More recently, every Bears fan in the Chicago area at least (and worldwide with the availability of Internet radio) will remember him for hosting the best Bears postgame show in town, with his partner Ed O’Bradovich. No two people could better agonize with Bears fans after a tough loss.
These are the times that larger than life personalities like Buffone are remembered by all. Because people like Buffone, Walter Payton, Brian Piccolo and many others carried themselves as if they were members of everyone’s own family. Personally, I owe many debts of gratitude to Buffone for helping me accomplish many of my life’s goals.
I attended Buffone’s final regular season game at Soldier Field in 1979, the amazing 42-6 defeat of the St. Louis Cardinals that launched the Bears into an improbable playoff berth. Buffone had a key play in the game, catching a pass on a fake punt to keep a Bears drive alive. Shortly thereafter, I subscribed to “Doug Buffone’s Bear Report”, a weekly newspaper that provided me all the Bears news I needed to build my interest in the team in the early 80′s.
In 1981, a petrified nine-year old called into the Bears radio show he hosted with Brad Palmer on WBBM. The recording has been immortalized to forever follow that formerly young man around the rest of his life.
Buffone remained there for all Bears fans over the years, through thick and thin, from the great Ditka days to the not-so-great last 30 years of Bears history.
In 2003, I wrote a letter to Buffone asking if I could interview him for my book, Chicago Bears History (along with many other former Bears players). Many of those players didn’t give this amateur writer the time of day. Mr. Buffone was probably the first to respond to my letter by picking up the phone and calling me, and he gave me an hour or two of his time for me to ask him so many questions about his tenure. And I got great answers. My book wouldn’t have been possible without the time he took to talk to me about subjects from Halas to Neill Armstrong.
In 2013 after I had filmed an appearance for NFL Network’s Top 10 series, Mr. Buffone (I’m sure he told me to call him Doug) walked onto the set after I was finished. This amateur was a little intimidated by the process, for Buffone it was old hat. He took the time to chat with me and we caught up, and I had the opportunity to send him DVD’s of all the games I have recorded from his playing days. Never talked to him to confirm he received them. Not my style.
Buffone truly was the type of regional celebrity that made average people like me feel that I was one of his family. He will be missed by many.]]>
I re-watched the game along with the CBS pregame and postgame shows from 1984 in preparation for my interview. While I remember watching the game live through my eighth-grade eyes, over the course of 30 years I had forgotten some of the many memorable facets of this game. Some of those items that made this game one for the ages, which I had the opportunity to discuss for the show:
- Before this game, the Redskins had not lost a home playoff game in 44 years. The last time? When Chicago beat Washington 73-0 in 1940, in the most lopsided game in NFL history (a record that still stands 75 years later).
- At the time, the Bears had not won a playoff game since the 1963 NFL Championship, 21 years prior. They had only played in two, both losses (1977 and 1979), during that time. As Bears legend Doug Buffone likes to point out, Hall of Famers Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers never played in a playoff game throughout their careers.
- Mike Ditka was criticized throughout his entire coaching career for running a dull, vanilla offense. Yet in this game, Walter Payton attempted a pass to quarterback Steve Fuller, threw a touchdown pass to right end Pat Dunsmore, Willie Gault caught a 75-yard touchdown, and Matt Suhey converted a key first down on a shuffle pass (a unique play at that time based on what I remember).
- Nobody can forget Bears safety Todd Bell‘s bone-crunching hit on Redskins running back Joe Washington. After watching the game again, I realized this play was the first of the second quarter. Prior to that very play, Washington had been marching up and down the field on the Bears. This one play changed the tempo of the game. (Joe) Washington fumbled the ball, it was recovered by Otis Wilson, the Bears scored and didn’t look back.
Hope everyone has the chance to step back in time by watching the show. More on the 1984 Bears at BearsHistory.com.]]>
Here we go…]]>
Totally unfortunate that the Bears organization put themselves in the position of having to fire another GM and coach after just three and two years respectively. But it is fortunate to me that they did conduct the firings and not waste another year of diminishing returns with the Emery/Trestman regime. It is also good that the McCaskey family, via Chairman George, at least pandered to the faithful by bemoaning how “pissed off” he and his Mom Ginny are over the situation. I am actually sure that the family does care about not winning and would like to win desperately. That’s good. It’s clear, and to me somewhat surprising, that the family spent up to $10 million to dispose of GM, Coach and staff. They didn’t have to do that.
McCaskey did pander to the fans on the podium in an emotionally-charged way. And the family did show their commitment by spending those millions to waste the garbage that has been running the organization for three years. But the cynic in me knows that George is aware that he runs a business that will never shed a loyal set of customers. They may lose a little vending revenue with no-shows should the team continue on their pathetic course, but I seriously doubt the Bears will not sell out the smallest stadium in the NFL at any point during Soldier Field’s remaining 18-year lease. Then again, maybe they will disprove this by continuing to fail in spectacular ways?
Of concern is the fact that the organization is pursuing a new General Manager in the same way they did three years ago-when they failed spectacularly! After admitting that George and CEO Ted Phillips failed to hire the right GM in 2012, shortly thereafter George and Ted ask us to believe that they will get it right this time. By following the same plan, with the same non-football minds making the ultimate decision. (Sure, they again pandered to the fans by announcing that 70-ish football lifer Ernie Accorsi has been “retained as a consultant.” But they simultaneously announced that Accorsi will not make any decisions).
By all written accounts, it seems likely that the organization will announce the hiring of Chris Ballard as their new GM by Friday January 9th. Credit to George and Ted for acting swiftly. But remember, just three years after hiring a man with no experience as a GM from Kansas City to become a first-time GM, the Bears are about to do what? That’s right, hire a man with even less experience than the last personnel man from Kansas City to be their next first-time GM. And just like the failed Emery, Ballard has experience with the Bears, having worked as a scout under (gulp) Jerry Angelo and Emery from 2001-2012.
It has been touted that Ballard brought the Bears players like Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher. Great. He also was the regional scout when the Bears selected Cedric Benson 19 picks before Aaron Rodgers. It should also be mentioned he was the Bears’ Director of Pro Personnel when Emery infamously drafted Shea McClellin, Brandon Hardin and Evan Rodriguez.
My guess on who Ballard will hire as Bears’ coach after he is named to the job? Dave Toub, former Bears and current Chiefs’ Special Teams Coordinator. Just my guess, since in the madness that is the Chicago Bears’ way of going about business, it certainly seems that history with the team matters more than anything. Toub may turn out to be a fantastic head coach for the Bears, a true under-the-radar hire. It may all work out. But you know what? Oops! The under-the-radar hire didn’t work out so well last time, did it?
As fans, we can only hope for the best and climb on board. Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune wrote a good article on Ballard, that hiring the same way won’t necessarily result in more of the same garbage with the team. Unfortunately, given the results of history, shouldn’t we be a little skeptical?
Again, George and Ted made the last horrible decision. Yet the fans are being asked to trust that this same pair will make the right decision three years later. Ted Phillips survives. Barry Rozner of the Daily Herald wonders publicly if Phillips “knows where all of the bodies are buried” at Halas Hall, too informed to ever be fired from the family. In a very private organization like the Bears, nobody knows that Phillips may have a piece of ownership or a clause preventing him from ever being released. Regardless, he certainly wears the stains of failure in his 16-season reign as team president. Including twelve non-playoff seasons, eight losing seasons, a 3-4 playoff record, three playoff losses at Soldier Field, and a 10-22 record against the Green Bay Packers.
Also ugly-the man who has of late been regarded as the NFL’s best talent evaluator, Scot McCloughlin, was unemployed and desperate for his next job in the NFL. And he was hired. Not by the Bears, but by the Washington Redskins. You see, apparently McCloughlin has what are commonly referred to as “human problems.” Anyone ever have any of those? Yeah, me neither. It’s not as if the Bears sorely needed a GM that has proven he has drafted well in every job he’s ever had. It will be interesting to see if McCloughlin can turn around the Redskins while the Bears draft more Shea McClellins.
Slightly ugly-Phillips’ continual references to the Bears being “a coveted organization to work for” at every press conference announcing that the last hires were mistakes. This was emphasized in 2001 when Mark Hatley was “mutually terminated”, after Jerry Angelo was fired in 2012, and again this time around. We get it, anyone would love to be the GM of any NFL team. Don’t continue to cover up the organizations’ dysfunction by feeling you have to remind your fans of how great it would be to be your GM. We know. This doesn’t make your failed decisions and processes any less unsuccessful.
Regardless of GM, ugliest of all is I see no way that the Chicago Bears aren’t a complete tear down project. They have an old, undertalented and overpaid roster, which results in horrific consequences for years to come. The Chicago Cubs embarked on a three-year tear down and rebuild that might work–in baseball with no salary cap, an abundance of trade opportunities and dozens of draft picks every year. I just don’t see a way for the Bears to rebuild even in three years with four meaningful draft picks per year.]]>
During the #Bears miserable loss at home to the New Orleans Saints (just one of many miserable losses in 2014), it was widely reported that Bears chairman George McCaskey was pushed in the back by a Saints fan. Also reported was that a nearby Bears fan tackled the offending fan of the opponent.
Admirable for a Bears fan to come to the defense of the teams’ chairman, even though he heads up a clearly dysfunctional organization? Absolutely. However, I was wondering if we might hear a little more to this story in the future. Apparently we have not.
Allow me to explain. The Bears’ Fan Code of Conduct policy has always “pissed me off” (just like team matriarch Virginia McCaskey is now pissed off). I have never once sold my tickets to a stranger. This is because, if I sell my tickets on NFL Ticket Exchange or Stubhub, even though the Bears and the NFL get a cut of the transaction, thus double-dipping, I am responsible for the behavior of any person that sits in my seats. Regardless of the fact that I can’t possibly know them, because I sold the tickets on a team and NFL-sponsored forum from which they make money on the sale.
Wasn’t the Bears fan who came to McCaskey’s defense by tackling the offending opposing fan breaking the Bears Fan Code of Conduct? I quote from the document, included is “actions that may harm or endanger others, and any other conduct that is deemed inappropriate in a public setting.” (Little did I know that I can also lose my PSL investment and season ticket privileges for possessing more than two beers, or wearing apparel with inappropriate language. Now I do).
So, the first part of my rant is that the fan coming to the chairman’s defense broke the Bears’ Fan Code of Conduct and was seemingly not disciplined. Do I think this fan that did his civic duty to assist Mr. McCaskey should be disciplined and lose his tickets? No. Sitting in the same undoubtedly gilded area of the stadium where Mr. McCaskey’s seats are, this hero is probably known by or is at the same economic level as the team’s owners.
My point is, although as the article I will reference shortly states from a “team spokesman” that the Bears have rules, and we can’t break the rules, it seems that is not the case.
I will never forget what I am referencing that happened back in 2001. That year, a 20-year season ticket holder named Michael Bordenet donated his tickets to a raffle for a bartender that needed heart surgery. The person that won the raffle attended the game and ran on the field. None other than Mr. George McCaskey sent Bordenet a letter informing him that his season ticket privileges were revoked permanently. There was a groundswell of public opinion rallying for Mr. Bordenet at the time, to no avail. Rules are rules, they said.
Moral of the story: it’s OK for someone to break the Bears’ Fan Code of Conduct if you’re tackling someone that pushed the chairman, thus harming and endangering another person attending the game. It’s not OK to donate your tickets for a worthy charitable cause, because an anonymous person that uses your tickets might run on the field, and YOU are responsible for that person’s behavior.
Several weeks ago, Mike Mulligan reported on WSCR a situation he witnessed at the “old Halas Hall” many years ago. According to Mulligan, former Bears marketing director Ken Valdiserri double-parked in front of the building momentarily to carry heavy boxes into the office. Mulligan says he witnessed George McCaskey, then director of ticket operations, run outside to affix a no parking sticker on Valdiserri’s car. McCaskey, Mulligan said, has always been a stickler for the rules.
Either enforce your policy, or create a more flexible policy for fans using Bears and NFL-sanctioned ticket brokerage sites. This situation has confirmed that rules are not rules, and they can be broken, regardless of what a “Bears spokesperson” says.]]>
Head Coach Marc Trestman is back (and therefore so is GM Phil Emery): Probable? I don’t think so, and even if Trestman returns I am confident both his coordinators are gone. And if both coordinators are obviously gone, how the hell can this organization retain their head coach? Here is that scenario. As is always mentioned, unlike most NFL franchises, the Bears are run by a family whose fortune lies in having inherited the Bears. They’re not like most others owned by Arthur Blank or Jerry Jones who are billionaires or millionaires from other ventures. It has been speculated that firing Trestman and staff will cost the Bears organization at least $6 million. Nobody knows how any NFL team’s revenues are ultimately dispensed, but let’s say each of the many McCaskeys split the year’s profits. Let’s guess that the firing of Trestman alone costs each McCaskey half a million dollars. Just imagine that…do the right thing for the organization but give up a half a million in salary/profit for a year. Don’t you think the possibility exists for George McCaskey to tell the fans “we strongly believe in Marc, because we strongly believe in Phil, because we strongly believe in Ted Phillips because he’s a part of the family, and we just know these men are going to bring a winner to the Bears sometime in the next 15 years together. Bears fans need to stay the course…dozens of embarrassing fiascos over a two-year period aren’t enough to fire anyone.” Probable? Even I don’t think so. Possible? Yes.
Trestman goes, Emery stays: I have faith (why, I don’t know) that the McCaskeys will evaluate what has happened in Emery’s three years on the job and see the mess their organization is in, but I’m not sure. In addition to the costs of getting rid of Trestman and staff, I believe it will cost them around $3 million more to terminate Emery. That’s 50% more of the cost of just launching Trestman and staff. Again, for this very reason, it would not surprise me to see George McCaskey and Phillips trot out for a co-conference on Monday saying “we believe as strongly in Phil Emery today as we did three years ago when Ted hired Phil. Phil has done some great things (they’ll list both of them) and we know the next head coach Phil picks will be the man that leads us to multiple Super Bowls.”
Trestman, Emery, Phillips gone: Not probable in my opinion. How much more on top of the $10 million it would cost to fire Trestman and Emery would the family have to invest to fire their president of 16 seasons and loyal employee of 30 years or so? By all accounts, Phillips is a McCaskey family member for life. Very strong probability in my opinion that even if Trestman and Emery are gone to the tune of $10 million, George tells the fans “we are excited to embark on the process of Ted hiring another search firm, then methodically working with the GM to slowly find another head coach with great scrutiny.” Sorry Bears fans, I just think it’s very likely. ALSO, my fellow fans, I just realized something this morning via a commenter at Pro Football Talk. Should the Bears fire all the way up to Phillips, don’t be so sure they do it to bring in a “football Czar” or director of football operations, who would hire a GM then a coach ala-Theo Epstein. You know what we might get? Another McCaskey named President and CEO to replace Phillips. “We feel confident that [insert first name here] McCaskey has the vision to build a winning football team over the next decade.” Brace yourselves, Bears fans.
So, I think Trestman is gone. 50% or less chance that Emery is gone as well. I think it’s very likely the family retains Phillips, and if they don’t, just as likely one of the many McCaskeys is elevated to replace Phillips.
What do I think should happen? As everyone knows, I thought this was the time to be bold and strike for Jim Harbaugh. I wish the family would have made that bold move to bring some discipline back to this bumbling organization from top to bottom, allowing Harbaugh to build the organization around him. By all reports this morning of December 28th, Harbaugh seems headed to run the Michigan football program. My guess is that the McCaskeys actually explored Harbaugh but told him via back channels they wouldn’t pay him what the market says is his rate. Many reports had stated the one NFL job Harbaugh craved was the Bears. So it’s not going to happen, and we’ll probably never know whether the McCaskeys could have made it happen but wouldn’t pay the money and give the proven winner the power.
Since Harbaugh, the program-saver, is no longer available, I would long to see the McCaskeys hire a football man (Bill Polian, Mike Holmgren, Bill Parcells, Ron Wolf for God’s sake) to run football. Even George and Mugs Halas decided this was a necessity when they ceded football control to Jim Finks in 1974. Finks built a winner with eventual building blocks that dominated the NFL.
Unfortunately Bears fans, you along with I are used to the Bears organization aiming low for the most careful, cautious plan. Don’t be surprised if we’re back having this discussion five years from now.
One thing about which I am ABSOLUTELY certain? Ticket prices jump at the highest rate they have to pay for this mess. (Keeping in mind, ticket prices have been raised every year for 10 years).
Sign the petition and leave comments to let the McCaskey family know another mild-mannered coach will not be tolerated by Bears fans.
A member of the Chicago media asked Phillips if his organization was “in disarray.” Phillips angrily responded that “he didn’t know what they meant by disarray.” Interestingly, this May 7, 2001 article from the Chicago Tribune talks about the backlash from that press conference. In the article, which is a great historical read, Phillips contends that the situation at that time was not his fault, having been on the job for just two seasons. At the end of the article, Phillips is quoted saying “until the organization produces, I’ll be criticized for a lot of things.”
Oh Ted. Here we are 14 years later, as hard as that is to believe. And guess what, the organization you have led for 16 seasons is not only in disarray, it is a shambles. Your organization is the laughing stock of professional sports, and the amazing thing is with each week that passes, the organization’s ineptitude surpasses itself exponentially.
So let’s take a little walk back in time to contest your theory that the organization was not then (and I’m sure you would claim is not now) IN DISARRAY.
- How did Phillips become President and CEO of the Chicago Bears? George S. Halas Jr., (“Mugs” as he was known) son of the legendary owner, player and coach, was seniors’ hand-picked successor to become the next Halas to lead the team. But junior suffered an untimely death in 1979 at the age of 54. Following Mug’s death, after several years of introspection (and several years of watching his team crumble under the leadership of Marc Trestman-like coach Neill Armstrong), Halas took charge. The media thought he went senile, but in 1981 the 86-year-old owner fired Armstrong and hired Mike Ditka to bring back discipline and passion to his demoralized team. Following the legendary 1983 draft that netted Covert, Gault, Duerson, Richardson, Thayer, Bortz and Dent, General Manager Jim Finks stepped down after being pushed away by Halas and Ditka. Ditka ally Jerry Vainisi took over for Finks.
- Following Halas’ death on October 31, 1983, without “Mugs” Halas around (and Mugs’ children being bought off in a 1981 reorganization of the business), control of the team landed in the laps of Mugs’ sister Virginia, her husband Ed, and their many children. Anyone that wants to know Halas’ true feelings for Ed should read Papa Bear by Jeff Davis. Suffice to say, Halas wasn’t a fan. It has also been written in several books that on his deathbed, Halas said “please, anyone but Michael,” referring to Grandson Michael McCaskey when discussing who would take over the reins of the business. As we know now, Michael it was.
- The Chicago Bears, led by Vainisi and Ditka, built by Halas and Finks, dominated the NFL in 1985 as one of the best teams in history, then lost in the playoffs in 1986 due in large part to instability at the quarterback position, the most important on the field. Within a month, Michael McCaskey fired Vainisi and took over direct management of football operations. Within two years, McCaskey refused to pay talented players such as LB Wilber Marshall and WR Willie Gault, and despite being loaded with draft picks failed to replenish the teams’ talent. Contrast this with the San Francisco 49ers of the same era. After winning two Super Bowls in the early 80′s, the 49ers hit gold in all rounds of the 1986 draft to restock and win another two championships in the decade.
- McCaskey fired Ditka following the 1992 season, which was only his third losing season in eleven. The Jerry Jones-style team President hired coach Dave Wannstedt, then quickly dismissed long time personnel VP Bill Tobin. Tobin had been on staff all the way back to the Finks’ years, and went on to build an Indianapolis Colts team that went to the 1995 AFC Championship game. Those Colts were led by quarterback Jim Harbaugh, who was cast off by Wannstedt and McCaskey, despite by all reports being a darling of the McCaskey family at the time. Then for the next five seasons, Wannstedt and McCaskey drove the Bears into less than mediocrity, finishing 4-12 for two straight seasons before McCaskey finally dismissed his hand-picked coach.
- McCaskey bumbled his way into a new stadium impasse with the City of Chicago due to his intractability, and turned the hiring of Wannstedt’s replacement into a fiasco of epic proportions by shattering the prospects of hiring former Bear assistant Dave McGinnis. In his final move, McCaskey quickly and suddenly hired fellow Yale alum Dick Jauron. Several weeks later, in February 1999, Virgina McCaskey announced the “promotion” of McCaskey to Chairman of the Board, to be replaced by Phillips.
- Phillips’ first order of business was to secure a new stadium deal with the city, which he did within 18 months. The brilliant agreement was to build the NFL’s smallest stadium in its second largest market. On the field the Bears finished 6-10 and 5-11 in Phillips’ first two seasons, leading to Hatley’s “mutual termination” for not being successful at building talent for the team. Ironically, or suspiciously, Hatley went to work for the Green Bay Packers within months. Hatley died of a heart attack in 2004.
- After the Bears’ organization claimed for years that a General Manager of the team was not needed, Phillips announced the organization was hiring an executive search firm to recommend a list of candidates for the position. Tampa Bay player personnel boss Jerry Angelo was hired in June 2001. Angelo came with a very mixed record from Tampa. he had helped build a recent perennial playoff contender, but also presided over years of horrible drafts.
- Angelo fired Jauron after three seasons, then bungled the process of finding Jauron’s replacement. He finally selected Lovie Smith, formerly an assistant on the Tampa staff. Smith became the third winningest coach in Bears history, took the team to a Super Bowl and lost, and actually outlasted Angelo, who was fired following the 2011 season. Phillips and new Bears Chairman George McCaskey hired a new General Manager in Phil Emery prior to the 2012 season. Emery was a career scout, formerly employed by the Bears. He was responsible for scouting and drafting Brian Urlacher and Mike Brown. But he also was responsible for scouting and drafting Michael Haynes and Rex Grossman. Emery’s edict was to “close the talent gap in the division between the Bears and the Packers.
- We all know the rest. Emery drafted defensive end Shea McClellin, a failed lineman who is now a failed linebacker. The only other player left on the team from the 2012 draft class of six players is Alshon Jeffery, who appears to be a gem. The jury is out on five of the six players from the 2013 class, with only guard Kyle Long playing consistently. It is too early to judge the 2014 draft picks. Along the way, Emery hired Trestman as head coach after alienating 2012 NFL Coach of the Year Bruce Arians during the interview process. Rather than franchising mercurial quarterback Jay Cutler for a prove it year, the organization gave him $54 million guaranteed on a seven-year contract. Major money was invested in DE’s Lamarr Houston and Jared Allen along with WR Brandon Marshall in an extension, all with little return. Not only have Emery’s Bears not closed the talent gap between the Bears and Packers, they have now fallen behind the Lions and Vikings as well.
It will be interesting to see how the organization handles this mess following the Bears’ final game at Minnesota on December 28th. Luck will probably have it that they will win, which would be meaningless and cause their current #7 overall draft pick to fall to #11.
Will Phillps again be allowed to hire a search firm to pick another General Manager? Will Phil Emery stay among his ashes and be allowed to hire another coach? Another coach that undoubtedly will be cut from the McCaskey mold, quiet and reserved? Who will ultimately be tasked with tearing this mess of a house down and trying to build it back up, which will take years?
Disarray. Whether Ted Phillips agrees or not, it has been the Chicago Bears way since November 1, 1983.]]>