So a Bears fan walks into a taxidermy shop.
No, this isn't the start of a bad joke, it's the start of a fandom for one Bears mega fan who now has a shot at the Hall of Fame.
Don Wachter, 56 years old, says he's been a fan for 48 years, but he began garnering more attention midway through the 1996 season after a trip to a taxidermy store in Palatine, Ill. Wachter had seen a fellow Bears fan dawn a bearskin rug to a game, and it gave him an idea.
"I thought about going to a costume shop and buying something, a bears head, to wear, but they didn't have anything decent. They had these cutesie, smiling bears."
Wachter wanted something more fierce — something more realistic.
So he went to a taxidermist and bought a bearskin rug.
"I was too embarrassed to tell the guy, the taxidermist, that I was going to cut the head off and try to wear it to Bears games," Wachter said.
For more than 20 years now, he's done just that — going to games as Bearman. In addition to the bears head, Wachter sports blue and orange face paint and wears fake bear fur on his arms and legs. He originally wore the real fur from the rug, but it eventually wore down.
The iconic costume that has made him one of the most recognizable Bears fans, has now landed him as one of six NFL fans competing for a chance to be the first inductee into the Ford Hall of Fans. Along with the Bears, the remaining finalists represent the Broncos, Cowboys, Dolphins, Lions and Steelers. Three of the fans will be chosen for a trip to this year's Super Bowl, and the ultimate winner will also be inducted into the Hall of Fans this summer during the league's Hall of Fame weekend in Canton. The fans are competing through an online vote, but the decision is also determined by a panel of judges from Ford and the Hall of Fame.
Wachter was informed he was nominated in October, but he didn't find out he was a finalist until December. Wachter was with a video team taping what he thought was a promotional video for the competition. He was shocked when a knock at the door informed him otherwise.
"There was this huge pounding on the door which kind of took me by surprise," Wachter said. "Opened the door and there's Brian Urlacher standing there. Gold jacket on."
The former Bears linebacker and 2018 Hall of Fame inductee informed Wachter that he had been named a finalist. Wachter showed Urlacher around his Plainfield, Illinois home which is a shrine to Bears history.
Wachter's home, like his gameday attire, is an extension of his fandom.
"I feel that I represent the ferocity and the image of what the Chicago Bears organization is all about," Wachter said. "The Monsters of the Midway, the hard-hitting defense, the blue-collar-ness of our team, representing how tough Chicago is. The Bearman image represents that, so that's why I should be elected [into the Hall of Fame]."
Even before he was easily recognizable, Wachter was still a diehard fan. He attended his first Bears game in 1983, and while his passion has remained the same, his look has evolved. The face paint has been a longtime staple, but the accessories have changed over time, with Wachter wearing wigs, hats and helmets to games in the past. Two things have remained constant, though: his seats on the north side of the stadium, and a No. 46 Doug Plank jersey that he wears to each game. Plank played for the Bears from 1975-1982, and Wachter said his style of play made him his favorite player to watch.
"Doug was a ferocious hitter, even though he wasn't the biggest," Wachter said. "He was all about hitting you as hard as he could. His attitude was he gave it all he got."
Wachter's attire didn't just earn him praise from fellow Bears fans, it also earned him a spot in two Miller Lite commercials in the 1990's featuring NFL super fans. It also got the attention of the Bears who invited him to partake in game day festivities on the field at home games, running on the field with a Bears flag, something Wachter did for five seasons.
The publicity has allowed him to connect with other rabid fans in the league and become a member of the Pro Football Ultimate Fan Association whose mission, according to Wachter, is to "promote fellowship of all fans, encourage sportsmanship and support charitable activities."
Wachter is hoping that by winning the competition, he can help represent all Bears fans.
"This would be like a tribute and an honor to represent Bears nation," Wachter said. "Winning it would be a great honor and kind of would cap off all the years of hard work I put in of being Bearman and giving back to Bears nation by representing them in this Hall of Fame. It'd mean the world to me."
Fans can vote for Wachter now through this Sunday here.