Sunday Conversation: Patrick McCaskey
The name McCaskey is forever connected with the Chicago Bears. The NFL franchise that plays its home games next to Lake Michigan has roots in central Illinois. Like Decatur. And for one season, Champaign. Patrick McCaskey, who is on the Bears’ board of directors and is the grandson of George Halas, will head to Champaign in five days for a lecture about Bears history. Perhaps the forgettable 2002 campaign, in which the Bears went 4-12 while playing their home games at Memorial Stadium, will come up. Before McCaskey steps foot inside the Virginia Theatre in downtown Champaign, he talked with staff writer Matt Daniels about his grandfather, some of his favorite Bears players and if he thinks a Super Bowl will ever come to Chicago.
Why are you coming to Champaign?
To give a Bears history lecture at the Virginia Theatre. I worked with Charlie Finn on a documentary about Red Grange, and that was a little while ago. Then he had a play about Red Grange last August, and he invited me, but I wasn’t able to attend because the Bears had a game. We talked about the possibility of this Bears history lecture in Champaign, so that’s how it came up.
What’s the Bears’ relationship with Champaign like?
That’s really where the Bears got off to an excellent start. My grandfather, George Halas, went to the University of Illinois, and that’s why the Bears’ colors are blue and orange. Forty-five Bears have matriculated from Illinois. We have quite the history there. Among those 45, three are Hall of Famers, too, in Dick Butkus, Red Grange and George Halas.
What are you up to these days?
I’m the senior director of special projects with the Bears. The job involves projects like giving Bears history lectures. I have had two books published, one on my grandfather and another on faith and sports, and I’m about to finish a third book called “Pillars of the NFL.” It’s about coaches who have won three or more championships, including my grandfather.
What piqued your interest in writing?
I always wanted to be a writer. I’ve been writing since college. It’s just fairly recently that I’ve had some books published. Before the books, I had about 30 booklets printed and I would give them out to family and friends. These books are the culmination of those booklets.
The Minnesota Vikings will go through something similar to what the Bears did more than a decade ago by playing their home games at TCF Bank Stadium, the University of Minnesota’s home field. What do you remember about that season in Champaign?
It was 2002, and in the preseason the following year. The University of Illinois was very accommodating to the Bears and very helpful. We’d been trying to get a new stadium in Chicago since 1956. We were finally able to get Soldier Field renovated. The time at the University of Illinois was enjoyable. I just wish we had won more games.
What has it been like to have your family involved with the Bears for so many years?
It’s a wonderful experience and an opportunity. We are very grateful for the privilege. We are trying to extend my grandfather’s legacy through winning championships and helping other people. This lecture in Champaign follows through on that in it is actually a benefit for the Champaign Park District.
How do you think the NFL is doing when it comes to the concussion problem affecting football these days?
It’s a problem that’s very serious in that we’re trying to make the game safer while still keeping it competitive. We’re constantly looking to improve the safety of the game through equipment and rules changes.
What’s the first memory you have of a Chicago Bears game?
I started going to the Bears games when I was 5 years old. My brothers and I sat on an Army blanket on the Bears’ bench while my grandfather coached. It was wonderful to watch my grandfather coach. We waited for him outside the Bears’ locker room after the game. Regardless of how the game went, he was always happy to see us. We got to visit with some of our favorite Bears players like Bill George, the great linebacker, and Bill Wade, the Bears’ quarterback when we won the championship in 1963. I started going to training camp when I was 7, and George Blanda taught us how to kick, Bill George taught us how to play linebacker and Bill Wade taught us how to play quarterback. After they would have two-a-day practice, Bill Wade had me throwing 200 passes a day.
How important is faith in your life?
It’s very important. We want to win championships and we want to get to heaven. I am chairman of Sports Faith International, which recognizes people who are successful in sports while leading exemplary lives. George Halas is in the Sports Faith Hall of Fame. Vince Lombardi is too, and lots of people from around the NFL, along with people from other sports. We’ve also honored high school and college football players and coaches.
How do you feel Marc Trestman’s first season went?
I thought it went well. He’s a very good coach. We think he’s going to be successful and be a champion.
Who are some of your all-time favorite Chicago Bears?
Walter Payton was the best football player I’ve ever seen. He did many things very well, and he was quite a clown off the field.
What were some of the best practical jokes Payton pulled on you?
When I came into the locker room before Super Bowl XX in New Orleans, he told one of the security guards to give me a good rundown. Everyone involved in that had a good laugh. He warmed up to everyone, including me. He was very funny. He did impersonations of Buckwheat and Stevie Wonder and many other people.
What was your first job in the Bears’ organization?
In 1963 after I had graduated from eighth grade, I was an office boy and helped with the playbooks. That was a summer job. After I finished my university class work, I worked in the ticket office until training camp started. I would then help out at camp as the publicity assistant. I got to associate with writers because I was interested in being a writer, and that was very fun.
What’d you think of this year’s Super Bowl?
It wasn’t very competitive. I appreciate Peyton Manning, so I felt badly for him that the Broncos weren’t able to win. The Super Bowls prior to this one were very competitive. They were great games because you didn’t know who was going to win until the very end it seemed like. You knew pretty early who was going to win this past Super Bowl.
Any chance the Super Bowl will ever take place in Chicago?
I doubt it because of the limited capacity of Soldier Field. We’re at about 62,000, and the minimum you really need is 70,000 for a Super Bowl. It would be hard to add 8,000 seats to the existing Soldier Field.
Was Seattle’s defense this year better than the 1985 Bears’ defense?
They were close, but the ‘85 Bears, as a team, were more exceptional than the 2013 Seattle Seahawks, in my opinion. It would have been quite a matchup, though.