Canton, Ohio – – When the question of who were the greatest defensive players to have ever played in the NFL – the names of Dick Butkus, Deacon Jones, Mike Singletary, the Oakland Raiders, and the Pittsburgh Steelers comes to mind.
Their presence on the field was nothing short of remarkable for the passion and fearlessness they displayed. Before the play calling was stripped from quarterbacks, a legend like John Unitas made signal calling look so easy.
Indeed, it’s known for quarterbacks to be the field generals, and now defensive players (mainly middle linebackers) are glorified for their signal calling, most notably by Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.
However, long before number 52 in Baltimore and others defensive players calling plays, being the defensive field general, now, Hall of Fame linebacker Chris Hanburger mastered the role as literally being a coach on the field as he called the plays for his defense.
For the past four years, four Redskins were ushered into the Hall of Fame: Hanburger, Russ Grimm, Art Monk, and Darrell Green. Redskin Nation was well represented dawning Hanburger T-shirts in Canton, along with owner Dan Snyder.
From 1965 to 1978, Hanburger laid the foundation on how defense should be played in Washington and for the NFL, despite not being in the limelight like the proud few. With his uncanny speed to attack opponents and devastating clothes line, Hanburger was a student of the game as he consistently studied film after film and at times, get a late phone call at night from his coach, the late-great George Allen, about their opponents.
Hanburger went about his business as the leader for the Redskins’ defense, famously known as “The Over the Hill Gang,” and was not playing for the cameras. Hanburger was always grateful towards his teammates, his family and the game of football. And in Canton, Hanburger continued to express his gratefulness, not only to the people of the small town, but to service workers as well.
“But I want to thank all you folks for being here,” said Hanburger during his Hall of Fame speech. “I think it’s fantastic. It’s overwhelming for me. I had a blast in the parade today. The folks of Canton, you all are tremendous. I think the support is just great. I thank all the volunteers.
“I don’t think folks here that are Hall of Famers are sitting here, I don’t consider myself a true Hall of Famer,” he continued. “I say that because to me, I’m an Army brat. I spent two years in the Army right out of high school before I went to college – to me the real Hall of Fame people are all the men and women of our armed forces, all the men and women in law enforcement, and all the firefighters, men and women.
“These people, to me, go over and beyond making a tackle or a blitz or doing anything, completing a pass. They’re wonderful people.”
Hanburger was the Defensive Player of the Year in 1972, where he led the Washington Redskins to their first Super Bowl appearance, as they were the last team standing to spoil the Miami Dolphins’ chances of completing a perfect season.
During the 2011 Hall of Fame ceremony before Hanburger was introduced, Hall of Fame quarterback Bob Griese stated the Dolphins had to know where Hanburger was at all times in order to win.
Nonetheless, history was written.
Moreover, for Griese and many other countless Redskins’ fans, Hanburger – the 9-time Pro Bowler, 4-time All-Pro and one of the 70 greatest Redskins – will forever be found, not hunted, but recognized – in the Hall of Fame.