1985 Bears Coverage: No Honey Bears? Fans stuck on ‘em

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Every day of the 2015 Chicago Bears season, Chicago Sun-Times Sports will revisit its coverage 30 years ago during the 1985 Bears’ run to a Super Bowl title.

No Honey Bears? Fans stuck on ’em

Wade Roberts

Originally published Nov. 10, 1985

The Chicago Bears are talking of disbanding the Honey Bears, sending them packing from the Soldier Field den.

“Chicago without the Honey Bears?” said Harold Washington, who serves as mayor when he’s not at Soldier Field. “I can’t believe it.”

“Unfortunate,” said Jane Byrne, his predecessor as Fan No. 1. “Something will be lacking.”

Na na na na, hey hey hey, is this goodbye?

“Right now,” said Bears spokesman Ken Valdiserri, “there’s a 50-50 chance.”

The team’s five-year contract with the Honey Bears expires in April, Valdiserri said, “and we’re examining other avenues of entertainment.”

“One of our concerns is cost,” said Valdiserri. “We spend around $50,000 a year on them. We’re not sure the expense is warranted.”

Among the alternatives, he said, are bringing in guest cheerleaders-of-the-week and marching-bands-of-the-day from local high schools and colleges. That, obviously, would be free.

“You say $50,000?” asked Deosie Baker, a cab driver. “That ain’t nothing. What do they pay a place kicker? And he don’t do nothing.”

“Give me the girls,” said airline pilot Steve Richardson. “When you’ve seen one high school band create a waving field of amber grain, you’ve seen ’em all.”

There is a standing debate about professional cheerleaders.

“Football is a sport,” sniffed a spokesman for the Pittsburgh Steelers. “This is not Hollywood.”

“Wrong,” countered Tex Schramm, president of the Dallas Cowboys, and the man credited with the inventing the modern pro-football cheerleader. “It’s entertainment. People come out to the ballpark to get a good show.”

“Keep the game pure and simple,” argued a spokesman for the Detroit Lions. “Fans come for the game.”

“There are people who come just to watch the girls,” responded Suzanne Mitchell, manager of the Dallas cheerleaders. “Even hard-core fans like moments of beauty among the violence.”

“Not fair,” said Rikki Wainwright, a Lincoln Park waitress. “The guys have something to look at. What about us women? Where are the hunks for us?”

“Hey,” said Blackie Fitzsimmons, a South Side bartender. “There are 22 guys on the field for the women to watch. Not counting the referees. And those guys on TV.”

Count the television networks among those who vote to save the Honey Bears. The thought of a football game without cheerleaders (nine of the 28 National Football League teams have no cheerleaders) fills the broadcasters with fear.

“What are we going to cut to between plays,” said Doug Richardson of CBS Sports. “More fat guys wearing funny hats?”

At NBC, which will broadcast this year’s Super Bowl, they are hoping to get two teams’ worth of cheerleaders.

“It adds to the, uh, pageantry,” said spokesman Steve Griffith.

At the Snuggery Saloon and Dining Room on West Division, “Home of the Honey Bears,” they’re circulating a Save-the-Honey-Bears petition.

“We don’t have much chance of meeting Ditka or Payton or Perry,” said the Snuggery’s Thad Gentry. “Meeting the Honey Bears is as close as we’ll ever get.”

Over at the bar, Phil Mathewson was engaged in serious thought.

“Allison. Michele. MaryJo. Tracy. Renee. Michele,” Mathewson said. “I love ’em all.”

They work hard for the money. It’s $20 a game.

Make it $15. They have to pay $5 to park at Soldier Field.

Most of the Honey Bears pad the meager salary by making personal appearances at restaurants, trade shows and ribbon-cuttings.

Still, $20 a game is all they’re guaranteed.

Regardless, more than 1,000 women – students, realtors, models, homemakers, sales clerks, accountants – show up each March to audition for one of the 38 spots.

Those who make it spend two to three evenings a week at practice, perfecting the 30 dances, 50-odd cheers and the dozen pre-game routines for the season. Between games and during the off-season, the squad does about 1,000 hours a year of charity work.

“It’s very demanding,” said Debbie Brown, a former Honey Bear who spent five years on the squad. “It’s grueling.”

“There are,” agreed Susan Siegel, another ex-Honey, “easier ways to make $20.”

Ma Bear was a little miffed.

“We’ve been with the Bears through thick and thin,” said Cathy Core. “Through losing seasons, when the only action was what we were doing on the sidelines.”

Core helped start the Honey Bears in 1977. Eight years later, still is manager-choreographer.

“These girls have always been the biggest fans the Bears will ever have,” she said. “For the team to suddenly say `Goodbye, you’ve served your purpose’ . . . Well, it’s sad.”

Do Honey Bears cry?

“Yes,” said Trina Green, a four-year veteran. “When I heard the news.”

Green was taking a break last week from rehearsals for Sunday’s game. For two hours, the Honeys had been running through a complicated routine set to their new theme song, “Get Hot Honey.”

“We’re tired and we’re sore,” said Green. “But we’re going to keep at it till we get it right. We’re gonna knock their socks off.”

That, she said, is what bothers her the most.

“We’re totally dedicated to the team. We’re all die-hards,” she said. “This year, they’re No. 1. What happens next year, or the next? What happens when they have a losing season again?”

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