The dog days of the offseason are finally behind us now that training camp is underway, just in time for our countdown of the Top 100 Chicago Bears of all time to really heat up. As we get closer to the season opener, we get closer to naming the #1 Chicago Bear of all time.
Despite a solid career at Iowa, offensive lineman Jay Hilgenberg wasn’t drafted in 1981. The Bears signed him as a free agent after the draft and it turned out to be one of the best undrafted free agent finds in Bears history. It took a couple of years for Hilgenberg to adapt to the pro game and he spent his first two seasons as a backup and special teams player. In the middle of his third season with the Bears (1983) Hilgenberg took over for Dan Neal as the starting center and held the starting role for the next 8 seasons.
Hilgenberg only missed 6 games over the next 8 years and in 1985 was voted to his first Pro Bowl. He would go on to make 7 consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl and was named 1st team all-Pro in both ’88 & ’89. Hilgenberg was a key part of the Bears dominant run game in the mid-to-late 80s. Offensive lineman are often overlooked historically, but Hilgenberg’s run of 7 consecutive Pro Bowl has earn him a Hall of Fame nomination and hopefully he will get in soon.
In 1992 Hilgerberg held out due to the fact that he was making considerably less money than 1st round pick Stan Thomas. This didn’t go over well with notorious penny-pincher Mike McCaskey and instead of giving his 7-time Pro Bowler a raise, he traded Hilgenberg to the Browns. Stan Thomas lasted 2 years with the Bears, starting just 7 games. Hilgenberg played 1 year for the Browns and then 1 for the Saints before retiring in 1993 as one of the best Bears offensive lineman of all-time.
What do you think of the ranking? Too high? Too low? I guess you’ll have to check back to see who finished ahead of him to judge for yourself. We’ll be counting down a different person each day as we inch our way to the September 7th season opener.