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1985 Bears Coverage: Fans swarm all over `purist' Bears

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.

Fans swarm all over `purist’ Bears

Ray Sons

Originally published Nov. 14, 1985

Do you still need honey to lure Bear fans to Soldier Field?

The question is absurd, with the team 10-0 and all seats sold for remaining games with such unattractive opponents as the Atlanta Falcons and Indianapolis Colts. Some Chicagoans would sell their grandmothers to a white slaver for tickets to playoff games in January, though a walrus, a Cowboy or a Ram would get frostbitten in the old lakefront stadium.

But the Honey Bears, who were invented as a lure and a distraction, have popped up as a distracting nuisance to the team’s management in the week in which the Bears prowl through the spotlight of national attention in their preparations for Dallas.

The club’s contract with the talent agency that supplies 32 Honey Bears per home game will expire at the end of this season, and there is a growing suspicion the cheerleaders will be told to find some other place to jiggle their obvious charms in 1986.

This has provoked cries of outrage from fans interviewed by the Sun-Times, the circulation of Save-the-Honeys petitions in saloons, and a WBBM-radio poll that produced lopsided support for the girls of autumn. Yesterday, the City Council, whose members normally cannot agree on the time of day, unanimously called upon the team’s management to retain the Honeys.

“The fan reaction has been astounding,” says Cathy Core, the Honeys’ den mother since their birth in 1977. “I’m pleased they’re that much behind the girls. I don’t think the Bears realized that.”

Core, director-choreographer for the Honey Bears, swears the public outcry has not been choreographed by her or her employer, the A-Plus Talent Agency. “People have been hearing about it from Lake Forest the Bears’ headquarters,” she says.

“They haven’t heard it from me,” sighs Jerry Vainisi, the Bears’ general manager, who would rather be concerned with Sunday’s football game in Texas Stadium. Nevertheless, Vainisi says, “We are going to meet with them A-Plus later this week. I don’t envision a decision coming out of that meeting.”

Ken Valdiserri, the team’s director of media relations, has put the cheerleaders’ chances at 50-50 and said the club wasn’t sure the Honey Bears’ $50,000 annual budget was money well spent.

But Vainisi insisted yesterday: “Dollars aren’t a consideration.” There would be sponsors willing to take over the financial burden, if that were the issue,” he said. “It’s more a philosophical issue. Do we feel cheerleaders have become pass, or are they still a part of the game? Nine NFL clubs have never had them or have dropped them.” The New England Patriots were the latest to cut their sideline attraction, he said, after two girls were injured and sued the club. So there are worries about liability.

But the main issue is one of philosophy.

“There are schools of thought that want to go back to the way football used to be,” said Vainisi. “You might call them purists. Then you’ve got the other side, clubs like Dallas, that really feel they’re an integral part of the over-all presentation.”

Where do the Bears fit in that spectrum?

“We’re in the moderate-to-purist category,” Jerry replied. (He said “purist,” not “prude.”) “We’re certainly not in the category where we feel they’re an integral part of the game . . .I’m really not a proponent that they add much to the game. I really don’t think they do . . .Do you actually think anybody buys a ticket to see the Honey Bears?”

Even Cathy Core concedes: “The Bears probably would still sell out without us. But fans do appreciate the girls. People would be disappointed if they weren’t there.”

Indeed, the sight of the Honey Bears in November and December provokes a springtime reaction in young male fans. It even warms the blood of some of us who have only one or two corpuscles left.

To put this important civic problem into historical perspective, we phoned Ted Haracz, who fathered the Honey Bears at the instigation of Jim Finks when Finks was the Bears’ general manager and Haracz, the director of public relations. Haracz, now living in Texas and handling media relations for the Ladies Professional Golf Association, and his able secretary, Corinne Nierman, launched the cheerleaders and hired Core to coach them.

“You have to understand the situation in Soldier Field at that time was pretty bleak,” Haracz recalled. “It was a mausoleum from top to bottom. We were providing some sideline color.”

In 1977, the Park District had not yet spent a ton of money to refurbish the old pile. The Bears had finished 7-7 the previous season, and fans didn’t dream they would make the playoffs that year, though they did. The invention of the Honey Bears gave the crowd some wobbles to watch besides the belly of guard Noah Jackson. The ultimate body for watching, William “Refrigerator” Perry, was a tad of 15, eating his way through the fauna and flora of South Carolina, a figure beyond our imagination.

Haracz found the girls a big plus for public relations. If a Kiwanis Club or Elks lodge wanted to hire a Bear as a speaker but couldn’t afford the $500 they were charging at that time, Ted could send them a Honey Bear with a projector to show a highlight film for a mere $50.

Cathy Core points out the girls still do a marvelous job in personal appearances. “They do 3,000 hours of charity work a year,” she says. Of course, they also do a lot of commercial appearances for which they are paid, and A-Plus gets a percentage of their income.

Vainisi allows: “The girls do an excellent job in the community.” He just wonders whether their role squares with “the traditions of football.”

The Bears, more than any other team, are keepers of pro football’s tradition, since George Halas invented the sport and his family still controls the team.

My guess is the club wanted to dump the Honeys quietly after the season and replace them with a trained dog act, with diapers on the dogs. With Bear fervor at its peak now, cutting the cheerleaders would be a public relations fiasco. Bear management may have to grin and bear the barest Bears.