The time Dick Butkus nearly fought George Halas, and the five best things we heard at Friday's Bears100 celebration

The time Dick Butkus nearly fought George Halas, and the five best things we heard at Friday's Bears100 celebration

The opening festivities at the Bears100 Celebration Weekend Friday night didn’t disappoint, with so many franchise legends congregating with legions of fans at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont. Media members had a chance to speak with those legends, from Dick Butkus to Mike Ditka to Devin Hester and everywhere in between, Friday evening. Below is a sampling of some of the best quotes and stories we heard:

1. The time Dick Butkus nearly got in a fight with George Halas

Halas retired from coaching in 1967, four years after winning his last NFL championship and two years into the Super Bowl era. His successor didn’t have much success: Jim Dooley went 20-36 in his four years, and became the first Bears coach to ever be fired following the 1971 season. 

Following Dooley’s firing, Butkus remembers going in to the Bears’ office to get his mail and stopping by to see Halas. By that time, Butkus had established himself as one of the best defensive players in NFL history. The conversation between the team’s founder and star linebacker was frank, as Butkus remembered it playing out Friday:

“I’m asking him, ‘who’s going to be the new coach?’ And he says ‘ah, well, you’ll know,'" Butkus said. "And I said, ‘you know something, coach, I really don’t think you want to win here.’”

“And he got up and I thought he was going to take a poke at me. ‘What’d you say?’ (I said) ‘I don’t think you wanna win here.’ 

“I says, ‘who’s in the Super Bowl?’ He said, ‘oh Dallas and Miami’ or something. And I said, ‘two god damn expansion teams, when we should be there.’ And he sat down, and that was the end of the conversation.”

Abe Gibron was hired to replace Dooley, and Gibron’s .274 winning percentage in three seasons still stands as the worst in franchise history (John Fox narrowly avoided that ignominious designation, finishing his forgettable three years with a .292 winning percentage). Jack Pardee and Neill Armstrong both got the Bears back to the playoffs, but it wasn’t until Mike Ditka was hired in 1982 did the Bears return to their championship glory. 

Butkus’ point, though, still resonates today: Why has a franchise as historic and successful as the Bears only won one Super Bowl?

“There’s no reason why we can’t or shouldn’t be in the run all the time,” Butkus said. “I know you lose draft choices or whatever when you finish first all the time but how can you explain New England being up there all these years? That’s not right. The Bears should be the ones.”

The good news: Butkus saw an awfully positive sign of things changing in the Bears’ favor over 2018’s Labor Day weekend. 

“They always had a reputation about their pay,” Butkus said. “But I’m glad to see that they came out and paid some money for (Khalil) Mack and got him, and look what he did. It’s unbelievable what he did. He turned the whole thing around. They maybe don’t want to say that, but he did. He’s just got everybody by the way he plays.”  

2. Gray Matters

We’ll go for a shorter quote here: Jay Hilgenberg, the two-time All-Pro, six-time Pro Bowl and Super Bowl winning center, on current Bears coach Matt Nagy:

“I said it one time, when they dissect Matt Nagy’s brain it’s going to be the shape of a football,” Hilgenberg said. “It’s amazing what he comes up with.”

3. Mission No. 1

Mike Ditka grew up in Pittsburgh not knowing much about the Bears’ rivalry with the Green Bay Packers, which by the time he was drafted in 1961 had been building for four decades. So when he got to Chicago, Halas sat him down with an important message. 

“I can remember when I first came to the Bears, and I’m from Pittsburgh so I didn’t know a whole heck of a lot about it, so one thing Mr. Halas said — we sat down, we’re talking — the most important thing, he said: We’ve gotta beat the Packers twice,” Ditka said. “The most important — we’ve gotta beat the Packers twice. That’s what he said to me. I wasn’t sure who the Packers were.”

Twenty years later, the Bears brought Ditka back as a head coach. He went 15-5 against the Packers, which included an eight-game winning streak from 1985 to 1988. So for Ditka, that the Bears will begin their 100th season against the Packers, in the NFL’s 100th season, is only fitting. 

“That’s the way it should be,” Ditka said. “Mr. Halas and coach (Vince) Lombardi would like it that way. … It’s one of the great rivalries in the history of the game.”

4. How Gary Fencik wound up with season tickets for life

Fencik lived out every Chicagoland football player’s dream by winning a Super Bowl with the 1985 Bears. So when it was time for him to negotiate his final contract with the team, he wanted a clause inserted into it: A guarantee of four season tickets. 

“I said look, I’m from Chicago, I need season tickets,” Fencik said. “And they go, we can’t give you what we don’t have. We don’t have any tickets to give you.”

Instead, Fencik settled on a clause that wound up getting him those tickets a decade and a half later. 

“So I put it in my contract, in perpetuity, if the Bears ever built a new stadium I would have the option to buy four tickets between the 40 yard line and the middle of the first section,” Fencik said. “I’m on the 42-yard line, row nine, in the middle of the first section.”

As a season ticket holding fan, Fencik said this about the current Bears that, surely, plenty of other season tickets holders have felt too: “What you feel as a fan is that there is something special.”

5. Thinking Offense

A couple of quick bites from 1985 Super Bowl winners on the current Bears’ offense:

Jim McMahon: “He’s got a great offense to play in. From the little bit I’ve seen, that’s the kind of offense I would like to play in.”

Ditka: “I like what the Bears have. They can run the ball, they play very good defense, I love the quarterback. There’s a lot of good things there.”

For more: We'll have plenty more to come from Friday's Orange Carpet event, including three Hall of Famer's thoughts on Khalil Mack and Devin Hester's thought about joining those Hall of Famers in Canton. 

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NFL commissioner Roger Goodell releases statement on death of George Floyd


NFL commissioner Roger Goodell releases statement on death of George Floyd

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell released a statement Saturday evening regarding the tragic death of George Floyd.

"The NFL family is greatly saddened by the tragic events across our country," Goodell's statement reads. "The protesters' reactions to these incidents reflect the pain, anger and frustration that so many of us feel.

"Our deepest condolences go out to the family of Mr. George Floyd and to those who have lost loved ones, including the families of Ms. Breonna Taylor in Louisville, and Mr. Ahmaud Arbery, the cousin of Tracy Walker of the Detroit Lions."

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As protests break out nationwide, Goodell said "there remains much more to do as a country and league," to combat racial inequality.

"These tragedies inform the NFL's commitment and our ongoing efforts. There remains an urgent need for action," he said. "We recognize the power of our platform in communities and as part of the fabric of American society. We embrace that responsibility and are committed to continuing the important work to address these systemic issues together with our players, clubs and partners."

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Leadership lessons Ryan Pace learned from time with Sean Payton, Saints

Leadership lessons Ryan Pace learned from time with Sean Payton, Saints

Every organization in the NFL is working hard to adapt their workflows while under COVID-19 restrictions. Rookie minicamps have already been missed. Organizations are still unable to meet as a full team, and that’s obviously a challenge. But Bears GM Ryan Pace may have a leg up due to the lessons he learned while working in the New Orleans Saints’ front office.

Pace joined Mike Florio on Pro Football Talk’s podcast “PFT PM” to explain exactly how that time in New Orleans helped to shape him as a leader, both in “normal” times and times of crisis.

“There’s no excuses in our league,” Pace said on the podcast. “That happened in New Orleans during Katrina-- really every time a hurricane came towards that city, we adapted.

“What I felt from the leadership from (Saints head coach) Sean (Payton) and (Saints GM) Mickey (Loomis) is there was never an excuse. It was: let’s adapt and let’s adjust, and that’s what we did. From 2005 to 2006, I mean that was a major shift in that team under trying times.”

Pace is referring to the Saints firing Jim Haslett and hiring Sean Payton, and installing Payton’s new systems, all while recovering from Hurricane Katrina. The Saints were incredibly successful working through those hard times too, improving from 3-13 in 2005 to 10-6 and NFC South winners in 2006.

Beyond learning to not let hard times affect his team’s success on the field, Pace says he learned a lot about how to run a team from Payton and Loomis.

“First of all, (Payton’s) very aggressive, he's not afraid to make hard decisions. He’s decisive and Mickey’s the same way: aggressive and decisive, no regrets, never looks back, not afraid to think outside the box, but also very conscious of the culture of that team.

“I think any time you drift away from that-- and it’s easy to do, and enticing to do-- but usually when you do that, once you realize you’ve done that to the locker room, the damage is already done. You try to correct yourself or police a player, the damage is already done in the locker room. So I think it’s being aggressive with the moves you make, not looking back, operating with decisiveness, but then being very conscious of the culture in the locker room.

“It’s a fine line. 12-4 to 8-8, it’s a fine line I think, because the people, the staff, the people in your building are conscious of that.”

Pace has certainly acted decisively when building his roster, trading up to draft Mitchell Trubisky, Leonard Floyd, Anthony Miller and David Montgomery.

But he later says, there’s more nuance than simply acting decisively to become an effective leader.

“When you’re making a hard decision, what’s best for the organization?” Pace said. “Not letting your ego get in the way because ‘Hey, this was your idea,’ ‘You selected this player,’ whatever it is, what’s best for the team? And sometimes those are decisions when you have to remove emotions.”

Pace has shown the ability to set aside his ego to make those hard decisions too. Most recently he opted not to pick up Trubisky’s fifth-year option. He already cut Leonard Floyd. And after he didn’t offer Kyle Fuller a fifth-year option, he paid even more to keep Fuller since the cornerback proved he deserved to stay.

“For me, to be honest, I think that’s come pretty natural and pretty easy, and I think it’s because of my experience in New Orleans.”

RELATED: Why Ryan Pace ultimately decided to trade for Nick Foles

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