Sunday morning at the Chicago Bears' 100th Anniversary Celebration reminded me very much of Monday mornings after the Super Bowl.
The Bears faithful were there for their “Beloved,” but the blocks-long lines just to enter the convention center and half-hour and longer waits just 16, 20 hours earlier for a hot dog or cup of coffee were gone.
The diehards were still there, though, and their loyalty was rewarded by a truly special appearance by Virginia McCaskey, followed by a 45-minute panel featuring Ryan Pace, Matt Nagy and Ted Phillips.
No human alive has had a seat closer to the stage throughout the 100-year history of the Bears and the National Football League than Mrs. McCaskey, and at 96 years young she’s still able to confirm and dispel all kinds of urban legend surrounding the game.
Much is made of the “Red Grange Tour” in 1925, historically reported as the event that saved the NFL from dying an early death, and it is often said Virginia McCaskey was there.
But as she glibly reported, “I was there but it was either right before or right after my third birthday, so I don’t remember a whole lot.”
Mrs. McCaskey did share a great memory of legendary Bears Hall of Famer Bronco Nagurski.
“After retiring, Bronco Nagurski bought his gas station knowing it was a solid investment because when you filled up there and Bronco put your gas cap back on, it wasn’t coming off again until Bronco took it off.”
But the moment that best described Virginia McCaskey and the entire McCaskey family came when she was asked what it all has meant to her.
“I often think about what Kyle Fuller said recently about how much it means to him coming to work at Halas Hall every day and how it makes him feel.
“Each time I go to Halas Hall, I think to myself, ‘does this really belong to us?’”
In all fairness to them, the Pace, Nagy, Phillips gabfest had an impossible act to follow in Mrs. McCaskey and was far less spine tingling. But it was an interesting peek behind the curtain at the unique working relationship between the reigning NFL Executive and Coach of the year, Pace and Nagy.
Pace is a general manager’s GM, the ultimate grinder, an 80-, 90-hour-a-week guy who is constantly trying to avoid revealing anything about the inner workings of the Bears front office and what his next moves might be.
And he is apparently better at it than most of the only other 31 guys in the world with the same job.
Nagy, however, is different.
Pace informed the crowd he believes his head coach is “a rock star.”
Unlike most NFL coaches today who often treat media, cameras and microphones like the plague, Nagy is engaging, he seems to almost enjoy his time with those conduits to the Bears fan base and is truly enjoyable to be around and work with.
To be clear, both coach and GM treat their plans for their team, their next moves and even moves months and years down the road like a C.I.A. black op, to be guarded and protected with their lives.
But get Nagy talking about football in general, offensive philosophy, his players, his coaches and what the Chicago Bears mean to him, and you’re hard-pressed to imagine a franchise in professional sports with a better face or spokesperson.
As you might expect, over the course of the weekend the conversation turned more than once to “Club Dub,” and if you’re not sure what that is, I’m not sure why you’re reading this column.
“I want Mrs. McCaskey in the middle of that at the end of the year for the big one (the Super Bowl)!" Nagy said of his No. 1 goal for the season. "I want her front and center."
Few endeavors are more fickle than professional sports, and of course many insist NFL stands for "not for long."
But after this weekend, as the Bears kickoff their 100th anniversary season and what they hope will be a magical mystery tour, it’s hard to imagine the team being in a better place with its fans.