Football is the king of sports in America today. And the Bears are the top team in sports-crazy Chicago. That makes 100 Things Bears Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die a must-read for any sports fan in Chicago. Of course, it won’t hold much appeal for Green Bay Packers fans … unless they’re looking for ammunition to taunt Bears fans.
This book is chock full of tidbits of information about the storied history of the Bears, a charter member of the National Football League. Author Kent McDill does an excellent job ranging over both the past and present of Bears lore. With short entries, the book is not intended to be read cover to cover, but rather dipped into for the occasional five-minute helping of Bears info.
For anyone not alive before 1950, the coverage of the early years is especially interesting. McDill gives context and perspective to such things as the T formation, the “Sneaker Game,” and the team’s start as the Decatur Staleys. There is also a healthy dose of more recent information from Dick Butkus to the famed Super Bowl Shuffle (a top 100 hit) to Devin Hester.
Along the way, the author illustrates some major weaknesses (to the despair of every Bears fan) and strengths (to their never-ending pride) of the Bears over the years. There is a long, sad line of poor quarterbacks (when the best QB in team history is from the 1940s, that says it all). Alternatively, the Bears are known for dominating linebackers from Bill George to the likes of Mike Singletary and Brian Urlacher (is it something in the water?). The large number of entries about the 1985 Super Bowl Bears shows how thin recent championship history is.
Despite the “100 Things to Know and Do” title, the author focuses more on things to know than things to do. Fans could tour Soldier Field or visit the location of the old Staley Field in Decatur, but for the most part the book covers things to know. On occasion, the author stretches things out a bit to get to 100 entries: Do we really need entries on Todd Bell and Al Harris? Bears as actors? The coaches between Ditka and Smith? Punters?
In any book such as this, errors are inevitable, and sports fans revel in finding such errors. Most errors are fairly minor, and overall don’t detract from the value of the read. However, one statement by McDill is sure to cause many lively discussions in bars and living rooms around Chicago. McDill states in entry #56 that the 1950s were “by far their [the Bears’] worst decade ever.” The numbers don’t support that statement. The 1970s were significantly worse. From 1950 to 1959, the Bears’ overall record was 70–48–2 (a .593 winning percentage) with two first-place finishes and one appearance in the championship game. In the 1970s, the Bears’ overall record was 60–83–1 (a .419 winning percentage) with no first-place finishes and no appearances in the championship game. (Going from 1951 to 1960 and 1971 to 1980 doesn’t change the outlook.) No Bears fan from the 1970s can forget how dreary that decade was.
But starting such discussions is part of the fun of 100 Things Bears Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. Who was better, Dick Butkus or Mike Singletary? Do you prefer Jay Cutler or Jim McMahon? Is there a worse playing field in the NFL than Soldier Field?
100 Things Bears Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die is a great gift for any Bears fan, and it will serve as the starting point for many entertaining discussions. It may not hold much interest for people who are not sports fans.
October 2013, Triumph Books
$14.95,paperback, 224 pages
—Reviewed by Stephen Isaacs