Former Chiefs guard Will Shields spent Saturday afternoon keeping up with his children who were playing college basketball games across America.
Whether it was by telephone, iPad or television in his hotel room, Shields followed his daughter Sanayika’s early game for Drury University, his son Shavon’s mid-afternoon game for Nebraska and family friend Willie Cauley-Stein’s late-afternoon game for Kentucky.
Anything to ward off the nerves about whether voters meeting in downtown Phoenix would elect him into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Finally, the phone call came on Saturday night. Shields, the bedrock of the Chiefs’ offensive line of the 1990s and 2000s, was notified he was indeed a Hall of Famer and will be introduced during the telecast of the Super Bowl on Sunday night.
“It was a great day,” said a beaming Shields, who was in his fourth year of eligibility after retiring following the 2006 season.
Shields, 43, was joined in the Class of 2015 by former San Diego linebacker Junior Seau, former Oakland wide receiver Tim Brown, former San Francisco/Dallas defensive end Charles Haley, former Pittsburgh running back Jerome Bettis, former Minnesota center Mick Tingelhoff, and former general managers Bill Polian and Ron Wolf.
Induction will be Aug. 8 in Canton, Ohio.
Shields, a 12-time Pro Bowler, took delight in the Class of 2015 having an AFC West flavor. He battled Seau twice a year through most of their careers, and Brown’s Raiders were the Chiefs’ archrival.
“Seeing the guys from the AFC West and who we played against, every week, week in and week out, that’s what made you get to this point,” Shields said. “That’s what made you work so hard to get to that next level. You know that it wasn’t just your individual play that got you to this point. It’s everyone else who pushes you to be the best you can be.
“It’s an honor to be part of the group, especially being an offensive lineman, to be able to say, ‘I stacked up against some of the best at what they do.’ It gives you that validation that you’re pretty good. That’s something you’ve been waiting on … ‘Was I good enough? Did I do the things that needed to be done?’ Once you were up for the award, that’s how you looked at it.”
Shields is the ninth player primarily associated with the Chiefs to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, joining linebackers Bobby Bell, Willie Lanier and Derrick Thomas, defensive tackles Buck Buchanan and Curley Culp, cornerback Emmitt Thomas, quarterback Len Dawson and kicker Jan Stenerud, along with coach Hank Stram and owner Lamar Hunt.
The Chiefs played in one AFC Championship Game, won four division titles and appeared in the postseason six times during Shields’ career.
“It’s an honor in itself to say they drafted you, you played there and performed at a high-enough level to be considered one of the best,” Shields said.
Shields, a third-round draft pick from Nebraska by the 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 regular-season games and 223 starts, plus eight playoff games. His 12 consecutive Pro Bowl selections are tied for sixth most in NFL history.
He made his Chiefs debut when he came off the bench as an injury replacement in the 1993 season opener at Tampa Bay, peered into the huddle and looked into the eyes of the Chiefs’ two major acquisitions, quarterback Joe Montana and running back Marcus Allen.
“It’s a simple fact that knowing those guys were already there and watching how they worked and performed, and thinking I want to be one of those guys. I want to be one of those guys that people say, ‘He needs to retire,’ and once you get to that point, that’s when you knew you made a career out of it and were not just a flash in the pan.”
Shields took great pride in never having missed a game.
“You knew you were accountable,” he said. “To me, that was the biggest piece, being accountable to the guys you were playing with. You wanted to perform at a high level, and you got a chance to do that and now you’re being recognized for that.”
Shields, 6 foot 3 and 320 pounds, helped 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 yards) in 2005. He also pass-protected for an offense that featured tight end Tony Gonzalez, the second-leading receiver in NFL history.
“I know every Kansas City quarterback and running back were thrilled to have Will Shields blocking in front for them,” said former Chiefs president/general manager Carl Peterson.
“One of the things we knew about Will from Nebraska is (coach) Tom Osborne raved about him, not only as a football player but as an intelligent guy who could play in whatever offense you’re running. I don’t have to tell you the pressure we put on the offensive line. … We’re acquiring Joe Montana, and we didn’t want anybody touching him even after the throw was gone because he was 36 and had come off some injuries.
“Will’s versatility and adaptability and intelligence to … play at a tremendously high level each game … and his durability speaks for itself. He played left tackle for a game or two, could have played center, could have played anything.”
One of Peterson’s favorite memories occurred during a nationally televised prime-time game at Baltimore in 1999 won by the Chiefs 35-8.
“NFL Films miked Ray Lewis during the game, and Ray Lewis is coming out and screaming at the other defensive players, ‘Why can’t we stop them? I’ve got two, three guys blocking me. … Somebody has to be able to make the tackle!’
“The truth was, he didn’t have two or three guys blocking him. He had one guy most of the time — it was Will Shields and sometimes it was Brian Waters on the other side. But Will Shields that night owned Ray Lewis.”
Shields was voted the winner of the prestigious Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award in 2003 and was selected as the Walter Camp Football Foundation’s 2010 Man of the Year. Both awards recognize excellence on the field and public service in the community. Shields’ Will to Succeed Foundation has set a standard for players’ charitable organizations.
“I’m so happy for Will for what he stands for,” said Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt. “As great a player as he was, what he did in the community and still does in the community was equally important, and that’s really who Will Shields is, and that’s why he was a Walter Payton Man of the Year winner, and this is just icing on the cake.”
Shields was born in Fort Riley, Kan., and grew up in Lawton, Okla. He fondly remembers first playing football as a youngster at Westwood Elementary School in Lawton. A Westwood Tigers T-shirt hangs in his display case in the Chiefs Hall of Fame at Arrowhead Stadium.
“Westwood Tigers, baby,” Shields said laughing. “That’s where we started off playing. I must say the colors green and gold were never really good for me. We never won a lot of games. But we played pretty hard as a group.
“But that T-shirt has twofold meanings for me. One, of course, the beginning of organized sports. … Football, basketball, baseball were all done at Westwood, but also, family-wise, that shirt itself has a meaning between me and my grandmother who passed a long way back, but it’s one of those things that’s a keepsake that I want my kids to go and see their kids go see and tell the story about what that shirt means to me as far as starting to play football at a young age, but also the family piece behind it, too.”
Shields is also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, Chiefs Hall of Fame and Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, and his jersey was retired by the University of Nebraska.
“What I’m most proud of,” Shields said, “is the simple fact that now I have a story. … One of my coaches used to tell us, ‘It’s cool when you get 10 letters behind your name (Hall of Fame) and you write your name in indelible ink, and tonight I can say I’ve done both.”