Nothing quite like that '63 Bears team
Bears fans have their own personal Boys of Autumn.
Yours might be the 1985 Bears or the current team that is undefeated through two games. Depends a lot on your age.
Mine are the 1963 Bears that were honored Sunday in Soldier Field to commemorate the 50th anniversary of their NFL championship season.
Those players are in their 70s and 80s now. Some limped out on artificial joints. Some were rolled out in wheelchairs. Some weren't fortunate enough to attend.
Only a select few such as Ed O'Bradovich and Ronnie Bull, the original Chicago Bull, still look like they could play today.
Too many other surviving members of the '63 Bears suffer too many consequences of too many hits, surgeries and medications. For a long time, decimated knees and shoulders and hips were the issue. Now brain damage is of greater concern.
Yet I never talked to a former NFL player who said he wouldn't do it again. They played football because that's what they were at that time of their lives. They were football players. Through the generations right up to the current one, football players find it difficult not to play football.
Only a certain kind of man can endure the pain of this game. I get a paper cut on my job and am done for a month; they get concussed and plead to get back on the field.
Today, huge salaries reward players for their efforts. Fifty years ago the reward was a relative pittance, along with the fringe benefits of competition and camaraderie.
Players in 1963 lived in the real world among real people and worked real jobs during the offseason. Five decades later they're older men rendered ancient by the residuals from football's brutality.
Then the other day -- on the lakefront, in the rain, shoes muddied by the soggy turf -- they had that twinkle in their eyes again.
The inclement conditions might have reminded them of so many games at Wrigley Field, the Bears' home then when bad field conditions were the norm.
Ah, the good old days.
The '63 Bears were cheered again on Sunday for winning a championship 50 years of Sundays ago, for beating the Packers twice that season, for bloodying Giants' quarterback Y.A. Tittle in the title game.
Kids today can have their Devin Hesters, Kyle Longs and Lance Briggses. My allegiances will remain with the Mike Pyles, Bennie McRaes and Joe Fortunatos.
You think Jay Cutler is the best Bears quarterback ever to come out of Vanderbilt? No, Billy Wade still is. You think Peanut Tillman is the Bears' best cornerback ever? No, Roosevelt Taylor still is. You think Brandon Marshall is the Bears' best wide receiver ever? No, Johnny Morris still is.
A young sports fan's favorite athletes are 10 feet tall. Fifty years later, the memories are 100 feet taller.
Of course, it remains to be seen whether it will be like that for today's kids as they grow older. Times are different, you know.
Back when the names were Wetoska and Casares instead of Bushrod and Forte, there were no ESPNs or all-sports radio stations to chronicle every player's move and expose every player's personal life.
Football was just football, not fantasy football, and players were just players, not business empires.
Chicago didn't even celebrate the 1963 Bears with a parade 50 years ago. Heck, the telecast of the championship game was blacked out in the metropolitan area.
Yet those players still are remembered for accomplishing something when they were young, healthy and at their best.
At least for a weekend, the pain of the game was eased a bit for my own personal Boys of Autumn.