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Some Bears great, but not Hall of Fame worthy

The Bears need a place of distinction for long-serving players without a chance of enshrinement in Canton

Mike Mulligan

7:15 PM CDT, October 23, 2012

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Somewhere between Brian Urlacher pushing Charles Tillman for Defensive Player of the Year and Jon Gruden hailing a group of All-Time Bears currently on the defense, the thought occurred that something important is missing from the franchise. No, not cheerleaders. But let's talk later.

Call it a Dallas-style Ring of Honor, a team Hall of Fame like Green Bay or a combo "Ring of Fame" a la the Redskins. The Bears need a place of distinction for long-serving players without a chance of enshrinement in Canton, Ohio.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame is at 2121 George Halas Drive NW and that is as close a connection some accomplished Bears players are ever going to get to glory. They and the fan base need a more realistic aspiration.

From Tillman to Brandon Marshall to Jay Cutler you can argue the Bears currently field players as good as any in team history at their positions. Impressive stuff when you consider the Bears lead the NFL with 30 Hall of Fame inductees, including 27 who spent the majority of their career with the franchise. Less impressive when you note that Sid Luckman would be listed as both quarterback and cornerback on any dream team of Bears Hall of Famers. And he'd line up opposite Red Grange in the defensive backfield.

Being the best for a franchise doesn't translate to being an all-time great. Call it Pat Mannelly syndrome.

Mannelly is the longest serving Bears player with team records for 221 games played and 15 years of service. He's as good a long snapper as you will ever see, but there is no room for him in a Pro Bowl, let alone the Hall of Fame.

Kicker Jan Stenerud is the only specialty player in the Hall of Fame and one of three kickers counting George Blanda, a longtime quarterback and Lou Groza, an offensive tackle.

Punter Ray Guy can't get into the Hall of Fame. Will Morten Andersen, the all-time leading scorer in NFL history, eventually make it? Robbie Gould is the fourth most accurate kicker in NFL history and boasts the five most accurate seasons in team history and he doesn't have a chance.

You hate to dismiss Devin Hester's chances since he's the most prolific returner in league history with a league-record 17 touchdowns, not counting another TD return of a missed field goal and a kickoff return for the fastest ever TD in a Super Bowl. But you can pretty much dismiss his chances.

In a league where 1,696 players are available every week, there are only 267 players in the Hall of Fame. Generally speaking you have to be among the top two or three at your position for a generation to be enshrined. And you can argue that selection is unfairly weighed toward offensive players, a trend that only promises to continue in an era where the record books are being rewritten.

A whopping 50.6 of all inductees are offensive players. That might sound balanced enough until you consider only 31.7 percent are defensive players. The rest are coaches and contributors to the game who make up 18.7 percent.

What does that mean for the likes of Julius Peppers, Urlacher, Lance Briggs or Tillman?

Again, you can argue that Tillman is the best cornerback in team history, but he doesn't have a shot at making the Hall of Fame. Since coming into the NFL, he is in the top 10 in every major category you would want from a cornerback. And since statistics on forced fumbles started being tracked in 1991, Tillman is one of only two players with 30 interceptions and 30 forced fumbles. The other guy is former Eagles safety Brian Dawkins, a nine-time Pro Bowl selection and six-time All Pro. Tillman has made just one Pro Bowl.

Defensive backs are poorly represented in the Hall of Fame with only 23, including 14 cornerbacks inducted in the modern era, which is roughly 1960 to present or 52 years. Not much of a strike ratio. Hall of Fame voters may argue about what to do with Ronde Barber, another zone cornerback. They will ever be blissfully unmoved by Tillman.

The current Bears most likely to make the Hall of Fame someday are Peppers and Urlacher, although both would be well-served with a championship to seal the deal. Peppers has 1031/2 sacks and is tied for 25th all-time in that category. The league has only been keeping track of sacks since 1982, but Peppers is a dominant player and will eventually make it. Urlacher has 411/2 sacks and 21 Interceptions, making him just one of four players in the 40/20 club.

One Hall of Fame voter said Tuesday that Urlacher reminded him of Randy Gradishar, a seven-time Pro Bowler who was the 1978 Defensive Player of the Year for Denver's very good, but not great, Orange Crush defense. Gradishar is still waiting to make the cut Urlacher also could experience a backlash for his overrated reputation, although he too should one day get the call.

Only 23 linebackers have made the Hall of Fame in the modern era, which is why it will be difficult for Briggs to make the cut if Urlacher does. Briggs has the longest running streak of Pro Bowl appearances by a defensive player with seven and is a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. He would be helped by a championship, a Defensive Player of the Year award or a tangible way out of Urlacher's shadow.

Cutler is another guy who has been to just one Pro Bowl. He's as good a quarterback as many Bears fans have seen in their lifetime and already ranks in the top five in most team passing records while currently enjoying the best career passer rating in team history. But that mark is just 81.0 percent. Luckman had a 75.0 passer rating because he threw 132 interceptions. Hopefully Cutler won't touch that record.

Marshall has made three Pro Bowls and is as good at his position as the Bears have seen. He's another guy better suited for a team Hall of Fame than the real one at this point.

Special contributor Mike Mulligan co-hosts "The Mully and Hanley Show" weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m. on WSCR-AM 670.