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Bears great Steve ‘Mongo’ McMichael diagnosed with ALS

One of the most dynamic players and personalities from the franchise’s golden era is in severe decline as he battles Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Steve McMichael at the Bears celebration of their 100th season in June 2019.
Steve McMichael at the Bears celebration of their 100th season in June 2019.
Mark Black/For the Sun-Times

Steve “Mongo” McMichael, the hard-hitting, loud-talking defensive tackle who embodied a 1985 Bears team that bullied and crowed its way to a Super Bowl title, has been diagnosed with 36-month onset ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

McMichael, 63, has no movement in his arms or hands, a family spokesperson said Friday. His legs are weakening; he will soon need a customized wheelchair, which the Bears will purchase. He relies on his wife of 20 years, Misty, to feed him and help with hygiene, the spokesperson said.

Former Bears coach Mike Ditka was still reeling Friday.

“I don’t want to say that you have favorites, but I would have to say that Steve McMichael was always one of my favorites,” Ditka told the Sun-Times. “There was no quit in the guy. He gave you what he had. Whether it was enough or not, it didn’t matter. You were going to get his best effort. . . .

“He didn’t take any crap from anybody — teammates in practice, nobody. . . . He was one of the mainstays of that great Bear defense we had in ’85. I love him to death.”

Doctors confirmed McMichael’s diagnosis in January.

“This epitaph that I’m going to have on me now?” McMichael told the Chicago Tribune. “This ain’t ever how I envisioned this was going to end.”

Former Bears teammate Dan Hampton has visited McMichael two or three times a month since January. Two weeks ago, he brought fellow Hall of Fame defensive lineman Richard Dent with him.

“What do you say? What do you do? How do you respond?” said Hampton, who has built a ramp at McMichael’s Romeoville home so his friend can go outside. “It’s like a plane crash. You don’t know what’s up. You have to start making contingency plans.

“I admire him so much. He and his wife’s attitude has been just spectacular. If something like that happens to me or most people, you become bitter. Moribund. To his credit, his attitude has been exemplary. The whole thing is like a bad dream.”

He called Mc—Mich-ael one of a half-dozen “alpha males” on the greatest defense of all time.

“To see that now he’s not in a position where he’s able to control his life, it’s a sobering gut punch,” Hampton said.

Former Bears receiver Dennis McKinnon found out about the diagnosis through a text from Misty two months ago. When he went to McMichael’s house, he saw the same zany friend — “A few fries short of a Happy Meal, but who doesn’t like McDonald’s?” he said — but with physical limitations.

“Any time you can embrace a brother and he can’t hug you back, it’s one of the worst feelings in the world,” McKinnon said.

Playing for the Bears from 1981 to 1993, McMichael made the Pro Bowl twice and was twice named a first-team All-Pro. He finished his Bears career with 814 tackles (third in franchise history), 92 ½ sacks (second in franchise history) and two interceptions.

He played his final season for the rival Packers in 1994 before retiring from football and performing as a professional wrestler from 1995 to ’99.

McMichael (left) and William Perry (right) carry coach Mike Ditka off the field after winning the Super Bowl.
Associated Press

A GoFundMe page has been established to help cover the increasing costs of McMich-ael’s medical care, and Chicago-based T-shirt maker Obvious Shirts has created “Team Mongo” shirts to raise additional money for the family. The McMichaels, who have a 13-year-old daughter, Macy, are looking for a handicap-accessible house and have made a down payment on a handicap-accessible van.

McMichael had various concerns about his health for several years but was in good shape and spirits when he appeared at the “Bears 100” convention in 2019. Describing the rock-star reception he received at the event, he quoted a line from Russell Crowe in the movie “Gladiator.”

“Your name echoes through eternity,” he said. “That’s some pride, isn’t it?”

Contributing: Mark Potash