Bernstein: Bears100 Poignant In Unexpected Way

There was humanity present on so many levels as Bears legends gathered.

Dan Bernstein
June 10, 2019 - 3:07 pm
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(670 The Score) Disconnecting football players from their humanity is all too easy, and for some of us even darkly necessary.

Our gladiators are obscured by facemasks and abstracted by all their armor into something other than a person while they do what they do to distract and entertain us for a few hours each week, acting as our proxy as they throw their bodies into the fray while we eat Doritos.

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Thinking about the damage that they choose to do to themselves and others would ruin all the Sunday fun, of course, so we don't. We save that for the down time, any consideration of the toll exacted by our most brutal team sport and the reconciliation of outsized heroism with plain flesh and bone. While this was never openly discussed at the Bears100 celebration in Rosemont over the weekend, I felt a sense of it underpinning so many of the words and images.

It seemed meaningful and poignant in a way I hadn't expected, watching and listening to the reactions of those involved. More real than not, something beyond just a pep rally.

Related: Watch: Bears100 celebrates franchise history

There were reasons for this, I think, the biggest of which was the active participation of franchise matriarch Virginia Halas McCaskey at age 96, as she provided powerful, unbroken temporal connection from her time as a toddler on Red Grange's barnstorming tour to the high hopes for Matt Nagy's team in 2019. She was lucid and heartfelt, participating in a way that wasn't just cursory ceremony, which mattered.

The current optimism surrounding the team's direction also contributed to the feeling, as former players appeared eager to reach out to those currently on the roster. It all starts with the sea change that Nagy has brought and been, the rare coach who can traffic in the same old tropes about family and character and hard work and remain completely believable as he does it. He clearly meant it upon arrival when he talked about the power of the Bears' legacy being palpable and significant to him, and that has informed his construction of a new culture in Lake Forest more important than all the new brick and mortar.

Most importantly, there was that humanity present on so many levels. Most striking was the presence of Gale Sayers, who's incapacitated by dementia at 76. Though it was difficult for many to see him wheelchair-bound and emaciated, the fact that his family and caregivers wanted him here resonated deeply. Seeing Mike Ditka as frail and wan as he is after a recent heart attack was another reminder that there are always things tougher than the toughest too, and so many of his 1985 greats -- larger-than-life beings at one time for those of us of a certain age -- now aren't. Life is larger than all of us.

Even those of us prone to skepticism regarding the big business of the rapacious NFL can appreciate something like the weekend's event when we're open to observing honestly what it meant for the people everyone paid to see and hear. Of course, it was sales and marketing fanfare, designed to use a centennial to drum up extra dollars and attention in early June, providing a springboard into summer practices and training camp ahead of a promising year.

But that doesn't mean that's all it was. As much as it was about a team, its prominence in the history of the league and role in Chicago's civic identity, it was also about the people in those helmets and identified by a number as much as a name, those who were able and willing to make the trip and the many more who couldn't.

The Bears brand is a constant, long-enduring and ongoing. The same can't be said for the very real people who have represented it all these years and do so today, and it was clear that truth was deeply appreciated over the weekend, even if it went unsaid.

Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score’s Bernstein & McKnight Show in middays. You can follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.