When asked to name the positions the Chicago Bears have consistently defined and dominated over the years, most would think of running back and linebacker.? Overlooked may be the center position.? Somehow, through a lot of years of bad personnel decisions, Chicago has hit on a series of players that have become the top centers in the game.
This is even not considering Bulldog Turner and Mike Pyle, who don’t fit the scope of this article.
Jay Hilgenberg (1981-1991); Jerry Fontenot (1989-1996); Olin Kreutz (1998-2007); Dan Neal (1975-1983)
Amazing is the fact in this list, two of the best were undrafted free agents signed by Chicago (Neal and Hilgenberg).
We’ll have to take Fontenot off the list first, as indespensible as he was to solid Bear lines from 1994-1996.? Fontenot took over for the legendary Hilgenberg after the veteran was traded in a 1992 contract dispute, and the line didn’t miss a beat.? In 1995, the Bears held right of first refusal on his contract, and were able to re-sign him that season.? In 1996, expecting his departure, the Bears signed forgettable Ed Cunningham to replace him, but Fontenot was a surprising one-year resigning.? Finally in 1997 they lost him to Mike Ditka and the New Orleans Saints.? Fontenot went on to play another eight years in the league to wrap up a stellar 16-year career at guard and center, and is currently an assistant coach with Green Bay.
Next off is Neal, who was perfectly serviceable from 1975-1983, when he no doubt taught a young Jay Hilgenberg some tricks before retiring.
This, of course leaves Hilgenberg and Kreutz.? Kreutz was a rare steal in the third-round of the 1998 draft.? He started his first games at the end of that season, rarely missing time to injury.? As of 2007 he has been voted to six straight Pro Bowls, trailing only Hilgenberg’s seven as the most by a Bear center.? Several more years of top play, and Kreutz may push to the top of this list.
But for now, Jay Hilgenberg is still www.BearsHistory.com’s top Bears center of the last 30 years.? Hilgenberg played for the Bears from 1981, when he entered after not being drafted, to 1991, when Michael McCaskey orchestrated a trade of the popular veteran to Cleveland during his training camp holdout.? Hilgenberg played through tough injuries, anchored a Super Bowl-quality line for twelve seasons, and is still talked as a Hall of Fame Candidate.