Control of the Chicago Bears Football Club will remain within the McCaskey family, as Chairman of the Board Michael McCaskey announced Wednesday that he and the Board of Directors have all decided to turn over those responsibilities to his younger brother, George McCaskey.
Michael, who served as the team's President and CEO for 16 years before becoming Chairman in 1999, contemplated his impending retirement and looked back at some of the highlights of his career during a press conference at Halas Hall.
“It was such an important part of my life,” he said, “a time of so much excitement, and some sadness. I will remember so many different things, but I guess what stands out most are these three things: Watching Devin Hester run back for the touchdown in the Miami Super Bowl; receiving the George Halas NFC Championship Trophy, which was named for my grandfather, on a platform at Soldier Field surrounded by family, fans, players and friends; and that wonderful parade after the 1985 Super Bowl win. I think there were over half a million freezing people honoring the team that day.”
Michael also mentioned the formation of Bears Care, the charitable arm of Chicago's organization, as one of his greatest achievements during his years as Chairman.
“That came about after my wife Nancy’s sister battled breast cancer,” he remembered. “I believe to date the charity has raised over $8 million to aid in the search for a cure. That is a legacy I am very proud to claim.”
But what will Michael miss least?
“Probably the difficult times after a loss," he said. "You tend to carry each one around with you for quite a while. I would also mention the adjustments a family of a CEO has to make. When you are in a position like that with an NFL team, they just aren’t going to be seeing you at home that much. That was difficult for all of us.”
As a former college professor in business and management studies, Michael felt it was important to have an orderly transition within the front office. To accomplish this, he plans to transition George, who currently manages the ticket department, into the Chairman’s job throughout the 2010 campaign.
“Football is a business, and an orderly transition is key," Michael said. "The gradual shift keeps things on an even keel. This will happen slowly during the upcoming season. I will be helping George as much or as little as he needs it.”
Getty Images: Jonathan Daniel
George stated that he felt "especially close to the season ticket holders, having been one myself since 1981, and then working with these fans through the years."
He reminisced about the thrill of going to training camp in Rensselaer, Indiana, at eight years old and the satisfaction of rooting for the Bears through good years and bad.
"This is a family legacy, one that I am proud to carry on," he said. "The coming year will be difficult, but I’m definitely up to the challenge."
Of primary importance to both brothers, as well as to the McCaskey family as a whole, is keeping the Bears as a fairly-owned and -operated enterprise.
“It was my grandfather’s team," George said, referring to George Halas. "He was there in 1920 at the very beginning of the NFL. It's our way of honoring him.”
But what about all the money family members could have gained had the team been sold years ago?
“How important, really, is it to have buckets of money?” Michael asked rhetorically. “We live modestly, but we would never have traded that lifestyle if it meant losing the team. For our family, it's about the joy and pride of ownership.”
George agreed: “My favorite memory as Director of Ticket Operations was the day new Soldier Field opened. Several families came to me and said they were there with three generations of Bears fans. They were very emotional about that fact. I could certainly relate. That’s exactly how we feel."
When asked if there had been any serious internal discussion with regard to selling the franchise, Michael said it had never crossed his mind and the McCaskeys plan to keep the Bears in their family for "as long as possible."
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Beth Gorr has been covering the Chicago Bears for eight years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.