It felt like a typical Super Bowl party.
About 50 people happily conversing, watching a large TV and enjoying a sumptuous food spread that included spaghetti and meatballs, a variety of pasta salads and cookies and Coors Light on ice in multiple coolers.
Only this gathering on a quiet suburban Chicago street Thursday night had nothing to do with a game. Instead, it was a watch party at Steve McMichael's home to celebrate the former Bears defensive tackle being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Those on hand included McMichael's sister, Kathy, close friends and former Bears teammates Gary Fencik, Matt Suhey, Jim Morrissey, Jim Osborne, Tyrone Keys, Kris Haines and Bruce Herron. Bears vice president Brian McCaskey, who served as an assistant trainer during McMichael's playing days, also attended the celebration.
Sadly confined to his bed due to the ravages of ALS, McMichael was surrounded by those closest to him in his bedroom when the official announcement was made on the NFL Honors TV show airing live from Las Vegas that he would be part of the Hall of Fame's Class of 2024. His wife, Misty, represented him at the event in Las Vegas.
While McMichael had been informed of the honor a couple weeks ago, it was still an epic moment. Cheers rang out throughout the house and Fencik popped open a bottle of champagne while standing next to McMichael, pouring a cup for everyone in the room.
"I know this means an awful lot to Steve and his family and I'm sure to all Bears fans and his teammates," Fencik said later.
The walls of McMichael's bedroom are adorned with countless framed photographs from his now Hall of Fame career as an NFL player as well as his second career as a professional wrestler, when he teamed with Ric Flair and others as part of the iconic "Four Horsemen."
McMichael, 66, played 13 seasons with the Bears from 1981-93, appearing in a franchise-record 191 straight games. The Texas native affectionately known as "Mongo" ranks second in team history with 92.5 sacks, helped the Bears win six NFC Central Division titles and was an instrumental part of the 1985 Super Bowl XX championship defense that many consider to be the best in NFL history.
"Mongo was special," said Keys, McMichael's teammate from 1983-85. "I'll never forget, when I got to Chicago, he welcomed me with open arms. We were just tight. What I'm so grateful for is that everybody can see his spirit. Look at how long he's been holding on. I've been up here three times and every time I walk in the room he smiles."
Keys loves that McMichael nicknamed him "TKO" after the gentle giant knocked Broncos quarterback Gary Kubiak out of a 1984 game at Soldier Field when the Bears were just beginning to form a fierce defense under coordinator Buddy Ryan.
Keys also smiles when remembering that he sat next to McMichael on a flight to Washington, DC, in 2011, when the 1985 Bears visited the White House. Their initial trip after winning Super Bowl XX was cancelled when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded two days after the Super Bowl, killing all seven crew members on board.
"For guys to get back together 27 years later and just have that same bond was a very powerful thing," Keys said. "And then to be able to come back here 10 years later and have that same brotherhood, I love Steve and I'm so happy for him. He's very, very deserving of it because he was a throwback."
McMichael will become the sixth player from the Bears' famed 1985 Super Bowl XX championship team enshrined in the Hall of Fame, joining Walter Payton, Jimbo Covert, Dan Hampton, Richard Dent and Mike Singletary.
Playing alongside Hampton and Dent and behind Singletary, McMichael often was overshadowed. Nevertheless, he was a two-time first-team All-Pro, a three-time second-team All-Pro and a two-time Pro Bowler. He also was named the 19th best player in Bears history in 2019 by writers Don Pierson and Dan Pompei in the Chicago Bears Centennial Scrapbook.
"When you look at the actual numbers, they speak for themselves," said Osborne, McMichael's teammate from 1981-84. "Steve was the guy that actually got results, when it came to rushing the quarterback and when it came to making the play on a run play. He was the type of guy you wanted to leave in the game. He wasn't the type that in a passing situation you had to pull him out because he could rush the quarterback and he could get there."
Fencik always felt a bond with McMichael because both excelled with the Bears after getting released by other NFL clubs.
"Steve and I were both rejects from our initial teams," said Fencik, who was converted to safety by the Bears after a short stint as a receiver with the Dolphins. "I know that you never lose that chip on your shoulder because you were cut and it's really demoralizing. With what he accomplished on the field and his persona off the field—which I really appreciated—I'm glad that he is around and he's well-deserving of this great honor."