Bears general manager Ryan Pace opened his pre-draft video press conference Tuesday with a special message for Steve McMichael.
The Bears great recently revealed that he's suffering from ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. McMichael was diagnosed following visits to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota last September and Rush University Medical Center in Chicago in early January.
"I just want to take a moment and give a special mention to Steve McMichael, just what he means to our organization," Pace said. "He's a man I've gotten to know in recent years. He's absolutely one of the first guys we call every year to speak to our rookies. He epitomizes what it means to be a Bear. His passion, his drive, it always shines through every time he talks to our team. We're all thinking about him, we're thinking about his family and just knowing what he's going through."
An underrated defensive tackle on some of the most dominant defenses in NFL history, McMichael played 13 seasons with the Bears from 1981-93. Nicknamed "Mongo" and "Ming the Merciless," he still holds the franchise record with 191 consecutive games played and his 92.5 sacks rank second in Bears history behind only Hall of Famer Richard Dent's 124.5.
A Go Fund Me page set up for McMichael to help defray the mounting costs of his daily care and medical needs had raised $158,226 of a $176,000 goal as of Tuesday afternoon. McMichael, his wife and their daughter hope to move into a handicap-accessible home.
Good attendance: Pace is pleased with how many Bears players have been participating in Phase 1 of the voluntary offseason program since it kicked off April 19. In Phase 1, all meetings are virtual but a limited number of players can work out in the weight room and individually on the field—but without footballs or coaches.
"We've had really good attendance with that," Pace said. "I think it's a credit to our players and their passion and our staff as we work through that. Right now, it's voluntary and we've got a good amount of guys coming up here and lifting right now and taking advantage of the facilities that we have. It's safe up here with a lot of the COVID restrictions, so that part has been good.
"In regards to when they'll be here, right now our plan is Phase 2 will start May 17 for us. That's when we'll start our in-person activities and that is when we expect the guys to be here, and it will be good to see everybody in-person."
Pace anticipates a strong turnout when Phase 2 of the voluntary program begins May 17. In Phase 2, all meetings will remain virtual but players can participate in individual drills on the field for the first time.
"As we approach that May 17 date, I expect it to be good," Pace said. "With just the feeling I have with our guys and the excitement of this offseason and the upcoming season, I feel it. I feel it from our leadership. I feel it throughout our team. I can already tell from the guys who are coming in now and just the energy and the momentum that I feel from that group.
"I expect it to carry right into May 17 when they can be here at Halas. And I think with us having the facility that we have, and you've seen it, we're lucky to have the resources that we have. And I think our players are excited to take advantage of that."
Pace was asked whether he expects 90-100 percent participation like a normal offseason.
"That's what our hope is," Pace said. "We'll see. It's such a unique time. But we're optimistic that a lot of the guys … We have a really close group and a really close locker room. I think they enjoy being together. I think they enjoy the competition. And there are tweaks too. With Sean Desai as the [new] defensive coordinator, I think it's important for us to all be together and continue to grow as a team, especially with our new additions."
Sad news: Former NFL linebacker Geno Hayes, who spent one season with the Bears in 2012, passed away Monday due to chronic liver disease. He was only 33 years old.
Hayes was selected by the Buccaneers in the sixth round of the 2008 draft out of Florida State. After playing four seasons with Tampa Bay, he appeared in 15 games with three starts for the Bears in 2012, registering 16 tackles. Hayes played his final two NFL seasons with the Jaguars in 2013-14.
Hayes reportedly told ESPN earlier this year that he had been diagnosed with chronic liver disease in 2019 and had been placed on a waiting list for a transplant at the Mayo Clinic and Northwestern Medicine.