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. ”