Virginia Halas McCaskey was born in 1923, three years after her father, George Halas, helped found the Bears and the NFL.
No human on the planet has had a closer or more personal view of the growth of the team and the league over the last 96 years than Mrs. McCaskey.
It’s a unique perspective she shared Sunday during a panel discussion at the Bears100 Celebration, an amazing three-day event in Rosemont that helped kick off the founding franchise’s 100th season. The entire current team and about 130 former players attended the once-in-a-lifetime gathering.
“These days here for the centennial celebration, I’m still trying to find words for what they’ve meant to me and I hope to all of you,” Mrs. McCaskey told an enthusiastic crowd. “It has made me even more grateful for what my life has been and the position that I’m in. There are so many privileges and perks and blessings, I just can’t believe that I’m here and I’m enjoying life at my age the way I am.”
Mrs. McCaskey’s entire life has been intertwined with the Bears. As a toddler, she accompanied her father and the team on the Red Grange barnstorming tour in 1925-26. In the Chicago Bears Centennial Scrapbook, she recalls Grange carrying her in front of him through train stations so fans wouldn’t recognize him and mob him for autographs.
In 1932, Mrs. McCaskey attended the NFL’s first indoor game, watching the Bears win the league championship by blanking the Portsmouth Spartans 9-0 at the Chicago Stadium.
During her panel discussion, Mrs. McCaskey was joined by her son, Bears chairman George H. McCaskey, and the co-authors of the Bears Centennial Scrapbook, Hall of Fame writers Dan Pompei and Don Pierson.
Mrs. McCaskey captivated the fans in attendance by sharing her memories from the early days when her father and the NFL struggled financially to last season’s resurgence under first-year coach Matt Nagy.
While the NFL has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry with millions of fans worldwide, the early days weren’t easy.
“I didn’t realize it when I was growing up, but there were difficult years in the late ‘20s and early ‘30s,” Mrs. McCaskey said. “My dad had the Chicago Bears, but he was also part owner of a commercial laundry company, he worked in real estate, he even tried selling cars. I often use the word ‘survival’ because that’s what was involved. Fortunately for us and for so many people now, it all worked out.”
Mrs. McCaskey showed her sense of humor when she identified the Bears’ 14-10 win over the Giants in the 1963 NFL title game as her favorite contest ever played at Wrigley Field.
“I think it was the ’63 championship game—even though it wasn’t against the Packers,” she said. “It was the culmination of a championship season and my dad’s final championship. We had beaten the Packers previously in Green Bay and in Wrigley Field that season, so that was good, too.”
Mrs. McCaskey revealed that Walter Payton is her favorite Bears player of all time and also discussed the famed 1985 championship squad.
“That was a very unusual team and a very unusual season because so much of the normal stress of game day seemed to be disappearing,” she said. “We could go to the game and not be completely knotted up inside. There was so much confidence in everyone, and except for the game in Miami, everything turned out very well.”
Hiring Nagy—who was named NFL coach of the year in his first season in 2018—also has turned out very well. Mrs. McCaskey is especially fond of how the Bears celebrate each and every victory under their new coach.
“I was thinking on my way here this morning of our present-day coach and how he relates to our history and the Chicago Bears,” Mrs. McCaskey said. “My dad, George Halas, certainly celebrated every championship, but all through the season it was very serious work and very concentrated situations.
“There are pictures of him in the locker room after the various championships and I love them, but our present-day coach has made each game and each week a possible celebration, and I think that is a very excellent difference. The season is so much longer. It’s so much harder to get to the final game and win the final game But we’re hoping for a lot of those ‘Club Dub’ [celebrations].”