Virginia Halas McCaskey celebrates 100th birthday Thursday
Story by Larry Mayer
Virginia Halas McCaskey will celebrate her 100th birthday Thursday, a joyous and momentous occasion to be sure, but not one the matriarch of the Chicago Bears wants to make a fuss about.
"She put us on notice months ago that she did not want a big deal made and she wanted a quiet, small family celebration," said her son, Bears chairman George H. McCaskey, who plans to abide by his mother's wishes.
The only daughter of legendary Pro Football Hall of Famer George Halas, Mrs. McCaskey has served as the Bears' principal owner since her father's death in 1983. But she has been closely involved with the storied franchise for her entire life.
Mrs. McCaskey was born on Jan. 5, 1923, less than three years after her father founded the Bears as the Decatur Staleys and helped create what would become the NFL. As a toddler, she accompanied her dad and the team during the Red Grange barnstorming tour in 1925-26. In 1932, Mrs. McCaskey attended the NFL's first indoor game, watching the Bears capture the league championship by blanking the Portsmouth Spartans 9-0 at the Chicago Stadium.
No one on earth has witnessed as much pro football history as Mrs. McCaskey. In the Chicago Bears Centennial Scrapbook, a 320-page keepsake created in 2019 that chronicles the franchise's first 100 years, Mrs. McCaskey recalls Grange, who was football's most popular superstar in his day, carrying her in front of him through train stations so fans wouldn't recognize him and mob him for autographs.
She also remembers the unpleasant smell that permeated the Chicago Stadium during the 1932 game—which was moved indoors because of harsh winter weather—saying: "The circus had been there the week before, and it still smelled of animals."
"I think I read that she has been alive for every NFL game except for like 36, which is spectacular," said Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips. "I have always wanted to sit down with her and hear her stories and hear her perspective on the growth of the NFL because I know that it would be fascinating."
Throughout the years, Mrs. McCaskey has occasionally shared some of those stories when addressing Bears players at team meetings.
"Just her being the daughter of George Halas—who started NFL football—when she walked in the room, she commanded that respect because of who she is," said former long-snapper Patrick Mannelly, whose 16 seasons with the Bears from 1998-2013 make him the longest tenured player in franchise history. "It was an honor for us to have her talk to us as a team. Anytime she spoke, we all listened.
"She's just a very special person. I think everybody would like to live a life like hers and be like her. She's an amazing, impressive person."
George McCaskey describes his mother's greatest qualities as her "grace, quiet dignity, humility and gratitude," and reveals that she continues to inspire him "every day in every way" with "a remarkable combination of grit and grace."
"She's the guiding force behind everything we do here, and everybody knows that, including the guys in the locker room," he said.
The most impactful lesson George has learned from his mother is to "be grateful for all that we have, for this tremendous and unique opportunity that we've been given and be mindful of the responsibility that it carries with it."