Eras Of Bears' Proud Lore Savor Their Night Back Together

June 07, 2019 - 10:12 pm
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ROSEMONT, Ill. (670 The Score) -- Mike Ditka walked through a hallway of memories Friday evening and was overwhelmed. 

From the legendary running back Gale Sayers, whose health is failing these days, to his Super Bowl quarterback in Jim McMahon, still the Bears' beloved punk, Ditka was back with his teammates, players, friends and men whom he considers family.

Just removed from his second heart attack late last year, the 79-year-old Ditka arrived at the Bears' centennial celebration at the Donald E. Stephenson Convention Center feeling reflective.

"You don't take life for granted," Ditka said with an unlit chewed cigar underneath his hand. "It's a gift from God. I'll be 80 (on Oct. 18), so I've had a great life. I've had a couple setbacks lately, but I've had a great life. I'm fortunate to be here. You don't take anything for granted. Health and happiness come together. But so far I'm relatively healthy, but I'm very happy. I'm happy to be a part of this. This means a lot to me.

"Pretty special."

The Bears' 100-year celebration just outside of Chicago this weekend was the shared idea of many inside the organization -- a gathering of 197 former and current players, plus coaches, executives and many more. 

Current Bears like quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and receiver Allen Robinson were left taking in the team's proud past. Meanwhile, those greats who have formed the franchise's century-old history were thrilled to be back together.

As former Bears defensive tackle Steve "Mongo" McMichael spotted Hall of Fame teammates Richard Dent and Mike Singletary, he stopped a conversation and yelled across the room: "Hey, Richard, I'm going to go throw a block on Mike Singletary so all these years later he can actually see what it feels like to take on a block."

There were plenty of smiles as these Bears all gathered together again -- but also sobering realizations of how time has passed by. Sayers is bound to a wheelchair these days as dementia takes its toll. The 76-year-old Sayers received a loud ovation inside the packed ballroom, the most moving moment of the evening. 

William "The Refrigerator" Perry was present despite his own health issues of recent years. He, too, wasn't going to miss this.

"It's wonderful coming back and seeing the guys," Perry said.

"I'm doing wonderful. I can't complain."

Bears chairman George McCaskey savored the night of his family's heritage franchise all in one building. This celebration was something deeply meaningful to the McCaskeys, including 96-year-old team matriarch Virginia McCaskey.

"To me, that's the most exciting thing about this weekend -- is providing the vehicle for these guys to renew acquaintances, to share some stories and just to get to know each other again," George McCaskey said.

"I keep coming back to the word 'gratifying.' That's the word that I can best describe it."

Players from every era that was represented took the stage inside the convention center's main ballroom -- from the 1950s to every member of the present roster (including the kickers). Ditka met with current coach Matt Nagy before the ceremonies began. Linebacker Danny Trevathan got another glimpse at a legend from his position, Dick Butkus. Potential Hall of Famer Devin Hester sat back and appreciated his place in this company.

Jarrett Payton, son of the late Walter Payton, joined his mother, Connie, and sister, Brittney, with memories of his legendary father.

Eras of the Bears came together in a memorable night that so many were left to savor. They weren't going to take this for granted.

"Life is a gift from God and what we do is our gift back to him," Ditka said. "I'm hoping he gives me a few more years around, and I'll try to do the best I can."

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.