Quarterback Warren Moon knows something about playing behind Hall of Fame guards. And he believes former Chiefs guard Will Shields belongs in that company.
Moon finished his Hall of Fame career in 1999-2000 with the Chiefs as a teammate of Shields, who on Saturday will be among 15 modern-era candidates up for election to the Hall of Fame.
Before Moon joined the Chiefs, his teammates with the Houston Oilers included guards Mike Munchak, a 2001 Hall of Fame inductee, and Bruce Matthews, a 2007 inductee; and Randall McDaniel, a 2009 inductee, at Minnesota.
“Will Shields was one of the most athletic, if not the most athletic offensive linemen I’ve ever played with,” Moon said. “He and Randall McDaniel are in the same category, but Will was a little more athletic.
“He had the whole package. He was one of the best pulling guards I’ve ever seen as far as getting out on the edge, and not just getting out there, but once he got out there, he finds somebody and makes contact. He also had the power to blow somebody off the line of scrimmage in the power running game, and he was a really good pass blocker.”
Shields, a 12-time Pro Bowler who made a club-record 223 regular-season starts for the Chiefs during 1993-2006, is a finalist for the fourth consecutive year since he’s been eligible. As always, he’ll have plenty of competition for one of the maximum five Hall of Fame slots for the Class of 2015.
Of the three first-year eligible candidates, the late Junior Seau, who played linebacker for the Chargers, Patriots, and Dolphins, is considered a lock by the 46-member Board of Selectors who will meet in downtown Phoenix.
The other first-year candidates are quarterback Kurt Warner and offensive tackle Orlando Pace, who both spent most of their careers in St. Louis Rams and appeared in two Super Bowls in three years with the Rams.
A year ago, Shields advanced from the pool of 15 candidates to the reduction to 10. But he failed to reach the final round of five candidates who must receive 80 percent of the vote to be elected. About 82 percent of those who become finalists eventually are selected for the Hall of Fame.
“If you make it this far, you say, ‘Can I get to that final ballot?’” said Shields, 43. “To have an opportunity to be part of an elite group and have your name added in indelible ink … that’s pretty cool.”
Shields said it was frustrating during his first two years of eligibility but he has come to the realization, “there are a lot of great guys in there who have their opportunity to be in, and you happen to be one of them.
“You put your best foot forward as an athlete, and after that, you go by what you have done and wait your turn. When you played, you weren’t trying to do it for the accolades. You were doing it for your teammates, you were doing it for the week-in-week-out, trying to be the best you could be for your organization.”
Besides Shields, there are compelling cases for several others who have come close to election in recent years.
Because there are just three newcomers to discuss, the odds for election increase for those who have been waiting, especially Shields, wide receiver Tim Brown, running back Jerome Bettis and pass rushers Charles Haley and Kevin Greene.
In addition, three coaches — Jimmy Johnson, Tony Dungy and Don Coryell — will be considered. There will separate votes on contributors Ron Wolf and Bill Polian, and the lone senior candidate, center Mick Tingelhoff.
Shields, the Chiefs’ third-round draft pick from Nebraska 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.
The Chiefs played in one AFC Championship Game, won four division titles and appeared in the postseason six times during Shields’ career. Of the 11 modern-era guards in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, no one has played in more career games at the position than Shields.
Shields helped pave the way for five 1,000-yard rushers during his tenure with the Chiefs, including NFL rushing leader Priest Holmes (1,555 yards) in 2001 and AFC rushing leader Larry Johnson (1,750) in 2005.
Holmes rushed for 21 touchdowns in 2002 and set an NFL record with 27 rushing touchdowns in 2003, a mark that was later broken by LaDainian Tomlinson. Shields pass protected for an offense that featured the second-leading receiver in NFL history, tight end Tony Gonzalez.
Gonzalez, who will be a surefire Hall of Famer in 2019, attributed much of his success to Shields.
“People talked about how I would take extra catches, I would work on my technique … I learned that from watching Will Shields,” Gonzalez said. “He was a huge influence on what I was able to accomplish in my career because I believe all that little stuff he did made him the player he was just as it made me the player who I was.”
Shields performed at the highest level in three different systems with the Chiefs — the West Coast offense Marty Schottenheimer installed for Joe Montana and Marcus Allen in 1993; the wide-open attack brought in by Dick Vermeil during 2001-05; and the power-running attack favored by Herm Edwards in 2006.
Shields was part of an offensive line that led the league in total offense in 2004 and in scoring in 2003.
“Watching him make holes for Priest Holmes, for Larry Johnson, Tony Richardson, all the great backs we had in Kansas City …” Gonzalez said, “and a good guy off the field with all of his charities. … He was a great example for what it is to be an NFL player.”
Mike Giddings, a former NFL assistant coach and longtime operator of Pro Scout, Inc., an independent evaluator of players for teams, rates Shields as the No. 2 guard behind Matthews among those he has studied since beginning his service in 1977. He ranked 2012 Hall of Fame inductee Larry Allen as No. 3 and Munchak No. 4.
“Shields is as deserving as Munchak and McDaniel,” Giddings said of Shields’ Hall of Fame credentials.
Giddings uses a color-coded grading system with “blue” as the highest grade and “red” as the second-highest grade. He said a player needs at least four “blue” years to qualify for the Hall of Fame and Shields graded “blue” in his rookie season of 1993 as well as 1995, 2002 and 2003.
Among offensive linemen, only Hall of Fame tackle Anthony Muñoz graded better for as long a period of time as Shields.
“Guards operate in a phone booth and they also have to pull, and I don’t know that there was anybody better in the phone booth and pulling as far as run blocking,” Giddings said. “As far as pass protection, I don’t see him getting beat on a power rush much in 14 years. And I don’t see him missing many stunts. It’s hard to find anything negative. That’s why I think he deserves to be there.”
Shields, who was inducted into the Chiefs Hall of Fame in 2012 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 2011, also was selected as the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year in 2003, one of the league’s most prestigious honors because it combines on-field excellence with involvement in the community.
Though citizenship is not part of the criteria for Pro Football Hall of Fame election, Moon, also a winner of the Payton award, said Shields’ Will to Succeed foundation and other charitable activities represents leadership and sends a strong message in the locker room.
“From a leadership standpoint, it shows the younger players and the veterans as well, this is what you want to be,” Moon said. “You want to be a well-rounded good person. You don’t want to be just a guy who everybody knows about as a good football player, because there’s a lot more to your life and these things prepare you for when football is over. He’s done that, from a leadership standpoint, as well as anybody.”