Former Chiefs guard Will Shields has won just about every award there is in the sport of football.
Outland Trophy. All-American. College Football Hall of Fame. Twelve Pro Bowls. NFL-All Decade Team for the 1990s. Chiefs Hall of Fame. Walter Payton NFL Man of The Year. Walter Camp National Football Foundation Man of the Year.
Everything but induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
That could change Saturday, when Shields is one of 15 modern-day finalists to be considered for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2014.
Shields has been a finalist in all three years of eligibility since his retirement from the Chiefs after the 2006 season.
“It’s a great honor and privilege to at least get this far,” said Shields, 42, “but until you actually get that call, it’s hard to tell what you’re going to say … because you’ve been through it twice.”
After the 46-member Board of Selectors votes separately on two senior candidates, former Oakland punter Ray Guy and Atlanta defensive end Claude Humphrey, it will deliberate and elect up to five modern-day finalists.
Just as the past two seasons for Shields, the competition will be intense. The board will consider four first-time eligible candidates in Indianapolis wide receiver Marvin Harrison, Tampa Bay linebacker Derrick Brooks, Seattle offensive tackle Walter Jones and coach Tony Dungy.
Several other finalists who have come close to induction include Buffalo wide receiver Andre Reed, New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, Pittsburgh running back Jerome Bettis, San Francisco/Dallas outside linebacker Charles Haley, Arizona/St. Louis cornerback Aeneas Williams and San Francisco owner Edward DeBartolo.
“It’s all part of a process,” Shields said. “When it happens, it happens. It’s not like I can change anything. That’s why I have to bide my time, no matter what happens. Every year there’s going to be new people, and there are guys who have been on the same final list for nine years in a row … you think it’s hard for you, and you look at another guy … so you take it in stride.”
Shields, a third-round draft pick from Nebraska by Chiefs in 1993, came off the bench to play left guard in the season opener of his rookie year, started the next week at right guard and never missed a start for the next 14 years. That’s a Chiefs franchise-record 224 games and 223 starts. His 12 consecutive Pro Bowl selections are tied for sixth-most in NFL history.
But it has been historically difficult for guards to gain election into the Hall of Fame. Among offensive linemen, tackles — particularly left tackles — are looked upon more favorably. In the modern era, defined by a majority of a career occurring after 1946, there have been 21 tackles elected but just 10 who primarily played guard. The only non-kicking positions represented by fewer players are center, with eight, and tight end, seven.
Among guards, Russ Grimm wasn’t elected until his sixth year as a finalist in 2010 and in his 14th year of eligibility; Larry Little was in his fourth year as a finalist and eighth year of eligibility in 1993; and Randall McDaniel, like Shields, a 12-time Pro Bowler, was elected in 2009 in his second year as a finalist and in his third year of eligibility.
“I’ve done the best I can do,” said Shields, who operates 68 Inside Sports, an athletic fitness facility in Overland Park. “That’s it. Every game I started … I put everything out there for what I believed would be the best performance ever. That’s all you can do as a player.”
During his career with the Chiefs, Shields, who played at 6 feet 3 and 320 pounds, excelled in several different styles of offense. In his first two seasons, Shields helped protect quarterback Joe Montana and opened holes for running back Marcus Allen in the Chiefs’ West Coast offense. The Chiefs reached the AFC championship game after the 1993 season and would go to the playoffs in four of his first five years.
After offensive coordinator Paul Hackett left following the 1997 season and coach Marty Schottenheimer departed after the 1998 season, the Chiefs were more of a power running team under Gunther Cunningham before Dick Vermeil brought in his wide-open offense in 2001.
“How can he not be a Hall of Famer?” said quarterback Rich Gannon, who spent 1995-98 with the Chiefs. “It was his consistency. You could look at Will Shields as a second-year player and as a 12-year player, and you wouldn’t see a lot of difference.
“He was just a dominant player at his position. He had great athleticism, he had great quickness. He got his hands on you before you know what hit you if you were a linebacker. He could run … he had great quickness and mobility … his toughness, his durability, his production over the course of a long time. He blocked for a lot of good backs …”
Indeed, Shields would help pave the way for five 1,000-yard rushers in the 2000s, including NFL rushing leader Priest Holmes (1,555 yards) in 2001 and AFC rushing leader Larry Johnson (1,750) in 2005.
Shields also pass protected for an offense that featured the NFL’s second-leading career receiver, tight end Tony Gonzalez, and was part of an offensive line that led the league in total offense in 2004 and in scoring in 2003.
“I’m most proud of the fact I carried myself on and off the field consistently for what the NFL stands for,” Shields said. “To me, that’s what you’re supposed to do as a professional athlete, being a guy that did what they told me to do, and I must have done (it well), which is why I got some of the accolades that followed me.”
And the biggest accolade of all could come his way on Saturday.