I know love means never having to say your sorry, but that does not excuse my actions, or in this case, my inaction. From the bottom of my heart, I am sorry. I am so very sorry. I am sorry I wasn’t there in the crowd to support you last Saturday in Canton. You were the Chicago Bears for me growing up and I missed your induction into the Football Hall of Fame. You were the heart and soul of our defense for as long as I can remember. Do you know how many bowls of chili I consumed on Sundays while watching you fly around the field?
I was just 10 years old when the Bears drafted you out of New Mexico with our 1st round pick. I remember being confused as to why we would draft someone out of New Mexico. New Mexico? They have a football team? Why would he go there if he was so good? Was that even a division one school? Did I even know what a division one school was yet? Why didn’t we select Wisconsin running back Ron Dayne? He just won the Heisman and was still available when we drafted. You didn’t win the Heisman. It didn’t make sense (Ron Dayne? You wanted the Bears to draft Ron Dayne? I know you were only 10 young Jim, but that is an inexcusable take).
Well, it goes without saying (but I will say it anyway) that you put those concerns swirling around my young mind to rest fairly quickly. You didn’t start the first couple of games (the only games in your career you didn’t end up starting, but you know that), but received the nod in Week 3 and never looked back. You collected 13 tackles in that first start against the New York Giants, as well as a sack. 13 tackles seemed like an astronomical amount to me at the time, but I soon learned that was what I should come to expect every Sunday afternoon. Every dam Sunday. I never saw you take a play off. You always went full speed. You always finished the play out. You caught running backs taking angles linebackers before you wouldn’t have even attempted. You helped keep the Bears in games that they didn’t deserve to be in. You covered for one of the worst offensive stretches an NFL franchise has strung together. You carried a team that featured Rex Grossman as its quarterback to the Super Bowl. That in itself put you in the Hall of Fame. Carrying that clown to the promised line is the equivalent of making 20 pro bowls. If your Hall of Flame plaque simply read “Got Rex Grossman to the Super Bowl” and nothing else, there would be no need for the slightest double-take.
You didn’t miss a step in carrying on tradition and in Chicago, tradition is everything. Chicago is home of hot dogs, Ernie Banks, deep dish, the Sears Tower, Italian beef, Michael Jordan, and middle linebackers. Think of the shoes you had to fill; Bill George, Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary all came before you and mastered the middle linebacker position for the Bears. These are all-time greats. They all have called Canton home long before you even put a Bears uniform on. Living up to the legacy they established at the position was near impossible, but that didn’t stop you. You were like Ethan Hunt in Mission Impossible. There was literally an impossible mission in front of you and you not only completed the mission, but did it in style. You left your own unique mark on the position while becoming the final head to be chiseled onto Chicago Bears Linebacker Mount Rushmore.
Why I regret missing your induction the most is because you are the first Chicago sports figure of my lifetime that I watched to make their respective sports hall of fame. Michael, Scottie, and Rodman all entered the NBA Hall of Fame during the 21st century, but you see, I was only 8 years old during that last Bulls run in 1998. I don’t really remember much. Maybe it was the concussions I suffered in high school playing football, the dozens of alcohol induced blackouts I experienced in college, or the sheer fact that I was only 8 years old and still had a night light in my room, but my memories of those teams are diminutive. The memories of you however are fresh. Your orange jersey flying to the quarterback. You emerging from what seemed like every dog pile. You setting the tone for a defense that carried us every single year. I miss those Bears defenses. I miss watching you play. I missed your hall of fame induction.
I am forever sorry. Please forgive me. Go Bears.
P.S. Love the hair. However, you crushed it as a bald guy. Besides being one of the four faces on the Bears Linebacker Rushmore, your mug also graces the “guys who look great bald” Rushmore, alongside Bruce Willis, Vin Diesel, and Jordan.