You call yourself a Chicago Bears fan? “100 Things Bears Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die,” a new book by Spectrem’s Millionaire Corner staff writer and sportswriter Kent McDill, will test your knowledge about one of the bedrock franchises of the NFL.
“100 Things” is not a trivia book. It is an immersion in Chicago Bears history, the good, the bad, and the ugly. From the milestones (the 1963 and 1985 championship teams) and the icons (Halas, Grange, Luckman, Ditka, Butkus, McMahon, Payton, Urlacher) to the most memorable games (The Fog Bowl) and the fails (the Spare Bears), the user-friendly book accessibly chronicles the essential things one needs to know to be counted among true Bears fans.
McDill, who grew up in Indiana and thus grew up on basketball (he is also the author of “100 Things Bulls Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die” and writes for NBA.com). He discovered the Bears after his family moved to the city in 1967. He came with no football affiliation. “Indianapolis didn’t have a football team at the time,” he said. “You move to Chicago, you become a Bears fan. (At the time) the Bears and the Cubs were the two teams most ingrained in Chicago.”
McDill said his father embraced the team’s blue collar work ethic. “They were known as a hard-working team,” he said. “That’s what appealed to my father, and as a youngster, what appealed to my father appealed to me. But (for me), I enjoyed the physical nature of football. It wasn’t something I got to play as a kid, so it was a unique sport for me.”
His father was happy when his son would later announce his intentions to pursue a sportswriting career, but only “up to a point,” McDill laughed. “He wanted me to be a lawyer. But when it started to work out, he was more pleased.”
McDill stepped up his game when he began to cover the Bears in 1985 for the venerable United Press International. “In Indiana I had covered Purdue, Indiana and Notre Dame football,” he said. “This was a much bigger stage and (in 1985), the Bears were already a very, very good team and on the cusp of something great. The city was really absorbed in the team because they didn’t have Michael Jordan yet.”
What they had was a team of colorful characters led by head coach Mike Ditka and featuring Walter “Sweetness” Payton, “punky QB” Jim McMahon, breakout star William “The Refrigerator” Perry, and the famed "46 Defense." The game-changing novelty song “The Super Bowl Shuffle” captured the nation’s hearts and minds (Bruce Willis wore a “McMahon” headband on an episode of “Moonlighting”).
So for the Bears and McDill, it was a very good year to begin covering them. Payton, he said, “was a joy to cover, always upbeat. Professional athletes aren’t always fun to cover. Frankly, I had difficulty relating to some of the larger guys.” As for Perry, who achieved something that Payton was not allowed to do—score a touchdown in the Super Bowl—McDill noted, “It was fun to watch him. He was a rookie, so very young, and all of a sudden he’s on top of the world enjoying a celebrity that came absolutely out of nowhere.”
Covering controversial and volatile Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight for five years prepared McDill well for dealing with the equally volatile and famously combative Ditka. “Mike was hit and miss,” McDill said. “On the days he was in a good mood, he was very funny. On days he was in a bad mood you got one word answers and you just dealt with it. His treatment of the media was unique. He saw us as his playthings and if he had the opportunity to make fun of us he would.”
“100 Things Bears Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die” has got all this covered, but also goes deep in chronicling Bears history, one self-contained chapter at a time (the book was designed, McDill notes, so it could be opened at any point for the reader to dive in).
At 32, the Chicago Bears have the most players enshrined in the Hall of Fame. “Today’s fans probably only know a handful,” McDill observed.
Also included are lesser-known greats such as wide receiver Harlon Hill, a 1954 Rookie of the Year, who still holds franchise records and ranks among the best in others. On the flip side of the coin, the book also notes such career fumblers as Al Harris and Todd Bell, who missed out on the 1985 Super Bowl season over a salary dispute.
Next up for McDill are two books, “If the Walls Could Talk,” recalling his 11 years in the locker room with the Bulls and “Facing Michael Jordan,” a collection of interviews with 50 competitors who went one-on-one with the game’s greatest and most fiercely competitive player.”
He has his own Michael Jordan story. “I had called him the night before and he didn’t answer his phone,” McDill recalled. “He called back at 7 in the morning. It was a weekend and my wife and I were still asleep. She answered and asked who was calling, and then handed me the phone and said, ‘He says he’s Michael Jordan.’ When I got on the phone Michael was laughing. I assume he got that a lot.”
There are perks to being a sportswriter beyond hanging with legendary players and seeing historic games. “Just the other day, my son was rummaging through the garage found an old personal phone book of mine with Michael’s cell phone number,” McDill said. “He asked, ‘Dad, dad, can I dial this?’ I told him he could give it a shot but that it probably wasn’t his number anymore. But he was just excited to know that at one point I had Michael Jordan’s personal phone number.”
Donald Liebenson writes news and features for Millionaire Corner. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, Fiscal Times, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, and other outlets. He has also served as a marketing writer for Chicago-based Questar Entertainment and distributor Baker & Taylor.
A graduate of the University of Southern California, he is married with a college-age son. He also writes extensively about entertainment.