In the 21st Century, youngsters growing up watching the
Chicago Bears, as I and thousands of other youths did, will remember many
high-tech features of the game-day experience at Soldier Field. Pregame
pyrotechnics, the giant Bear head in the North endzone, the new Shake the Lake
song, and impressive video presentations on the scoreboards. For this fan who
watched the Bears at the aging old Soldier Field, there were just two forms of
entertainment to remember: the Honey Bears cheerleaders and Rocky, the "mascot
in the crowd."
Just prior to Super Bowl 20 in New Orleans,
founder/manager/choreographer Cathy Core was informed by Bears management that
her group's contract would not be renewed to take the field for their 10th year
at Soldier Field. The actual background thinking for this choice has not been
revealed publicly, but the semi-official reason given by the Bears organization
is that they felt cheerleaders were not an acceptable part of the gameday
experience for an NFL team.
This is truly a shame, as the Honey Bears remain an enduring
memory of Chicago Bears games in a simpler time for this lifelong fan.
I interviewed Core for my book Chicago Bears History in
2004, and I am thankful for the time she spent talking to me. According to
Core, George Halas himself decided that he wanted his team to have
cheerleaders, or "dancing girls" as he called them in his own words. Halas put
General Manager Jim Finks in charge of making just that happen, sometime in
Core had recently moved to the Chicago area from New Jersey,
and had actually never driven into the city as of this time. Core's
cheerleading experience at that time consisted of having taught Junior High
girls. Someone in Core's church, however, knew Finks, and recommended Core to
him as a person that may possibly assemble a new cheerleading unit. When Finks
first called Core and identified himself as General Manager of the Bears, Core
thought it was a friend playing a joke on her, and she eventually hung up.
Finks then had the mutual acquaintence call Core and validate his story, and
when Finks called back, Core sheepishly apologized. Before she knew it, she was
meeting with Halas in the Bears' downtown offices, talking about the group that
would be known as the Honey Bears.
Before Core left the office that day, Halas told her "as
long as I'm alive, we will have dancing girls on the sidelines."
Core began traveling to places such as Dallas and Denver to
interview those clubs about the process of putting together a cheerleading
unit, then interviewed hundreds of women before narrowing down the applicants
to the first group of 20.
The Honey Bears danced on the sidelines, as well as made
appearances around the city, from 1977 to 1985. Halas made good on his word
that the cheerleaders would always be a part of the team as long as he was
alive. He passed in October of 1983. The following season the team attempted to
end the relationship, but had a binding contract with the group through the end
of the '85 season. Following their appearance at the Super Bowl in New Orleans,
the group became a memory. Word has it that as long as the McCaskey family owns
the team, that's where the Honey Bears will remain, a memory.
Core remains ready to resurrect them at any time.
Another enduring legend at the old Soldier Field is "Rocky".
This man was a regular season ticket holder of the team in the late 1970's and
80's, and I think I remember still seeing him in the stadium as late as the
early 90's. At some point, this man decided he'd start walking around the crowd
with his megaphone, cheering them on. Though I wish I did, I do not know
anything about Rocky's name or where he was from. I believe I heard Northwest
Indiana at some point. I was told recently by another fan that at some point
Rocky asked the Bears for some sort of recognition as the team's mascot, and
perhaps assistance with parking fees on gamedays as he got older, and was
turned down. That was the end of Rocky.
If anyone has more information about Rocky, please by all
means contact me and I'd be happy to elaborate on his story. See the links
below for a short video clip of Rocky from NFL Films. I realize this is
copyrighted material but it is for educational purposes only. I will remove on
request. I also have an autographed photo of Rocky that he gave me as a kid and
as soon as I find it I will post it here.
Don Waechter was also an unofficial Bears mascot, banished
off the field by the team. Anyone that has watched a home or away Bears game,
many commercials for products, or Fox 32 Bears Specials since 1996 will surely
Don is a long-time season ticket holder that wrote to the
Bears in 1995, asking them if he could be of assistance on the field cheering
the team and the crowd on. That year the Bears began by asking him to run a
large Bears flag across the field with the players' entrance as well as after
each score. Shortly thereafter, Don acquired a stuffed Bears head that he
turned into a helmet of sorts, and created his "costume" that included the Doug
Plank jersey and Bear paws and feet.
Once he donned this getup, the Bears allowed him to walk the
field during the game, and he was very often captured by television broadcasts
and on NFL Films highlights. He even appeared in several television
commercials. Most recently, he appeared on the intro for Fox 32's Bears Playoff
In 2003, with the birth of "Staley the Bear," Don was no
longer allowed to wear his costume on the field. He continued to run the flags
out of costume in 2003 and 2004. In 2005, Don "Bearman" Waechter again began
sitting in his seats in the North endzone, in full dress. He continues to
travel to Bears away games when he can, and is quite often captured in the
stands, in his "uniform" amongst the hostile crowd.