Tuesday, January 18, 2011

My Chicago Bears Origin Story

In 1943, a former Notre Dame Monogram three-time award winner got the chance to play for the Chicago Bears when some of their players were drafted into the war. This offensive tackle was a large man with a wry smile and a great sense of humor. The stories of his antics became family folklore, much like Paul Bunyan. At 6'4" and over 230 pounds, he actually reminded people of Paul Bunyan. Even though he could easily intimidate (especially when, years later, boys started calling on his two daughters), it was his quick wit and general zaniness that left the biggest impression. After his one championship season with the Bears, playing alongside greats like Sid Luckman and Bronko Nagurski, he went on to become a successful salesman. He saw one of his daughters get married, and the birth of two grandchildren. Sadly, though, William (Bill) Steinkemper, my grandfather, died years before his time and shortly before I was born.

I never had the chance to sit on his knee, play catch with him, or ask about his stint with the Bears. As I get older, I think often about a relationship that never was and how it has shaped me as a man. I imagine the stories he must have had and the wisdom he could have shared. At times, when I allow myself to think hard about it, I ache. For some, that may not make sense. How is it possible to miss someone they've never known? I'm learning more and more each day, during life's inevitable trials, how real that pain can be.

The 1943 team picture (he's #35) hangs in my house as well as an "action" photo of my grandfather blocking for Sid Luckman. I see these photos everyday. They are my connection to him. While these photos can only offer a glimpse of the man he was, they still provide me with enormous pride and joy. I honor him with those photos. I also honor him when I explain to people that the Bears are part of my family heritage, however brief that stint may have been. Every Sunday from September through February (hopefully), I dutifully watch my Chicago Bears. I've cried after losses. I've danced after wins. I've broken a remote control. I've done victory laps through my house. I've punched countless pillows. I've alienated my perfect bride. I've even started a blog.

I guess, deep down, I do all of these things to honor the memory of the grandfather I never knew. I'm sure most fans have a similar story about their favorite team. While a relative or friend may not have played for that team, I'm sure there are countless memories and rituals about that team that involve a grandfather, father, mother, brother, sister or friend. These moments have helped shape each of us. It is, for lack of a better word, a legacy.

In the end, the cynical amongst us may claim that being a diehard fan is nothing more than rooting for laundry. But, that laundry represents something far more important than wins, money, bragging rights, or media fodder. It is a connection to our collective pasts, presents, and futures. For some, it is the only way to relate to family or friends. For others, it is an escape from the sometimes painful reality of life. Regardless of the reason, it is important, and it is every bit as real for us as it is for the men who are lucky enough to compete.

So, today I find myself reflecting upon the reasons I became a Bears fan, and how lucky I am that my grandfather played for a real organization like the Chicago Bears rather than that Mickey Mouse operation they run in Green Bay. :-)

Later this week, I'll put a preview together in the hopes I can provide Mike Martz with some tips on beating the Dom Capers defense. But, today, I'd like to hear other fan origin stories. What's yours?


  1. Fantastic read my friend, absolutely wonderful to read.

    My story is probably the polar opposite as I don’t have even the slightest connection to the team, other than being enamored with the bigger than life personalities of the 80’s Bears.

    One of my earliest memories is watching Super Bowl XX.

    Players like Walter Payton, Mike Singletary became my childhood heroes, odd for a kid from Houston. My parents bought me countless jackets, jerseys and even watches of my favorite team.

    One of the saddest memories of mine is Payton’s last game in the playoffs vs the Redskins and that image of him sitting on the sideline with his hands on his helmet.

    The other being when I was grown and heard he’d passed away.

    Neal Anderson, Mike Tomzack, Chris Zorich, Brad Muster, Jim Miller and hell even Brian Cox are all bouncing around in my memory as Bears.

    As I got older I learned and loved the history the Bears represented, like you said the Bears are more than just a team, they are part of the fabric of what the NFL is!

  2. Thanks for the kind words, Daniel. Glad to hear you enjoyed it.

    I remember the sadness of the day Payton retired, but I remember shedding quite a few tears on the day he died. An absolute tragedy. It still hurts to think about it.

    That is why I love the Bears and football so much. It allows people from all over world with different backgrounds and different stories all rooting for a common goal. If only we could achieve that in other aspects of life...

  3. Thanks for sharing your memories and the story of your connection to the Bears here, William. What a great legacy to be a part of and a great way to honor and continue that legacy.

    As you know, I'm a fan of the "Mickey Mouse operation in Green Bay" :D I've bounced around a lot geographically but Wisconsin really became home to me out of all the places I've lived. I watched the Packers and they were often the butt of jokes, especially during the Majkowski years. It was something that was always just there, but it wasn't until I went to Oregon for college, that what was always in the background and there became an even more important reminder of home. It was my connection every week back here to WI. I could call home and talk to my dad about the game on Sunday and I wasn't that far away. A few years ago, I was in Madison celebrating a high school friend's 30th birthday. Friends and family of friends from high school and we reminisced about the glory days (which for us were NOT glorious!) and we drank Leinies and talked about the Packers too. We might as well have been in Irvine Park or somewhere up here and a dozen years younger (minus the beers of course). Leaving Wisconsin (and later returning) really made being a Packers fan as much about my Wisconsin roots and home as it has been about living and dying week after week with my team.

    Thanks again for such a great blog, William!