There are two proverbs that apply to any business: It all starts at the top. And the money stops here.
Among the bears, the top of the pyramid is the McCaskey family, and more precisely – if we go to the tip of the spear – matriarch and chief owner Virginia McCaskey.
Virginia has just turned 99, and that’s a wondrous, solemn thing in itself. Living such a long and fruitful life is a blessing for everyone everywhere, something only the rest of us can 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 appreciation of the patriarch with a buckling chin – died in 1983, leaving quite a legacy behind.
In fact, Halas didn’t just find the bears; he basically founded the National Football League. Meanwhile, there were only two bear owners in hers
101 years of history.
That’s incredible. Awesome, actually.
But with this unique property comes responsibility. There’s the catch.
The Bears have not had sustained success since the 1980s. And if you are a proud football club, you should have a proud record. The bears don’t.
You might think that as Virginia approached the mark of the century, she’d chill out a bit, maybe sit in a rocking chair by the fireplace, looking at family photos, or chatting with great-grandchildren who gather around. But no.
While much of the business is left to Bear’s son, George, team chairman and President Ted Phillips, Virginia is still the figurehead that – perhaps the better word – demands respect from all workers.
Remember, she is the one who fired eldest son Michael as President of the Bears in 1999. Those of us who attended this tense event in the auditorium of Halas Hall felt quite uncomfortable to see mother and punished son on the balcony with petrified faces. You will also find that the television cameras always shoot Virginia in a grainy long shot of the owner’s box at almost all games, home and away.
With the bears once again looking for stability by firing their trainer and general manager, it’s not far to say that ” Mama Bear ” has to own the past and think about whether to step back, switch, or just wash her hands on everything that has to do with football.
It’s a complicated, emotional call.
Virginia is a lovable, still astute, more than symbolic woman of power in a brutal macho business. She represents family, faith (she is a devout Catholic attending mass), and in some ways the struggles and dreams of the entire city of Chicago. In a sense, she is to our city what 95-year-old Queen Elizabeth is to England.
But something is wrong with the bears.
We saw the quick difference with 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 in were just as new when it came to shaking off the past.
Smart enough to know what they didn’t know, the Cubs, owned by Tom Ricketts and family, passed the show on the field to underdog and baseball genius Theo Epstein. The 2016 World Series championship was the result.
Virginia has been the oldest owner of the NFL since the death of Bills owner Ralph Wilson in March 2014. In fact, she is the oldest owner of all major sports in the United States. Additionally, she is now the longest-serving NFL owner, overtaking former Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill, who died in 2019.
So what is to be done?
The problem with this is that the bears are trying to fix their problems by using the same people over and over to do the same things that they failed at before.
Did anyone think young Matt LaFleur was the great coach he became with the enemy Packers? The guy is 39-10 in three seasons including 6-0 against the Bears. Maybe it’s all about quarterbacks. It’s nice when the genius of Aaron Rodgers is at the forefront.
But could the Bears ever come close to finding a quarterback like Rodgers? Do you have a system in which it can thrive? Justin Fields as the future savior? All doubtful.
Over and over.
It’s time for Virginia to think about it.
Sometimes the past has to say goodbye.