fast as our safeties,’’ coach Lovie Smith said.
This is the 30-year-old Peppers’ sixth Pro Bowl, and he shows no signs of mellowing out. It should tell us something when we consider Peppers is the team’s first defensive end chosen to play in Hawaii since Richard Dent was picked 17 years ago. (By the way, that Dent isn’t in the Hall of Fame is a travesty.)
Never anyone better than Hester
Last, we have wide receiver/kick returner/human blur Devin Hester.
Just 28, the 6-foot, 190-pound Hester has an unparalleled knack of making breaks with the football, shifting and then hitting something like sixth gear while other speedsters are left in the exhaust.
Simply as an oh-my-God game changer, there has never been anyone better than Hester. Like Barry Bonds, he makes opponents rethink logic. At his muscled-up peak, Bonds was walked no matter how many outs there were.
To kick to Hester or not is every coach’s nightmare. Three weeks ago he set an NFL record by returning a Vikings punt 64 yards for a touchdown, the 14th kick return for a TD in his career.
Hester’s receiving yardage is just gravy on the potatoes. If he runs back three or four more balls for touchdowns, or simply puts his return yardage way out there, he’s a first-ballot guarantee.
If there’s fairness in the world.
And two of those fairness questions always are: how many Super Bowls did you play in? How many did you win?
The Bears have a chance at their second Super Bowl in four years, and if they were to get to Dallas, or even — easy now — win the crown there, four of their players might be posing for bronze busts some day.