As part of this weekend's Bears100 Celebration at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, NBC Sports Chicago had a chance to sit down with Virginia McCaskey, the matriarch of the Chicago Bears and the daughter of George Halas. The 96-year-old McCaskey has a wealth of memories, insight and stories to share, from the days of her father's efforts to get the NFL on the map to the explosion of interest in the game today:
JJ Stankevitz: What’s this experience been like for you where you have living Hall of Famers, so many legends of this franchise coming back and being in one place?
Virginia McCaskey: I think it’s something that everyone has been enjoying and being amazed by it. I heard Pat Mannelly say he had never met Dick Butkus until last night, and he went up and introduced himself to Mr. Butkus. And I’m thinking oh, I just assumed they all somehow melded into one happy pod.
JJ Stankevitz: Was there someone in particular you were looking forward to seeing here?
Virginia McCaskey: It’s always great to see Bill McCall because he and I are the seniors. And his wife Barbara came with him all the way from California. And I think that’s a lovely representation of what this means to the players and to their families.
JJ Stankevitz: You see these legions of fans here, old and young. What would you like some of the younger fans here to know about your father and the impact he had on this franchise?
Virginia McCaskey: He was the Chicago Bears all his working life, and always will be.
JJ Stankevitz: As a father — everyone got to see him as “Mr. Everything” with this team — what do you remember about him when he came home and he was George?
Virginia McCaskey: He was still on the phone or thinking about some things that would make a difference. Also trying to work extra jobs just to support the family because there certainly wasn’t the income as far as the football team was concerned. When you read about the early championships and the payoff per player was $210 dollars. It was a completely different world.
JJ Stankevitz: You were at the first playoff game in NFL history, correct? At Chicago Stadium — what do you remember about that?
Virginia McCaskey: There were different rules of that game because there wasn’t room in Chicago Stadium for a full football field. And so I had to ask my mother questions during a football game, which usually I didn’t do. I usually waited until after a game if I had any questions. She was up to date on all the information that I needed and it was — I had a ticket stub that belonged to one of my older cousins that showed a price of a dollar and a quarter.
JJ Stankevitz: A dollar and a quarter?
Virginia McCaskey: A dollar and a quarter. I made the mistake of taking it to one of the Super Bowl games to show Pete Rozelle and I don’t know what happened to it. But I do remember that.
JJ Stankevitz: I imagine if you guys make the Super Bowl in your 100th season the ticket prices will be a little bit more expensive.
Virginia McCaskey: I’ve heard rumors of thousands of dollars. And with our family, the size of our family — but we still hope to be there.
JJ Stankevitz: I know you were very young when George Halas went on his barnstorming tour into Florida, into California. But what do you remember about the stories from that, about how hard your dad had to work just to get the NFL on the map in this country?
Virginia McCaskey: The barnstorming tour probably should be a recognition of Red Grange’s managers’ dream, C.C. Pyle, because it certainly was revolutionary in planning and execution. My brother had been born that September 1925, and this was just before my third birthday, so I don’t have any real memories. But I have heard many stories about the traveling on the train with my mother and her sister, my aunt. And we went as far as Florida and then decided, my mother decided we would go home and not make the trip to California.
JJ Stankevitz: And now the Bears are going to London this year!
Virginia McCaskey: Yes, London and California.
JJ Stankevitz: When you see how much the Bears have grown along with the NFL, and you see how many fans are here for this convention, what are your emotions in terms of what has been built with this team?
Virginia McCaskey: Almost disbelief. Gratitude for the fans. And then some people say, what do you think’s going happen in the next 100 years — I can’t imagine what’s going to happen compared to what’s happened already in the first 100 years.
JJ Stankevitz: Is it neat for you that Matt Nagy has such a keen sense of history? I mean, the first play he called was “Papa Bear Left.”
Virginia McCaskey: Wasn’t that fun?
JJ Stankevitz: How neat is it for you that you have a coach who’s so invested in the history and the tradition of this team like Matt Nagy?
Virginia McCaskey: I think we’re very fortunate to have him as our head coach. I also think we’re very fortunate to have the history to tell the players and remind them at least once in a while about the humble beginnings of all this. It was a dream that has actually more than come true. I think there’s a limit to what you can do with history. Now we have to concentrate on the immediate future of this season. It’s going to be — for me, it’s going to be challenging just to accommodate to all the different kickoff times and places.
JJ Stankevitz: Well that first kickoff time against Green Bay — we had coach Ditka telling us yesterday that it’s almost fitting, it’s the way that coach Lombardi and George Halas would’ve wanted it, for the Bears and Packers to open the NFL’s 100th season.
Virginia McCaskey: I’m glad it’s at home instead of up there.
JJ Stankevitz: What do you remember about the Packers rivalry? Has it always been there, ever since you can remember, that this has been the best rivalry in the NFL?
Virginia McCaskey: We used to play our games in Wrigley Field, but we couldn’t get into the field until after baseball season was over — especially in the later years when they constructed the temporary east stands, and all that took time, so we always played the first three or four games of the season as away games. And inevitably, we either opened or played Green Bay one of those early games. And it was difficult to beat them up there. It was difficult to beat them any time. So now we’ll be on our own home ground and I hope the fans — actually, I had friends call me and say ‘I am so excited about this season, let’s get to September.’ And we have work to do first.
JJ Stankevitz: I’m sure you and a lot of other fans feel the same way, just get to September. How did you experience last season with sort of the rebirth of this team as one of the best in the NFL?
Virginia McCaskey: Were you there for the last two games at Soldier Field?
JJ Stankevitz: Yes I was.
Virginia McCaskey: Wasn’t it glorious? Everybody there was involved.
JJ Stankevitz: And did you take a moment at any of those points to think, this is what my dad would’ve wanted?
Virginia McCaskey: This is what we hope it will be, yes, going forward.