LAKE FOREST – He was the man who succeeded “Papa Bear” and was a major figure in the Bears’ franchise over the course of four decades.
That’s how Michael McCaskey is being remembered by the Chicago Bears on Saturday following his death at the age of 76 after a long battle with cancer.
“Mike was already successful in every sense of the word when he took over for George S. Halas after the passing of ‘Papa Bear’ in 1983,” said the McCaskey family in a statement released by the team on Saturday. “We are grateful to Mike for overseeing arguably the greatest team in NFL history, and for his many years of service to the Bears and to us. The oldest of eleven siblings has many duties thrust upon him, not all of them pleasant, yet Mike handled them all with grace and patience.
“Although Mike’s passing was not brought on by the novel coronavirus, our family, like so many people, is not able to gather and grieve together at this time. Our hearts go out to those who have lost loved ones to COVID-19. Our focus in the coming days will be to celebrate Mike’s life, and be whatever source of support we can be to John and Kathryn and those they love.”
The son of Bears owner Virginia Halas McCaskey, Michael had the task of taking over the role of President and CEO of the franchise following the death team founder George S. Halas. McCaskey held that role until 1999 when he became team chariman, which he would hold through 2011.
“My heart is heavy as I think about Michael McCaskey and can’t believe he is no longer with us,” said Bears President and CEO Ted Phillips, who succeeded McCaskey in those roles in 1999, in a statement released by the team. “His fierce love of the Bears was unmatched as was his intellectual capacity and thirst for knowledge on a myriad of subjects. Michael displayed a professorial presence that could be challenging, but was also inspiring.
“I will be forever grateful for the many opportunities for growth that he provided me, as well as for his trust and support. Michael always strived to do things the right way with high character and with the Bears best interests always paramount. Michael was a good man, gone much too soon. He presided over the only Super Bowl Championship Chicago Bears team in 1985, and I know he is still smiling about that magical season. God bless Michael and his family.”
McCaskey had a fast start to his career with the team as the Bears went to the NFC Championship in 1984 and won the Super Bowl in 1985. He was named the NFL’s Executive of the Year during that championship season, and the Bears would make the playoffs in seven of eight years from 1984-1991.
Yet his time as President and CEO didn’t go as well in the 1990s. After a 5-11 1992 season, McCaskey fired Mike Ditka and replaced him with Dave Wannstedt, yet the teams couldn’t get momentum going. A playoff appearance in 1994 was followed by a near miss the next season, and the Bears wouldn’t make the playoffs the rest of the decade.
After firing Wannstedt after the 1998 season, McCaskey prematurely announced a news conference hiring Dave McGinnis as the new Bears’ head coach. It came before the coach had agreed to contract terms, and he’d eventually pull his name out of the running, forcing McCaskey to apologize.
He’d then move to the chairman role which he’d hold till 2011 when his younger brother George McCaskey took over the role, which he still holds today.
Along with football moves, McCaskey helped with a few initiatives off the field during his tenure with the Bears. He oversaw the team’s move of their headquarters to a new Halas Hall from their former headquarters at Lake Forest College. McCaskey also helped found the team’s “Bears Care” charity in 2005.