With the 2023 season kicking off just 74 days from today, this installment of Chicago Bears Countdown to Kickoff will focus on the best player in franchise history to don the number 74, legendary left tackle and Super Bowl champion Jimbo Covert.
Jimbo Covert's Path to the Chicago Bears
Covert grew up in Conway, Pennsylvania, a northwest suburb of Pittsburgh. As a teenager, Covert attended Freedom Area High School, where he quickly became known in his district and state as a dominant football player and wrestler. On the gridiron, Covert played on both his team's offensive and defensive lines, helping his team post an undefeated record as a senior while being named to the First-Team All-State squad.
On the mats, Covert had a dominant career as a high school wrestler, posting a 56-2 overall record while finishing third-best in his state twice. Covert's experience as a wrestler not only helped his career as an offensive lineman (a trait that is still common amongst NFL offensive linemen to this day), but Covert was also able to help future teammates such as Bears defensive tackle Steve McMichael learn more about leverage and the relation between wrestling and football.
Nonetheless, by the time Covert finished high school, he accepted a scholarship at the nearby University of Pittsburgh, where the young lineman would work initially with the defensive unit. After a freshman season that saw Covert miss time due to a shoulder injury, the coaching staff convinced the player to switch back to the offensive line.
Covert started three seasons on Pitt's offensive line, helping the team post a 31-5 record during that span. Covert was selected as an All-American twice in his final two seasons, including a dominant senior season in which the tackle allowed zero sacks throughout the year.
Chicago Bears Add Jimbo Covert to Anchor Offensive Line of 1980s
Following the 1982 season, Covert entered the 1983 NFL Draft, where he was selected sixth overall by the Chicago Bears. Covert became the first offensive lineman drafted in his class, just a few spots ahead of Houston Oilers legend Bruce Matthews, and was selected 20 picks before his college quarterback Dan Marino.
Drafting Covert seemed to be the primary goal of then-Bears coach and Pittsburgh Panther legend Mike Ditka, who stated, "Jimbo's the guy we wanted. From Day 1, we put him at left tackle and moved on". Covert was also the first pick of what became a legendary Bears draft class that included Willie Gault and Richard Dent.
As Ditka stated, Covert became a day-one starter at left tackle for the Bears, playing in all 16 games during the 1983 season. Covert helped the offense accumulate the most rushing yards during the season en route to being named an All-Rookie selection at the tackle spot. The following season, Covert remained a full-time starter and was even named a team captain in just his second season. Covert once again helped the offense lead the league in rushing.
By the start of the 1985 season, Covert had become one of the best linemen in the league and helped build one of the strongest lines alongside Jay Hilgenberg and Keith Van Horne. While much of the attention went to the legendary defense during the season, Covert and company finished as the league's best-rushing unit once more and finished second in the NFL in total offensive yards.
Covert capped off a Super Bowl Championship season by being named to his first Pro Bowl and All-Pro teams. The 1986 season would bring a similar fortune for Covert, who was nominated to both groups once more while helping the Bears finish with the most rushing yards in the league for the fourth (and final) season in a row.
Unfortunately, after missing just one game through the first four seasons of his career, injuries began to take their toll on Covert, and the dominant offensive tackle was forced to miss nearly half of the 1987 season due to a lingering back injury.
The End of Jimbo Covert's Career, His Legacy, and Life After Football
Injuries would persist throughout the '88 season, but Covert was able to return to being a full-time starter during the 1989 and '90 campaigns before retiring following his eighth season with the team. At the time of his retirement, Covert made 110 starts over eight seasons and earned two Pro Bowl nods and two First-Team All-Pro selections.
However, Covert's impact on the Chicago Bears offense of the 1980s is incredibly hard to quantify. There is little doubt that Covert, as well as the other lineman of his unit, helped Walter Payton hit incredibly high marks on the ground. Covert also helped improve the vaunted defensive line that dominated during the 1985 season, helping the likes of Dent, Hampton, and McMichael work on their technique throughout their careers.
Upon his retirement from the NFL, Covert gained recognition at every level of competition for his excellence on the field. Covert was elected to the Beaver County Sports Hall of Fame for his play as a high schooler, specifically for making the Western Pennsylvania All-Time Team on both sides of the ball, being the only player to do so. In the college ranks, Covert joined Ditka as former Chicago Bears to have their college numbers retired by the University of Pittsburgh, as well as being elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.
Covert was also elected to the Professional Football Hall of Fame, joining a number of his mid-1980s Bears teammates. It is worth noting that Covert not only blocked for a 1,000+ yard rusher all but one year of his career but also played extremely well against the elite NFL defensive talent of his generation. For example, in their three postseason matchups, Covert held New York Giants legend Lawrence Taylor to zero total sacks.
Following his retirement from the NFL, Covert began his professional career within the healthcare industry. Since 1992, Covert has served in leadership positions such as Vice President or CEO of several different firms. Today, he serves as an operating partner at Cressey & Company.