Working a Bears practice as a ball boy back in the 1980s, Carl Piekarski once got drilled in the head by a Jim McMahon pass.
The errant throw left a temporary mark and a permanent nickname: the punky QB dubbed the teenager "Hide" because footballs are made from cow hide. Fast forward to the present and the man who is still affectionally known as Hide around Halas Hall is retiring after decades with the Bears.
Piekarski, 55, served as the team's full-time assistant equipment manager from 1991 until Tuesday, when he spent his final day on the job helping suit up players for the Bears' first padded practice of the year. During his entire tenure, he worked under head equipment manager Tony Medlin.
Piekarski intends to spend more time with his wife, Mary, and their son, Austin—often no doubt on a pontoon boat near their home in northwest suburban Island Lake. Piekarski's desire to retire was expediated by attending the funerals of 10 relatives, friends and co-workers over the past two years.
"It makes you think about life a lot more than what I've been thinking about football-wise," Piekarski told ChicagoBears.com.
Known for a fun-loving and wise-cracking personality, Piekarski was beloved by players—beginning with some of the biggest names on the Bears' 1985 Super Bowl championship team through the present.
Former Bears guard and longtime radio analyst Tom Thayer marvels at how Piekarski was able to handle so many different individual requests.
"He knew every detail," Thayer said. "He knew what kind of socks Steve McMichael wanted to wear, he knew that Kevin Butler wanted five pieces of Bubble Yum stacked in his locker, and he knew that Keith Van Horne liked long john doughnuts, so he would pick out the best long johns and put them in Van Horne's locker.
"It's all those kind of little details of a team that if you're not around them for years and generations and hours a day, you wouldn't know. But those are the little details of the locker room that Carl uniquely knew."
Thayer jokes that given Piekarski's playful personality, it's hard to believe he never got punched by McMichael or shoved in a locker by Richard Dent or another veteran player.
"If you said something wise to him, he was most likely going to say something wise back to you," Thayer said. "He was all business, but he wasn't taking attitude from anybody. If someone tried to intimidate him, he wasn't taking it. He wasn't going to tuck his tail between his legs and shy away. He was going to give it right back to you. But he also knew when to be professional."
Piekarski's main duties with the Bears were to fit players with helmets and shoulder pads, prepare footballs, put decals on helmets and get players suited up for practices and games. What he'll miss most is the camaraderie with his co-workers and "being around the players and watching them succeed."
If you've attended a Bears game, you may have seen Piekarski on the field. During timeouts he'd typically run out to the huddle to give players some water—as well as a spirited jolt of motivation. Piekarski often screamed at Bears players, urging the defense to get the ball back and the offense to score quickly and play together.
It wasn't unusual for opponents to stare across the line of scrimmage wondering exactly who was yelling at the Bears players. Piekarski concedes that not everyone in the organization appreciated his motivational tactics, but he says: "I just wanted to get the guys jacked up out there, and I was pretty successful."
Former Bears long-snapper Patrick Mannelly was among those planning to attend Piekarski's retirement party Thursday night at a local restaurant.
"Over time with Carl, he's become one of my best friends," said Mannelly, who played a franchise-record 16 seasons with the Bears from 1998-2013. "Everybody knows Carl's personality and who he is and how infectious he is. I spent 16 years with him and he's just a dear friend.
"Nobody worked harder than him. He always made himself available, answering any question or issue I had. He was a rock. He was very solid. He was always there, and that personality, he was always smiling, having fun and working hard. He smiled and worked his ass off."