Jim O'Donnell: George McCaskey's knack for fanning football futility has deep roots

  • Bears owner George Halas leads the cheers in his private box as his team takes on Washington Oct. 11, 1981, at Soldier Field.

    Bears owner George Halas leads the cheers in his private box as his team takes on Washington Oct. 11, 1981, at Soldier Field. Associated Press

Updated 1/12/2022 5:47 PM

WHEN GEORGE McCASKEY WAS A LAD at St. Emily's school in Mount Prospect, he quarterbacked his team to the championship game of the eighth-grade touch football league.

In that title match, the McCaskey minions got crunched by a squad led by Dave Mnichowicz.


The athletic career of Mnichowicz would peak as an All-Area catcher at Hersey High School in Arlington Heights.

The challenges of McCaskey would peak as a loving, dutiful son who apparently is all out to keep his finger in an NFL dike waiting on the moment when most of his generation can finally, thankfully cash out of a family business known as "The Chicago Bears."

NO VERIFICATION COULD be found that after that 1969 touch football loss McCaskey told the St. Emily student newspaper, "Well, I'm just a fan. I'm not a football evaluator."

Monday, as chairman of the Bears, he made that statement to the world.

He made it in front of God, man and a compliant Zoom tribunal festooned with far too many fanboy media unsuccessfully attempting to play prime-time Mike Wallaces.

McCASKEY HAS HAD better days.

On a personal level, he was ashcanning two employees -- Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy -- whom he genuinely liked.

On a professional level, he was further exposing all of the confusion, disconnection and dysfunction that is the new-mill, old-gnaw Chicago Bears.

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But he didn't start the pyre.

FOR THE TRUE GENETIC ALPHA who got the monopolistic cookie crumbling, the accountability arrow has to go all the way back to The Saint Himself -- George Halas.

"The Papa Bear" had a dandy run of close to four decades influencing a league where a preponderance of low-cost franchises were controlled by bookies and physical-ed types like himself trying to extend their associations with athletics.

Then he tacked on a ragged quarter-century of overtime in which his organization's two primary achievements were: 1) Allowing George Allen's defense to win a championship in 1963; and, 2) Acquiescing to a leaguewide desire to strengthen its presence in the NFL's largest single-team market with the 1974 hiring of Jim Finks.

AND IN THE END, the autumnal Halas gummed up both of those magic moments.

He refused to glide into retirement and allow the masterful Allen to succeed him. (Also enabling Allen to go 11-1-2 with the Rams two years later.)


That led to a decade of futility under coaches Halas, Jim Dooley and Abe "Where's My Sam'mich?" Gibron.

And he bypassed the extraordinarily driven Finks in hiring Mike Ditka in 1982.

Finks bided his time, crafted his mythic Bears draft of 1983 and left almost all of the pieces in place for Super Bowl XX. Then, in August 1983, he abruptly bolted to an Andy McKenna-orchestrated role as president of the Cubs.

SO GEORGE MCCASKEY'S latest dance with implosive ambiguity isn't anything new.

Country music singers might suggest he's just carrying on an old family tradition.

And the more microscopically local could say that the roots of his propensity for football futility go all the way back to old St. Emily's all that fandom ago.

STREET-BEATIN': If statistical history means anything -- and the money trend toward the Raiders holds -- the bet of the NFL Wild Card Weekend is Las Vegas (+3½) over Joe Burrow and the host Bengals Saturday (NBC, 3:30 p.m.; Mike Tirico, Drew Brees). In the last decade, playoff 'dogs with a line move in their favor are 28-8 (78%). ...

Some remarkably sourced indicators say Aaron Rodgers will be playing for the Broncos next season. (Peyton Manning and/or John Elway in the new Denver ownership group won't hurt; The Colts, Steelers and Raiders will be left waiting at the altar.) ...

Random informed consensus ranking the "desirability" of the current NFL head coaching openings: 1. Broncos; 2. Jaguars; 3. Vikings; 4. Raiders; 5. Giants; 6. Dolphins; 7. Bears. (Most believe the Hall of Halas will not be undergoing a major cultural change until the summer of 2023 at the earliest.) ...

Shockingly poor latest all-ages ratings book for dog-paddling Mitch Rosen and WSCR-AM (670). The Audacy lowliner dipped all the way to No. 21 in the 31-station Chicago market, mere whiskers ahead of No. 23 ESPN-AM (1000). ...

Stetson Bennett IV and Georgia's explosive closeout of Alabama Monday night drew 22.6M viewers, the second-lowest championship audience of the CFP era. (But the game remained No. 1 among Confederate Civil War veterans 175+.) ESPN's production was notably scruffy. ...

And Bears memorabilia adviser Bill Polian, on the first phone message he received when he got the Buffalo GM job back in 1986, "It was from Jim Finks, who told me, 'Congratulations. You're one day closer to being fired.'"

• Jim O'Donnell's Sports & Media column appears Thursday and Sunday. Reach him at jimodonnelldh@yahoo.com.

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