LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — Michael McCaskey, who led the Chicago Bears for nearly three decades following the death of his grandfather George Halas, died Saturday after a lengthy battle with cancer, the team said. He was 76.
A Yale graduate and the oldest of Ed and team matriarch Virginia McCaskey’s 11 children, Michael joined the family business in 1983 as president and CEO following the death of Halas, a founding father of the NFL and the franchise. He succeeded Ed McCaskey as chairman in 1999 and remained in that role until brother George McCaskey took over in 2011.
The Bears made 12 playoff appearances and captured their lone Super Bowl title during Michael McCaskey’s tenure leading the franchise. He was chosen NFL Executive of the Year by his peers following the 1985 championship season.
“Mike was already successful in every sense of the word when he took over for George S. Halas after the passing of ‘Papa Bear’ in 1983,” the McCaskey family said in a statement. “We are grateful to Mike for overseeing arguably the greatest team in NFL history, and for his many years of service to the Bears and to us. The oldest of 11 siblings has many duties thrust upon him, not all of them pleasant, yet Mike handled them all with grace and patience.”
Though his death was not brought on by the novel coronavirus, the McCaskeys said they are not able to “gather and grieve together at this time” due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our hearts go out to those who have lost loved ones to COVID-19,” they said. “Our focus in the coming days will be to celebrate Mike’s life, and be whatever source of support we can be to (son) John and (daughter) Kathryn and those they love.”
He is also survived by his 97-year-old mother and grandson Jackson.
“Michael McCaskey proudly carried forth the legacy of his grandfather and NFL pioneer George Halas as team president and chairman and played an instrumental role in the success and popularity of the Bears,” commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “The Bears’ memorable 1985 season and their Super Bowl XX victory helped further propel the NFL onto a global stage. Michael was a driving force in growing the NFL’s international footprint with the first American Bowl game in London featuring the Bears and the Dallas Cowboys in 1986. He was also dedicated to serving his community.”
McCaskey served on several NFL committees. He was also instrumental in the Bears moving their headquarters from the original Halas Hall at Lake Forest College to a state-of-the-art home nearby in 1997, giving them an indoor practice facility on their own campus.
Halas Hall was recently expanded to include four outdoor practice fields and 305,500 square feet of indoor training and office space.
McCaskey co-founded in 2005 the Bears’ charitable foundation, which has granted over $21 million to more than 100 agencies in the Chicago area focusing on education, youth athletics, medical research and health awareness.
He was also a member of the NFL’s Long Range Planning Committee, Expansion Committee, Stadium Committee and Finance Committee.
McCaskey spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer teaching science, English and music to junior high students in Ethiopia. He earned a doctorate in in business from Case Western Reserve University in 1972 and taught organizational behavior and management courses at UCLA for three years before joining the faculty of the Harvard Business School.
“His fierce love of the Bears was unmatched, as was his intellectual capacity and thirst for knowledge on a myriad of subjects,” Bears president Ted Phillips said. “Michael displayed a professorial presence that could be challenging, but was also inspiring. I will be forever grateful for the many opportunities for growth that he provided me, as well as for his trust and support. Michael always strived to do things the right way with high character and with the Bears best interests always paramount.
“Michael was a good man, gone much too soon. He presided over the only Super Bowl championship Chicago Bears team in 1985, and I know he is still smiling about that magical season.”
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