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Father, son shared special bond as Bears fans


One effect of the Bears' century-long run is the little pockets of fandom spread across the United States and beyond.

A comedian in New York latched onto the team when she was just starting her career at Second City.

A cowboy in Wyoming remembers when the Bears felt like a local team because he could always find their games on television.

An Indian-born, Kuwait-based civil engineer happened to fly into O'Hare Airport on the most important weekend of the team's modern history.

Abbas Bhikhapurwala was working as an engineer in the Kuwaiti oil fields when instability in the region led him and his family to Racine, Wisconsin, for a temporary stay. When his flight landed in Chicago, he found himself in the middle of collective euphoria. The 15-1 Bears were hours away from winning Super Bowl XX, and the entire city could feel it.

Family friends picked Abbas up from the airport with an urgent tone.

"Let's rush back to Racine, Wisconsin," Abbas recalls them saying. "Don't open the luggage because the Bears are in the Super Bowl today."

Abbas didn't know what the Super Bowl was. He didn't know the rules of American football, but he still watched the game. Abbas's introduction to the game, and United States in general, was the Bears' 46-10 win over the New England Patriots. Though he was still very new to the sport, he may have returned to Kuwait as the country's first Bears fan.

Bhikhapurwala's assignment in Wisconsin was only temporary but lasted long enough for his son, Hussein, to be born on American soil. The family returned to Kuwait, but within a few years, Kuwait was invaded by Iraq, forcing the Bhikhapurwalas to seek refuge in the United States, aided by young Hussein's accidental status as an American citizen.

The Bhikhapurwalas settled in the Chicago area, and father and son began to learn the rules of American football and Bears fandom. Hussein would become a doctor, began practicing in Munster, Indiana, and started a family with his wife, Jihan, who is also a doctor, but he never outgrew watching his favorite team with his dad.

"My husband used to say that it was the way that they assimilated into the country," said Jihan. "I feel like it was a bond that started very early on. Seeing games together was an excuse for family time. I know that it made them very close."

In 2015, Hussein was diagnosed with a neuroendocrine tumor, a rare form of pancreatic cancer. While this form does not metastasize as quickly as other forms of pancreatic cancer, it is known to be just as fatal. By the start of this past football season, Hussein had lost a considerable amount of weight. Confined to a wheelchair, Jihan took him out to eat at a "new restaurant" in late August. She was holding back a surprise gift.

When they arrived at Halas Hall, Hussein was completely unaware that he would be spending the day with his wife and father, meeting the players on his favorite team.

Three weeks later, on September 15, Abbas and Hussein watched the Bears face the Broncos at Hussein's home. By this point, Hussein was confined to his bed, and Abbas sat by his bedside to watch the game.

With all Bears fans, they rode the roller coaster as the Bears seemed to clinch the victory with a Kyle Fuller interception, only to watch the Broncos score a touchdown and convert a two-point conversion to take the lead.

Abbas recalls the joy of watching Mitchell Trubisky connect with Allen Robinson to set up Eddy Piñeiro's game-winning 53-yard kick to win the game. Hussein had very little strength, but he lifted his fists and screamed with joy as Bears players rushed the field to celebrate.

The sight of Piñeiro's kick sailing through the uprights would be the last Bears moment Abbas Bhikhapurwala would ever have with his son.

"That was the last cheer and smile on his face," said Abbas. "That's why I will never forget that moment."

Dr. Hussein Bhikhapurwala passed away on September 17, at the age of 33. He left behind Jihan and their four-year-old son, Cyrus, and infant daughter, Alana.

Abbas was able to tell his story personally to the players involved in that last play: Piñeiro, holder Pat O'Donnell and long snapper Patrick Scales. Inspired by his story of the power of family and football, the specialists responded by presenting him tickets to the Super Bowl in Miami, courtesy of the team's ticket office allotment.

After a brutal year, Abbas has come to see football as a glimmer of hope.

"Even in [Hussein's] worst days, a Bears mention brought a smile to his face," said Abbas.