There are two sayings that are true for any business: It all starts at the top. And the buck stops here.
With the Bears, the top of the pyramid is the McCaskey family and, more precisely — if we’re going to the tip of the spear — matriarch and principal owner Virginia McCaskey.
Virginia just turned 99, and that in itself is a wondrous, celebratory thing. To live a life so long and fruitful is a blessing to anyone anywhere, something the rest of us only can aspire to.
She and late husband Ed had 11 children, and Virginia herself is the only living child of Bears founder George Halas. The ‘‘Old Man’’ or ‘‘Papa Bear’’ — depending on your appreciation level of the jut-jawed patriarch — died in 1983, leaving quite a legacy.
Indeed, Halas didn’t just found the Bears; he basically started the National Football League. Through it all, there have been but two owners of the Bears in their 101-year history.
That is incredible. Awe-inspiring, even.
But with that unique ownership comes responsibility. There’s the rub.
The Bears haven’t had sustained success since the 1980s. And if you’re a proud football club, you should have a proud record. The Bears don’t.
You might think that as Virginia eases toward the century mark, she would be chilling out a bit, perhaps sitting by the fireplace in a rocking chair, maybe looking at family photos or chatting with great-grandchildren who gather around. But no.
Even if much of the Bears’ business is left to son George, the team chairman, and president Ted Phillips, Virginia is still the figurehead who commands — perhaps ‘‘demands’’ is the better word — respect from all workers.
Remember, she is the one who fired eldest son Michael as president of the Bears in 1999. Those of us who were there for that strained event in the auditorium of Halas Hall felt quite uncomfortable seeing mother and punished son stone-faced in the balcony. You’ll notice, too, that the TV cameras always pick up Virginia in a grainy long shot of the owner’s box at almost all games, home and away.
So as the Bears once again search for stability by firing their coach and general manager, it’s not going too far to say ‘‘Mama Bear’’ needs to own the past and to ponder whether maybe she needs to step down, move over or simply wash her hands of all things football.
It’s a complicated, emotional call.
Virginia is an endearing, still-sharp, more-than-symbolic woman of power in a brutally macho business. She represents family, faith (she’s a devout, Mass-attending Catholic) and, in certain ways, the struggles and dreams of the entire city of Chicago. She is to our town, in a sense, what 95-year-old Queen Elizabeth is to England.
But something is wrong with the Bears.
We saw the swift difference in the Blackhawks once president and longtime autocrat Bill Wirtz died in 2007. Yes, the Hawks stayed in the family, with son Rocky Wirtz running the show, but the three Stanley Cups that quickly resulted were as much about a new direction as they were about shedding the past.
The Cubs, under owner Tom Ricketts and family, were smart enough to know what they didn’t know and turned over the on-field show to outsider and baseball whiz Theo Epstein. The 2016 World Series championship was the result.
Since the death of Bills owner Ralph Wilson in March 2014, Virginia has been the oldest owner in the NFL. In fact, she is the oldest owner in all major sports in the United States. Moreover, she is now the longest-tenured NFL owner, passing former Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill, who died in 2019.
So what should be done?
The problem here is that the Bears are trying to fix their issues by using the same people over and over again to do the same things they failed at before.
Did anybody think young Matt LaFleur would be the outstanding coach he has become with the enemy Packers? The guy is 39-10 in three seasons, including 6-0 against the Bears. Maybe it’s all about quarterbacks. It’s nice when you’ve got genius Aaron Rodgers at the helm.
But could the Bears ever find a quarterback such as Rodgers, even close to that? Have a system for him to flourish in? Justin Fields as that savior-to-be? All doubtful.
Over and over.
It’s time for Virginia to think about that.
Sometimes the past has to wave goodbye.