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George McCaskey on Super Bowl: ‘It’s been too long’ for Bears

Bears chairman George McCaskey’s rooting interests for Super Bowl 50 between the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers begin with his own team.

How could they not? There’s a former Bears defensive coordinator in Panthers coach Ron Rivera and former players to root for.

‘‘We think the world of the entire Bowlen family [the Broncos’ owners],’’ McCaskey said in a phone interview. ‘‘Pat Bowlen has done so much for the league, for the Broncos, but we’re rooting for the Panthers.

‘‘It’s the NFC. You’ve got Ron Rivera, Greg Olsen, Charles Tillman, Jared Allen and, of course, [team owner] Jerry Richardson, who is one of the great men in the NFL. So we’re rooting for the Panthers.’’

For the Panthers, it will be their second Super Bowl appearance in their 20-year existence. For the Broncos, it will be their seventh since the Bears won it all.

As for the Bears, Tuesday marked the 30-year anniversary of their Super Bowl XX victory against the New England Patriots in New Orleans. Fittingly, this week has had a ceremonial feel to it. Forty members from that team gathered at Soldier Field for a reunion Tuesday. On Wednesday, ESPN will host a private showing of the ‘‘The ’85 Bears,’’ a documentary about the legendary team.

Since that season, the Bears have made only one Super Bowl appearance, losing to the Indianapolis Colts 29-17 on Feb. 4, 2007, in Miami Gardens. The fact they have made only five playoff appearances since 1991 only enhances the ’85 Bears’ beloved status.

‘‘They were beloved then and beloved still — and rightly so,’’ McCaskey said. ‘‘I think that team transcended sports. They didn’t necessarily have to be a sports fan or a football fan to be a fan of the ’85 Bears.

‘‘It just electrified the city and the whole country. It’s great to see. We need to do it again.’’

* * *

Decades have passed and four other Bears coaches have come and gone, but a Sun-Times story about Mike Ditka still sticks out in McCaskey’s mind.

‘‘I remember a column in the Sun-Times by John Schulian, and the headline on the column was ‘Hiring Ditka Would Be Madness,’ ’’ said a laughing McCaskey, whose grandfather, George Halas, hired Ditka.

‘‘I give Mike all the credit in the world, and primarily [general manager] Jim Finks, [scouts] Bill Tobin and Jim Parmer had assembled a very talented roster. But the way I look at it — and I’ve said this before — Mike Ditka grabbed the franchise by the throat and willed it to victory in the Super Bowl.’’

McCaskey has attended numerous Super Bowls. He said he roots for his friends in the NFL, one being New York Giants owner John Mara, but watching Super Bowl week and the game also brings about some introspection.

‘‘You’re thinking to yourself: ‘Hey, we’ve got to get back here. What do we need to do to get back here? What are these teams doing? What approaches are they taking that we can adopt to help us get back there?’ ’’ McCaskey said.

The Bears’ own Super Bowl appearances have helped shape McCaskey’s philosophical outlook and mindset. And he thinks the Bears are back on track after hiring general manager Ryan Pace and coach John Fox.

‘‘[The Bears’ Super Bowl teams are] in line with the philosophy we have now, which is strong defense, a strong running game, control the ball on offense, take advantage of the opportunities that the defense gives you and dominate on defense,’’ McCaskey said. ‘‘I thought our defense was much improved last season, but we need to dominate. We need to take over games.’’

There are reasons to believe in the Bears’ future. Fox has turned around the culture at Halas Hall after former coach Marc Trestman’s run ended in turmoil. Quarterback Jay Cutler had the most efficient season of his career, and the defense improved considerably after the two worst seasons in franchise history.

But McCaskey would be the first to tell you that more positives are needed. A 6-10 record this season was only a one-victory improvement from Trestman’s final season.

‘‘We played better defense, and Jay played very well with a depleted receiving corps,’’ McCaskey said. ‘‘[But] we need to play better at home. We need to play better within our division. We need to cut down the turnovers on offense. We need to create more turnovers on defense. But we’re headed in the right direction.’’

And McCaskey said he understands that might involve more time and growing pains.

‘‘We’re in a good place,’’ McCaskey said. ‘‘I promised Ryan that we would be patient, and I think he and John are building a winner.’’

Fox is a storyline for Super Bowl 50, having coached the Panthers and Broncos in Super Bowl losses.

The Broncos are a different team, but they reached the NFL’s grandest stage after firing Fox and replacing him with Gary Kubiak. Fox’s fingerprints, though, remain on both teams, a factor that should encourage the Bears’ brass.

‘‘We felt good about John from the beginning,’’ McCaskey said. ‘‘The two teams in it this year are two teams he’s taken to the Super Bowl, and we’re counting on him to do that for us.’’

* * *

In 1985, McCaskey was part of the media. He worked at Channel 2 as a news writer and helped as a producer on nights and weekends if a colleague was on vacation.

‘‘It was unique perspective, being in the news media, because the Bears are such a big story,’’ McCaskey said. ‘‘The mandate from the news director was, ‘I want a story on the Bears every day, even if they’re not making news.’

‘‘It was not just me but the whole newsroom. As a journalistic purist, that was an eye-opening experience for me.’’

But attending the Super Bowl in New Orleans was ‘‘strictly family,’’ McCaskey said. There wasn’t a story to compose, but there was a party to experience firsthand and the Vince Lombardi Trophy to hold.

‘‘I would say the best part about the whole Super Bowl experience was winning the NFC Championship Game at home, in fron of our fans, and knowing that we were going to the Super Bowl,’’ McCaskey said. ‘‘The Super Bowl itself was very satisfying. . . . I was walking back to the hotel with [my wife] Barb, my brother Ed and his wife, Kathy, and it was just a tremendously satisfying feeling to walk down the street knowing that your team was the best in the world.’’

It’s a feeling Chicago needs to have again.

‘‘We had a great team in ’86 and lost at home in the opening round to the Redskins, and [we] had a pretty darn good team in ’87 and lost at home in the opening round to the Redskins,’’ McCaskey said. ‘‘In ’88, [we] hosted the NFC Championship [Game] and just got spanked by Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and the 49ers.

‘‘So, yeah, it’s difficult. It’s been too long. We need to get back there.’’

Follow me on Twitter @adamjahns
Email: ajahns@suntimes.com