Chris Hanburger, a former star linebacker for the Redskins, is a low-key Hall of Fame nominee

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 4, 2011; 12:18 AM

DALLAS - There was a time when being called over the hill was a point of pride for Chris Hanburger. George Allen's famed Over-the-Hill Gang was, after all, the first Redskins team to reach the Super Bowl.

"I think we all got captivated by it," said Hanburger, the former linebacker who played his entire career in Washington.

When they call Hanburger over the hill nowadays, there's no celebration, but certainly no protest. "I really am over the hill now," said the 69-year-old Hanburger. "No question about it."

Though Hanburger has been far away from organized football since he retired more than three decades ago, he could find himself in the spotlight during this weekend's Super Bowl festivities. Hanburger is one of 17 former stars whose merits will be debated by the Pro Football Hall of Fame's 44-person selection committee. The new class of inductees will be announced Saturday evening.

If history is any guide, Hanburger's chances are pretty good. He is one of two senior candidates the committee will consider. He and Les Richter, a linebacker for the Rams in the 1950s and 1960s, will bypass the early voting rounds and will be judged in the final round. They need at least 80 percent of the vote to gain enshrinement.

There have been 45 senior candidates in the past four decades, 34 of whom were elected to the hall, including 18 of the past 20.

Hanburger's credentials are certainly impressive. A fearless linebacker, he posted nine Pro Bowl seasons over the course of a 14-year playing career in Washington and was named all-pro four times.

Hanburger said he won't exactly be chewing through his fingernails Saturday when the selection committee members cast their votes. He'll be sitting in his home in Darlington, S.C., still trying to make sense of how this came to be.

Hanburger and Richter were selected by the Hall of Fame's Seniors Committee in August. Jack Ham, the Pittsburgh Steelers' Hall of Famer, couldn't believe that one of the most dominant linebackers of his era wasn't enshrined and made a push for Hanburger.

The Seniors Committee reviews the qualifications of players whose careers were more than 25 years ago. Hanburger retired in 1978 but was never even among the 15 finalists considered by the selection committee in the 1980s.

For Hanburger, any faint hopes of visiting Canton, Ohio, disappeared a long time ago.

"I was just flabbergasted when I happened to be sitting here one morning watching some news on TV. All of a sudden the phone rang," he said. The Hall of Fame called last August to tell him he'd been named a finalist.

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