Your honored: Before the bench, he was no bench warmer

Justice Robert Thomas honored for his first career: Kicking in the NFL

September 20, 2012

Quinn Ford

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(Illinois Supreme Court photo)
Illinois Justice Robert Thomas was inducted into the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame on Wednesday.

During his time on the bench, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Robert Thomas has had to make some tough decisions.

But Thomas has had some experience dealing with pressure. Before beginning his career as a judge, he spent 12 seasons in the National Football League as a kicker.

Thomas spent 10 of those seasons with the Chicago Bears, and on Wednesday, Thomas was inducted into the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame. He was one of 20 people to be inducted this year, joining past inductees like: Walter Payton, Mike Ditka, Dick Butkas, Harry Caray, Ryne Sandberg and Muhammad Ali.

The 60-year old judge said he was “humbled” to join the ranks of such Chicago sports legends.

"What an honor to be included among such a talented group of Chicago athletes and sports personalities," Thomas said.

During his time with the Bears, Thomas had a number of big moments, but one that comes to mind when he’s asked is his game-winning kick in December 1977. The Bears were playing the New York Giants in icy conditions. Thomas ended the game in overtime with a field goal, sending the Bears to the playoffs for the first time in 14 years.

“I still remember Walter Payton and Roland Harper making snow angels on the ground to try and clear a spot because it was impossible to stand up let alone kick,” Thomas said.

Thomas said he is still a little bummed about being traded from the Bears just before their 1985 Superbowl run, but he does have a championship ring. While playing at Notre Dame, Thomas hit the go-ahead field goal in the 1973 National Championship game against the University of Alabama.

While Thomas was with the Bears, he attended law school at Loyola University School of Law and was frequently seen between games studying at the library. He graduated in 1981.

He said he’s been fortunate to have two great careers and laughed when asked which job was harder. Thomas said he been able to have a much greater impact on society from the judge’s bench.

“Now, I’m sure a lot of Bears fans would say they lived or died with ever made kick or every missed kick too,” Thomas said. “I understand that, but it’s probably a greater responsibility that I carry now.”

But dealing with pressure as a kicker has helped Thomas in his second career. The one major difference though: He says he does not hear any “boos” riding the judge’s bench.

Thomas is not the first Illinois Supreme Court Justice to be inducted into the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame. He joins Justice Anne Burke, who was inducted in 1996.