There are two sayings that apply to any company: it all starts at the top. And the money stops here.
With the Bears, the top of the pyramid is the McCaskey family and, more precisely – going to the tip of the spear – matriarch and main owner Virginia McCaskey.
Virginia just turned 99, and that in itself is a wonderful, celebratory thing. Living such a long and fruitful life is a blessing to everyone, everywhere, something the rest of us can only aspire to.
She and her late husband Ed had 11 children, and Virginia herself is the only living child of Bears founder George Halas. The ”Old Man” or ”Papa Bear”—depending on your level of appreciation for the jut-jawed patriarch—died in 1983, leaving quite a legacy.
Indeed, Halas didn’t just find the bears; he actually started the National Football League. Because of all this, there are only two owners of the Bears in their
101 year history.
That’s incredible. Awesome even.
But with that unique ownership comes responsibility. There’s the pinch.
The Bears have not had lasting success since the 1980s. And if you are a proud football club, you should have a proud track record. Not the bears.
You might think that as the century goes on, Virginia is chilling out a bit, maybe sitting by the fireplace in a rocking chair, maybe looking at family photos, or chatting with great-grandchildren who gather around them. But no.
Even if much of the Bears’ business is left to son George, the team chairman and president Ted Phillips, Virginia is still the figurehead who — perhaps “demand” is the better word — commands respect from all employees.
Remember, she’s the one who fired eldest son Michael as president of the Bears in 1999. Those of us who were there for that tense event in the hall of Halas Hall felt quite uneasy to see mother and punished son with stone faces on the balcony. You’ll also notice that the TV cameras always pick up Virginia in a grainy remote shot of the owner’s box at almost all games, home and away.
So as the Bears once again seek stability by firing their coach and general manager, it’s not going too far to say that ”Mama Bear” needs to own the past and think about whether she should resign, move, or just wash her hands all things football related.
It’s a complicated, emotional conversation.
Virginia is an endearing, still sharp, more than symbolic woman of power in a brutally macho company. She represents family, faith (she is a devout mass-attending Catholic) and, in a sense, the struggles and dreams of the entire city of Chicago. In a way, she is to our city what the 95-year-old Queen Elizabeth is to England.
But something is wrong with the Bears.
We saw the rapid difference in the Blackhawks when President and longtime autocrat Bill Wirtz died in 2007. Yes, the Hawks stayed in the family, with son Rocky Wirtz running the show, but the three Stanley Cups that quickly resulted were as much about a new direction as they were about shedding the past.
Smart enough to know what they didn’t know, the Cubs, under owner Tom Ricketts and family, turned the show on the field to outsider and baseball expert Theo Epstein. The 2016 World Series Championship was the result.
Since the death of Bills owner Ralph Wilson in March 2014, Virginia has been the oldest owner in the NFL. In fact, she is the oldest owner in all of the major sports in the United States. In addition, she is now the longest-serving NFL owner, leaving behind former Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill, who passed away in 2019.
So what should be done?
The problem here is that the Bears try to solve their problems by using the same people over and over to do the same things they couldn’t do before.
Did anyone think that young Matt LaFleur would be the excellent coach he has become with the enemy Packers? The man is 39-10 in three seasons, including 6-0 against the Bears. Maybe it’s all about quarterbacks. It’s nice to have the genius Aaron Rodgers at the helm.
But could the Bears ever find a quarterback like Rodgers, not even close? Do you have a system in which he can thrive? Justin Fields as that future savior? All questionable.
Over and over.
It’s time for Virginia to think about that.
Sometimes the past has to say goodbye.