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.