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Lockport native Zimmer loves Bears, just not this week

Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer grew up in Lockport rooting for the Bears, played pool with Gale Sayers when he was 9, was in awe to meet Walter Payton as a young assistant coach in the 1980s and learned the nuances of the 46-defense from Buddy Ryan himself years ago.

“I grew up there for along time. My dad was a high school football coach and I wouldn’t say I’m [still] a fan,” ,” said the 58-year-old Zimmer, whose father, Bill Zimmer, was the head football coach at Lockport High School from 1960-1993. “But I do have a fondness for the Bears. Just because growing up there, they were always kind of my team.

“I’ve been with a few teams now in the NFL … but as a young kid, as a guy growing up and playing at Lockport High School, the Bears were my team. I can remember growing up when Buddy Ryan was the defensive coordinator, I used to go up to Platteville. I think I was coaching at Washington State at the time. And I used to go up and watch them practice and sit in on some of the defensive meetings. And I got a chance to meet Walter Payton and all those great players. You’re even in awe at that point.

“And I even had Buddy Ryan come and speak at a clinic when I was coaching at Weber State. He flew out to Ogden, Utah, did a clinic for us out there and it was on the 46 defense. So I do have a lot of ties to it and in the Chicago area.”

But after waiting 35 years to become an NFL head coach — he turned down the Nebraska job in 2004 to pursue the opportunity — Zimmer isn’t exactly in a position to empathize with Bears fans too much.

“The Bears fans and the Chicago people in general are great, great people,” said Zimmer, a quarterback for his father at Lockport who played at Illinois State. “They’ve always been very, very passionate about the Bears — the Cubs and the White Sox. But I don’t put a lot of time and effort into worrying about them right now. ”