Hugs, laughter and tears were in abundance Monday night as friends and former teammates gathered for a fundraiser to support beloved Bears all-time great Steve McMichael.
The charismatic Texas native affectionately referred to as "Mongo" revealed April 23 that he's suffering from ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. McMichael, 63, was diagnosed following visits to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota last September and Rush University Medical Center in Chicago in early January.
ALS is a neurodegenerative neuromuscular disease that results in the progressive loss of motor neurons that control voluntary muscles. The affected muscles are responsible for chewing food, speaking and walking. Motor neuron loss continues until the ability to eat, speak, move and finally breathe is lost.
Unfortunately, McMichael's condition has deteriorated; he's lost the use of his arms and hands and his legs are weakened, confining him to a wheelchair.
Monday night's fundraiser was held at Wrigley View Rooftop, located at 1050 Waveland Avenue, across the street from Wrigley Field, while the Cubs battled the Washington Nationals. The iconic ballpark was also the Bears' home for 50 seasons from 1921-70.
The funds raised will help defray the mounting costs of McMichael's daily care and medical needs and hopefully will enable McMichael, his wife Misty and their 13-year-old daughter Macy to move into an accessible home.
At Monday night's event, McMichael was presented with the Grid Iron Horse Award by the ALS Association.
McMichael was a warrior on the field for the Bears, a tough-as-nails defensive tackle who played in a franchise-record 191 consecutive games in 13 seasons from 1981-93. He ranks second in Bears history behind Hall of Famer Richard Dent with 92.5 career sacks, an impressive total for a defensive tackle. McMichael helped the Bears win six division titles and was an instrumental part of the 1985 Super Bowl championship defense that many consider to be the best in NFL history.
Individually, McMichael was a two-time first-team All-Pro, a three-time second-team All-Pro and a two-time Pro Bowler. He was named the 19th best player in Bears history in 2019 by writers Don Pierson and Dan Pompei in the Chicago Bears Centennial Scrapbook—the second highest slot for a non-Hall of Famer.
Members of the famed '85 Bears who attended Monday night's fundraiser were coach Mike Ditka and players Dent, Kevin Butler, Jimbo Covert, Gary Fencik, Willie Gault, Dan Hampton, Mike Hartenstine, Jay Hilgenberg, Jim McMahon, Jim Morrissey, Matt Suhey, Tom Thayer and Otis Wilson.
"Mongo is part of our team, a teammate for a long time," said Gault, who flew in from California for the event. "He's an '85 Bear. Whatever I can do to help him, ease his pain, I want to do that. Anytime you know someone who's going through something like this, it's really sad. It hits home because it's so close. All we can do is support him, pray for him and do what we can to help him and his wife."
"It's a very difficult situation, and I think he's handling it incredibly well, and [Misty] is as well," said Covert, who traveled from Florida to attend the fundraiser. "We're just trying to support him any way we can, both financially and emotionally."
The Bears were represented at Monday's event by chairman George H. McCaskey and vice president Brian McCaskey, who was a Bears athletic trainer during McMichael's playing days.
"He kind of scared me, to be honest," Brian said with a laugh. "But once I got to know him, he's a great guy and just a great teammate. All his teammates love him as you can tell by all of the guys who are here. It's just great to see the support."
Also on hand Monday night were Blackhawks Hall of Famer Bobby Hull; McMichael's former Bears teammate, Tom Waddle; and pro wrestling legend Ric Flair, who teamed with McMichael as part of The Four Horsemen from 1996-99.
Flair described McMichael as "one of the greatest guys I've ever known; a man and a half."
"He never changes," Flair said. "He's the same guy every day. When he tells you something, he'll never go behind your back and say something different. That's important in life. There's not a lot of people like that."
Covert feels the same way about McMichael.
"He's just a genuine person," Covert said. "What you see is what you get, and I've seen that since the first day I met him when I was a rookie in 1983 when I was 22 years old. He's just an incredible person and just one tough person. You have to be a tough person to deal with what he's dealing with, and I think he's going to be able to handle this as well as anybody could handle it."
“It’s a very difficult situation, and I think he’s handling it incredibly well … We’re just trying to support him any way we can, both financially and emotionally.” Former Bears tackle Jimbo Covert on Steve McMichael
The outpouring of support from McMichael's former teammates on the '85 Bears has been overwhelming but not surprising.
"That's what it's all about," Gault said. "We were a special team, we really were. We had guys from all over the country, but we pulled together for that one year to be one of the best teams ever in history, and I think that's something to be admired."
"These guys battled together as a football team and as teammates, and now they're battling together in life after football," said Brian McCaskey. "They're there for each other. It's always good to see. They come together and help each other and support each other and love each other."
The Bears organization purchased a motorized wheelchair for McMichael, and more than $184,000 has been raised via a GoFundMe page that's still accepting donations. Obvious Shirts has also generated just over $34,000 for the cause, leading McMichael to exclaim, "Walter's watching out for me," in reference to his former teammate, the late Walter Payton, who wore No. 34 during his Hall of Fame career with the Bears.
In addition, Hampton said that a fundraiser he called "Mongopalooza" will be held at a bar McMichael owns, Mongo McMichaels in Romeoville, Saturday, June 5. It will feature three bands, beginning with a performance from 4-5:30 p.m. by the Chicago 6, a group that has been fronted by Hampton, McMichael and Wilson.