MORRISSEY: McCaskeys winning at money, getting blown out at football
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Let’s pretend that my dad was a brilliant scientist who founded a rocket company that became a billion-dollar corporation. And let’s pretend that I, whose aptitude was more suited for, I don’t know, 18th century French literature, took over the company upon his death.
At some point, as the math and technology that went into the rockets continued to make no sense to me, my family or anyone we hired (which explains the rockets exploding over and over upon liftoff), I think I’d say to myself, “You know, I might not be cut out for the aerospace engineering industry.’’
But here’s the craziest part: People still keep buying our rockets! Year after year! The bigger the catastrophes, the more sales seem to increase! We’re wealthy beyond almost anyone’s wildest dreams!
So I refuse to sell the company out of loyalty to my late dad. I wish he’d stop rolling his eyes.
OK, enough pretending. As we re-enter reality’s atmosphere, we encounter the McCaskeys, the Bears owners and the inspiration for my pretend family business. They are, by all accounts, very nice people. But they’re not in the nice business. They’re in the winning business. The object of owning an NFL team is to win football games, championship games especially. Everything else is peripheral. Comfortable seats. Game-day experience. Team tradition. Stadium food. None of it matters without the winning component.
And, yet, here the family is, still overseeing one of the NFL’s grand franchises, one that has no Super Bowl titles since 1985 and only five playoff appearances since 1992.
The McCaskeys were born into running the Bears. Being born into something doesn’t confer an ability to be successful at it. George McCaskey is miscast as team chairman, just as his brother, Michael, was before him. Their mother, Virginia, the principal owner, is at the top of the organizational chart. She took over the franchise when her father, George Halas, died in 1983.
There is no pleasure in criticizing a dignified 94-year-old woman for doing what she thinks her dad wanted her to do. But all I know is that Halas liked to win, a lot. He might have been cheap, but he liked to win, and he did. Somewhere in the translation the winning part got lost.
There are no solutions here, and there is no way out for Chicago. The McCaskeys have said they won’t sell the team. But the point I raised earlier refuses to go away. If you knew you weren’t good at something, why would you continue doing it, especially when you’re impossibly rich? Surely the McCaskeys look at the franchise’s competitive record under their watch and see the failure. Or does their genetic coding lack self-awareness?
The NFL offers a mixed message to its owners. Winning is supposed to be everything, but the truth is that there is no punitive cost to losing. Because NFL teams share revenue from massive national TV contracts, there are only varying levels of ungodly wealth. The Bears went 3-13 last season, yet their value grew 6 percent to $2.85 billion this year, according to Forbes magazine. That makes them the seventh-most valuable team in the NFL. When in the last three decades were they among the top seven football teams in the league?
The McCaskeys are big on selling tradition, on reminding everyone at every turn about the great players who have donned a Bears uniform. They’re not good about carrying on the tradition of winning. They promote the memory of Halas, but they don’t promote what mattered most to him. They embrace the distant past while stepping over the remains of what has come after. What a strange disconnect.
I’m sure they want to win. They just don’t know how to win. Worse, they don’t know how to hire people who do. What we have, then, is a faux storefront. You walk into Soldier Field thinking you’re buying NFL football. You leave with a program, an empty wallet and a raspy John Fox non-answer for what went wrong this time.
The McCaskeys aren’t all to blame for the franchise’s decades-long woes. Bears fans have bought the gruel that has been ladled out to them. They aren’t innocents who got hoodwinked into supporting the team year after year. Nobody has forced them to buy tickets. They’re loyal, to a fault. But the Bears have taken advantage of that loyalty by not putting a winning product on the field often enough. And that stinks.
You can trace family ownership back to the beginning of the NFL, but few people care anymore. If an international conglomerate bought the Bears and won a Super Bowl, I’d be happy to throw journalistic confetti. But a sale is not going to happen. You know it. I know it.
There is nothing criminal about what the McCaskeys have done with the franchise. There are only unfortunate circumstances that brought them to a place they don’t belong. And here we are all together. One big, unhappy family.
Follow me on Twitter @MorrisseyCST.