America does not need the Chicago Bears to tell it that iceboxes are irresistible. For some reason probably larger and possibly even more surprising than William Perry, the country just needs the Chicago Bears. One pro football team or another wins most of its games every year, but this season more than last, more than many winters past, the actual football playing has seemed an adjunct to the celebration. Though they have their appealing characters, including the game's regal running back, Walter Payton, the Bears are far from the most comely players in the National Football League. In fact, beginning with a quarterback who cuts his own hair, young Jim McMahon, they could be the least glamorous people ever to dine at a Super Bowl, which may start to explain their charm.
It's Chicago, of course. That always clangs a national cowbell. At recurring Cub and White Sox calamities (DePaul's dependable basketball disasters are fairly localized pains), the city's slumped shoulders extend over a remarkably broad piece of the nation. But some things are not meant to be shared and, until now, the Bears have embodied most of them. No outsider is as wary of freezing conditions as a Chicagoan is proprietary of frostbite. Any Sunbelt slur is returned with a blast of icy superiority. "Bear weather," they call it. A Midwesterner's notion of comfort is plainly more profound than climate, and it is his wisdom that few towns are as provincial as the ones that fancy themselves cosmopolitan. Chicago has no problem with newspaper headlines as dispassionate as GO BEARS!
The past draws the country too. For the Bears are the past. Their lineage goes back to the running boards on the very Hupmobile in that Canton, Ohio, auto showroom where the American Professional Football Association and the Decatur Staleys were concocted in 1920. George Halas did most of the talking. The A.P.F.A. soon became the N.F.L., and the Decatur franchise, originally a sales tool for a starch manufacturer named Staley, shifted to Chicago in the custody of the amazing Halas. It might be an exaggeration to say that the entire fabric of sport was sewn in this singular man, but it is a fact that Halas shared one field with Jim Thorpe and yielded another to Babe Ruth. He was a most valuable player in the 1919 Rose Bowl and for a moment a rightfielder with the New York Yankees, but indelibly he was Papa Bear.
When players were players and even agents were agents, the Bears had Red Grange and Cash & Carry Pyle. Other names are like trumpets sounding. Bronko Nagurski. Bulldog Turner. George McAfee. Sid Luckman. (If you'll pardon a sentimental addition, Willie Galimore. He even sounded like running.) Later: Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus. People say the Bears are 22 seasons between championships, but 1963 was so momentary and illusory that it seemed more of a flashback than a turnaround, a memory of glory in the midst of a 40-year desperation that, almost no matter what happens in New Orleans this Sunday, has probably evaporated for good. If 1963 reached back to 1946 for inspiration, Halas reached back to 1963 for Mike Ditka.