State Your Case: Why Jim Covert deserves far greater HOF consideration


Jim Covert photo courtesy of the Chicago Bears

The revival of Tony Boselli as a Hall-of-Fame candidate should, logically, trigger a revival of Jim Covert’s candidacy.

Boselli was an elite left tackle for the Jacksonville Jaguars and was voted to the NFL’s first-team all-decade team for the 1990s. But it took him nine years to finally get into the Hall-of-Fame conversation, emerging as a first-time semifinalist for the Class of 2016 and then a first-time finalist for the Class of 2017.

Boselli’s candidacy appeared to be falling through the cracks because of the relative shortness of his career. He was a dominant blocking force for only six seasons before a series of shoulder injuries and surgeries forced him to retire after playing only 91 career games.

All 10 of Boselli’s fellow first-team all-decade selections on offense from the 1990s have been enshrined in Canton, so discussion of his own Hall-of-Fame candidacy was long overdue.

And the discussion of Covert’s candidacy is even longer overdue. There were 22 position players, both on offense and defense, named to the 1980s’ NFL all-decade team. All except one have busts in Canton. Covert is the lone omission — and he’s never even been a Hall-of-Fame semifinalist, much less a finalist.

Like Boselli, Covert played left offensive tackle, the cornerstone position of NFL offensive lines. But unlike Boselli, Covert’s candidacy is running out of time. Players have a 25-year window of eligibility as modern-era candidates before tumbling into the abyss that is the senior pool. Covert enters his 22nd year of eligibility when the list of preliminary candidates is distributed for the Class of 2018.

Covert deserves far greater consideration than he’s been given thus far.

Covert was a power player as an All-America at Pitt who became a perfect fit for what the Chicago Bears wanted to do on offense. Chicago ran the ball and played defense under Mike Ditka, physically mashing opponents on both sides of the line of scrimmage, controlling both the clock and the opponent. As an added perk, Covert spent his last three college seasons at Pitt polishing his pass blocking skills as the blind-side protector of Dan Marino.

So Chicago claimed Covert with the sixth overall pick of the 1983 draft and plugged him in as the starting left tackle as a rookie. Covert was named to the NFL all-rookie team as the Bears finished 8-8 and led the NFL in rushing. Covert was voted a team captain in his second season in 1984 when Chicago again led the NFL in rushing and reached the NFC championship game against San Francisco.

The Bears and Covert both reached the heights in 1985. Chicago went 15-1 and won its first Super Bowl with a 46-10 demolition of the New England Patriots, and Covert was selected to the first of his two Pro Bowls. He also was voted the NFL’s Lineman of the Year by the NFLPA.

The Bears led the NFL in rushing in each of Covert’s first four seasons, with Walter Payton averaging 1,497 yards. Payton became the NFL’s all-time leading rusher when he rushed for 154 yards in a 1984 game against the New Orleans Saints.

The Bears would finish in the NFL’s Top 3 in rushing in seven of Covert’s eight seasons, and Chicago would have a 1,000-yard rusher in seven of them. The only season Chicago didn’t finish in the Top 3 in rushing was 1987 when Payton was handing the baton off to Neal Anderson. Payton rushed for 533 yards that season and Anderson 586. Anderson then produced three consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons with Covert anchoring the left side of the Chicago blocking front.

Like Boselli, injuries ended Covert’s career prematurely. He spent the 1991 season on injured reserve following back surgery and never made it back to the field, announcing his retirement in 1992.

In his eight seasons, the Bears won 68 percent of their games and six NFC Central titles. Chicago reached three NFC title games and won the one Super Bowl. Covert started 110 career games, 20 more than Boselli, yet remains an afterthought in the pages of NFL history.

Covert was selected to the all-time University of Pittsburgh team and has a plaque in the College Football Hall of Fame. It’s time the NFL shows him the same respect that his alma mater and the NCAA have.

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40 Comments

  1. Bill Greco
    May 2, 2017
    Reply

    Covert seems to be experiencing the same treatment from the NFLHOF voters that Jerry Kramer has endured for years.
    Kramer, the only first string player from the NFL’s first 50 year anniversary team NOT TO BE IN THE HOF.
    Hopefully, this year the voters will right that wrong.
    I fear that Kramer might become the NFL’s version of Ron Santo…elected posthumously.

  2. bachslunch
    May 2, 2017
    Reply

    Not sold on Jimbo Covert (2/2/80s) and the HoF, though it’s worth discussing him at some point. Tony Boselli (3/5/90s) was also a short career OT, but his edge on honors suggests a better peak. I’d be okay with Boselli getting in but he’s far from a sure thing himself.

    Rick, I’ve always been surprised that Covert made the 80s all decade team instead of Jackie Slater (4/7/none). Any idea what happened there?

    • JimThorpePA
      May 3, 2017
      Reply

      Hey Rick – great article! The reason Covert made the first team 1980’s All Decade team ahead of Jackie Slater was because Covert was a far superior player than Slater. Slater played right tackle which, although more difficult than both center and guard, is widely acknowledged as a much easier position to play than left tackle. How many times have you seen teams draft a player to play left tackle and by mid season they were moved to right tackle or worse guard? Lastly, Slater wasn’t facing the caliber of defensive ends and outside linebackers that Covert was facing every Sunday on the left side. Although Slater was a fine player, his longevity is what put him in the HOF.

      • bachslunch
        May 3, 2017
        Reply

        Jim, you may be right, but I’m best convinced by good quality film study with game specifics (like found over at Ken Crippen’s site) in lieu of honors.

        • blackknight22
          May 6, 2017
          Reply

          Not the thing with film studies yet again

          • bachslunch
            May 8, 2017

            What do you have against film study?

      • Steve
        May 6, 2017
        Reply

        At right tackle Slater grappled with guys like L.C. Greenwood, Howie Long, and Reggie White among others. Not buying the “right tackles have it easier” argument as a rule of thumb. Right tackles make the HOF for a reason..

  3. Bear fan Bob
    May 2, 2017
    Reply

    Covert a great player a great contributer to the 85 team. But there’s 2 bears who should be there before him. (With all due respect to Covert). 1st Ed Sprinkle 2nd Jay Hilgenburg.

    • JimThorpePA
      May 3, 2017
      Reply

      I don’t know much about Ed Sprinkle but in my opinion there is no way Jay Hilgenberg should get in the HOF before Jimbo. Hilgenberg didn’t even start until his 3rd year in the league and that was because of an injury to longtime starter Dan Neil. Second, center is easiest position on the offensive line to play. Centers get help on every play and rarely will they see the great players (DE’s & OLB’s) that a left tackle will see week in and week out. Jay was a good player but, in my mind, there is no comparison!

    • JimThorpePA
      May 10, 2017
      Reply

      Last year the Chicago Bears ran a poll asking who should be the next Bear in the NFL HOF. Results: Ed Sprinkle 9% — Jay Hilgenberg 29% — Jim Covert 39% — other 23%. But we are all entitled to our opinion, and that’s what makes this interesting.

  4. Brett
    May 2, 2017
    Reply

    Forgot to mention that Richard Dent, in his HOF speech, said Colvert was the best he went up against and he deserves to be in the HOF

    • JimThorpePA
      May 3, 2017
      Reply

      That’s quite an endorsement, Brett!

    • bachslunch
      May 4, 2017
      Reply

      Dent and Covert were teammates during all of the latter’s career. So Dent would only have “gone up against him” during practices, not under game conditions. Not sure how seriously to take such an endorsement given this.

      • Stupice
        May 5, 2017
        Reply

        Bachslunch, perhaps we should check what Lee Roy Selmon said about Covert and what it was like going up against him in “game conditions”. Praised both his physicality and stellar technique and mentioned him in same breath as Munoz and specifically referenced Covert as one of the toughest guys he faced. Link below:

        http://www.profootballhof.com/news/hof-mail-bag-lee-roy-selmon/

  5. Stupice
    May 3, 2017
    Reply

    Jimbo Covert- played the premier position on the offensive line with dominance. A left tackle with stunningly quick feet to go along with natural power, Covert brilliantly performed the toughest position in sports with remarkable consistency and dominance. There is a reason left tackles are now the highest paid players in the game. General managers are cognizant they have the most important job in sports.- protecting the blind side of the quarterbacks they have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in.

    Covert played in era before statistical analysis gave proper credit to the true difference makers in football- the men in the trenches. Reviewing available video quickly shows why he would have graded out as the best left tackle in the game. In the late 80’s Dexter Manley terrified both offensive linemen as well as offensive coordinators. 260 pounds with the ability to run a 4.5 forty, Manley generally had his choice of either going around offensive tackles or straight through them. If someone takes the time to watch him against Covert you see him consistently run wide of the play as he isn’t strong enough to bullrush Covert and Covert is too quick setting the edge. Manley was held to zero sacks. It should be noted that Covert eliminated premier pass rushers with NO help. In today’s game many offensive coaches would scheme to have their tight end or running back help the offensive tackle with such an assignment.

    The 1986 playoff game vs the Redskins was a tough game for the Bears with a raw Doug Flutie behind center. However, when watching you will see Manley reduced to a nonfactor. Covert consistently did this to the best defensive players in the game. Dominant left tackles were the template many teams tried to emulate when building a franchise. The Jacksonville Jaguars used Covert as a template when they drafted left tackle Tony Boselli with the 2nd overall pick in the 1995 draft.

    Covert was a stalwart in the running game as well and consistently opened holes for Walter Payton helping him to the all time rushing record. Covert truly had no weaknesses in his game and played left tackle better than anyone in his era.

    • bachslunch
      May 4, 2017
      Reply

      Stupice, I don’t doubt that Covert was a fine player, but when you say that Covert “played left tackle better than anyone in his era,” note that Anthony Munoz was his contemporary. Are you really saying he was better than Munoz?

      • Stupice
        May 4, 2017
        Reply

        Bachslunch. Munoz was a terrific left tackle. So was Covert. When I watch the tape on those guys I think they clearly belong in the same conversation. One guy is in the Hall of Fame, the other should be as well.

  6. FrankieB
    May 3, 2017
    Reply

    Covert was a pioneer. Remember, rules changes in the late 70’s turned the NFL into a passing league in the 80’s. Covert was at the forefront of the evolution of the game. Not only was the blind side instantly more important, but Covert was at the inception of the changes in defensive schemes in which the only job of certain players was to rush the quarterback. And they all came from Covert’s side. Note that this newly developing left tackle responsibility was thrust upon Covert, with almost no advance notice. And his selection to the all-decade team indicates that he was the best of the 80’s.

    Oh, and by the way, how often per game did Payton used to get hit in the backfield before Covert arrived and how many times after.

    Covert not in the HOF is an embarrassment to the hall. Dan Dierdorf is the first example that comes to mind of a hall of famer who was voted in because he was known by the voters as a popular announcer and a caricature of a mean/dirty football player. There are plenty of other media friendly players who are in the hall who don’t belong there ahead of Covert.

    • bachslunch
      May 4, 2017
      Reply

      Dan Dierdorf actually has HoF worthy postseason honors for an OT of the time (4/6/70s). Unless good quality and well documented film study shows otherwise, I don’t see why he’s a bad HoF choice.

    • Stupice
      May 4, 2017
      Reply

      Frankieb, this is a tremendous point about the evolution of the game and protecting the blind side. I would also reiterate players of Covert’s caliber gave offensive coordinators the luxury of eliminating a defense’s best defensive threat without utilizing extra help. In today’s game, a premier pass rusher generally forces the offensive coordinator to design a gameplan in which his tackles get help from either a tight end, back or even a receiver cracking back.

  7. Mike Maricone
    May 3, 2017
    Reply

    No question Covert deserves HOF. Outstanding player from high school through the pros. NEVER had a bad year. Protected Marino and led Pitt to some great seasons. One of a handful who has had his number retired at Pitt. Co-Captain of Super Bowl in 1985 after only 2 years in the league. Played a demanding position and helped Walter Payton and Jim McMahon achieve great success. Was as good as a person as he was a football player. CHARACTER PERSONIFIED.

  8. May 3, 2017
    Reply

    Jimbo Covert’s Greatness in many ways was due to his All BUSINESS attitude. He would be coveted in the first round yesterday today and tomorrow, forever there is football!

  9. Stupice
    May 4, 2017
    Reply

    In my opinion, I’d say the fairest thing to do is go to the tape… it’s out there somewhere. It’s incomprehensible to me there isn’t more of an objective standard for Hall of Fame consideration. Today there are many sites such as Pro Football Focus and others who grade each player on each play… I would bet my life if you compare Covert’s entire body of work based on both run blocking and pass protection it is as good or better than some offensive tackles who are already in the Hall of Fame. The technology is available to do this.

    • bachslunch
      May 4, 2017
      Reply

      There seems to be a definite correlation between lots of postseason honors — 1st team all pro selections, pro bowl selections, all decade team memberships in some sort of combination — and HoF membership. For me, that seems to be the best we have for objective standards, at least for non-skill positions (for folks who played skill positions, there’s also stats used well and in good context). Good quality film study works too, though I value good specifics here as well, something along the line of player game-by-game gradings like at Ken Crippen’s film study site — as opposed to vague, anecdotal thoughts.

      There are occasional instances where there’s a disconnect between honors and what film study shows, but it appears to be unusual (see Ray Nitschke at one extreme and Dick Stanfel at another).

      • Stupice
        May 5, 2017
        Reply

        Well I suggest Ken Crippen gets started breaking down film of offensive tackles in the 80’s, early 90’s. Because I can assure you if his work is credible he will quickly verify that Covert was better than any offensive tackle in that era not named Munoz.

  10. JimThorpePA
    May 4, 2017
    Reply

    Stupice – I agree – tape doesn’t lie. If I had one play to see, it would be Covert pancaking Lawrence Taylor. I was blown away. Wish I could remember the exact game (or find the clip).

    • FrankieB
      May 4, 2017
      Reply

      It’s on YouTube. I showed it to someone a few years ago. Do a search.

  11. rewing84
    May 6, 2017
    Reply

    Im pretty sure covert is a senior nominee by now since his eliglibity ran out in 2015

  12. Rick G
    May 7, 2017
    Reply

    It is without question that Jimbo Covert deserves to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. When player comparisons, and player evaluations are done on such consideration,and eventual selection,the primary factor should be the player’s performance in his era/decade and his successes versus his opponents of his time. Being named as one of the 22 position players of the 1980’s all-decade team is all that needs to be said as to Jimbo’s selection. As well as all the individual and team awards that he/ Bears attained in his 8 great years. HTP!!
    And as a person Jimbo is HOF 100%

  13. SamoTerp
    May 8, 2017
    Reply

    I think that everybody would agree that Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers are unquestionable, surefire Hall of Famers. Yet no has even questioned the brevity of their respective careers. Mr. Sayers was a spectacular player at the height of his career, but his career only consisted of 7 years or 68 games. Mr. Butkus was a disruptive force that dominated games. However, his career lasted only 9 years or 119 games. Neither player played on a championship team, in fact both players played on the 1969 Chicago Bears team that was 1-13. I am in agreement that both Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers are unquestionable Hall of Fame players and that their short careers and lack of team success should have kept them out of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Jimbo Covert was a dominating force and a charismatic leader on some very successful championship teams. Let’s not deny Mr. Covert his worthy spot in Pro Football’s Hall of Fame. In addition, Jim Brown and Lynn Swann’s career lasted on 9 seasons.

    • bachslunch
      May 9, 2017
      Reply

      Couple of things to consider:

      -Short career players (let’s define this as a playing career of less than 10 years) in the PFHoF are not unusual from the 20s to the 50s, less common in the 60s, and pretty rare after that. Butkus, Sayers, Brown, Billy Shaw, and Floyd Little constitute the full list from the 60s best I can tell. Short career players in since then are more unusual: Dwight Stephenson, Lynn Swann, Earl Campbell, Lee Roy Selmon, and Kellen Winslow were it until this year, when Terrell Davis and Kenny Easley joined them. Given that Covert played in the 80s and for only 8 seasons (and there are only two HoFers post-60s at non-skill positions), it’s not surprising he hasn’t gotten in just on this consideration alone. There’s an element of apples and oranges to the argument above. However, the more short-career players who get in, the better the argument becomes for someone like Sterling Sharpe, Tony Boselli, and perhaps Covert as well.

      -minimal to no postseason success has never been a deal-breaker for folks deserving of PFHoF membership, though it sometimes delays them a bit. Otherwise, folks like Sayers, Butkus, Selmon, Cris Carter, Dan Dierdorf, Roger Wehrli, Sonny Jurgensen, Claude Humphrey, Rickey Jackson, Anthony Munoz, Warren Moon, and several others wouldn’t be in.

  14. SamoTerp
    May 8, 2017
    Reply

    There is another reason why Jimbo Covert’s career lasted only 9 seasons. Jimbo was a charismatic and intelligent man who had options outside of football. Jimbo could have played a few more years in the NFL based on his experience and veteran savvy. However, he had the foresight to walk away while he still had his faculties intact and he could still walk. Using 20/20 hindsight, one only needs to look at Hall of Famers Junior Seau and Mike Webster. Both Seau and Webster were great players who played the game they loved a few years too long. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a type of chronic brain damage that has also been found in other deceased former NFL players, is now well known. CTE will have a powerful influence on how long current and future NFL stars decide to play the game. I believe that very few NFL stars (other than the protected QBs) will extend their careers past 9 years. These stars will look at past NFL Hall of Famers and decide that the decline in their quality of life is not worth it. Let’s not penalize Jimbo Covert for making the smart decision. Today, Jimbo is a successful health care executive. His post NFL career is exemplary and should be held up as a model for post NFL career success.

    • bachslunch
      May 9, 2017
      Reply

      Covert is listed as having played eight seasons, not nine, over at the PFR site.

      And given that pro football players usually played in college and high school, I think one needs to count this also. If memory serves, there are people with CTE and similar issues who never played pro football, only school ball. I definitely hope Covert quit in time to avoid something like this. But it’s sobering to note that Gale Sayers played fewer pro seasons and has unfortunately developed dementia type issues recently. And unfortunately, these things sometimes don’t manifest until several years later.

      • JimThorpePA
        May 10, 2017
        Reply

        As your famous cousin Johann (Bach) once wrote “ich habe genug”. See WSJ article on The Shrinking Shelf Life of NFL players and you’ll see that under 10 years is the wave of the immediate future. The point is, when Jim Covert played, he played at the very highest (HOF) level, which is why Bill Parcel’s put him on his “all-opponent’s team” along with Munoz and Slater. Covert, as many here have made the case in this thread, was as one of the greatest OT ’s to ever play the game. Plain and simple. Footage proves it. Incidentals and opinions made in speeches are nice, and many quotes from many famous players support the case for Jim to be in the HOF, but game film is where the case is made. And Covert makes his case: down, after down, after down, after down. “Erbarme dich.”

        • bachslunch
          May 11, 2017
          Reply

          Jim, I’m a fan of looking at HoF cases with scrutiny and without letting team enthusiasm color things. Have had spirited discussions here and elsewhere with Raiders, ‘Skins, Cowboys, Broncos, and Steelers fans who passionately argue in favor their favorite snub. It’s interesting and enlightening, actually.

          FWIW, I just asked over at the PFRA website if anyone had looked at film on Covert. John Turney’s take was:

          “Good run blocker, adequate pass pro. Comparison, smaller Jacoby. If he came out now, likely a RT.”

          No idea what games, or how many he looked at, of course. Comparing Covert to Jacoby doesn’t hurt his argument any, though it’s not “greatest of all time” either.

          Not sure what the last word would be, but it’s interesting to put as much on the table to consider as possible.

  15. bachslunch
    May 9, 2017
    Reply

    Question: can someone explain what happened to Covert in 1988? According to the PFR website, he played only 9 games that year. I know 1987 was a strike year, which accounts for 1987’s total of 9 games for him. Was he injured or something? Thanks.

    • JimThorpePA
      May 10, 2017
      Reply

      Bachslunch,
      From what I recall Covert hurt his back early in training camp in 1988 and had surgery. He came back 6 weeks later to start a game early in the season. He was not ready to play and took himself out of the game. He was then placed on injured reserve. He came back to start the last half of the season and the playoff games. He has stated publicly numerous times that coming back too early from his back injury shortened his career.

      • bachslunch
        May 11, 2017
        Reply

        Thanks Jim.

  16. AdoptedBearFan
    May 15, 2017
    Reply

    Jimbo was an excellent player, his all NFC and all Pro selections and stats speak for themselves. Jimbo had the intangibles That should also point to a HOF induction. The Bears drafted him to be a leader on the offensive line and he delivered with intensity, intelligence and class. He was an immediate starter and shared captaincy with Walter Payton in only his second year.

    • May 16, 2017
      Reply

      Really believe the Terrell Davis induction is going to make it easier for guys with shorter careers — and Covert’s career was cut short by injuries — to make it in. He’s a legit candidate, and if you see Boselli make it … which I believe will happen (he was a Top 10 finisher last year) … look for Covert’s name to get some play. The problem, of course, is that he is a senior candidate, and there are far too many qualified guys in that pool waiting to hear their names called.

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