For 28 years Michael McCaskey has been in charge of the Chicago Bears. He first took the helm as team president in 1983 after the death of his grandfather and Bears founder George Halas. His title changed to chairman of the board in 1999 and he has served in that role since.
Yet his attendance at this week's NFL owners meeting at the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans will be McCaskey's last as head of the Bears. On May 5, he will hand down the reigns to his younger brother George.
The elder McCaskey has been criticized harshly during his tenure by fans and media alike. He has had many successes though, helping guide the team to its two and only Super Bowl appearances, winning five NFC North titles, earning 12 playoff appearances, and playing a crucial role in the rebuilding of Halas Hall and Soldier Field. He will continue to serve on the team's board of directors and will attend quarterly meetings. He is chairman of the Super Bowl and Hall of Fame committees, and holds seats on the stadium and international committees. He will step down from those committees as well.
McCaskey told the Chicago Tribune he is "proud that the Bears continued to stand for the values that our grandfather [Halas] began us with, and that we maintained a commitment to strengthening the league."
As for regrets, he said, "I wish we had done more in the '80s with that wonderful set of players we had. I wish we had won more Super Bowls."
McCaskey is confident he's leaving the Bears in good hands with his brother George, who has served as the team's directors of ticket operations since 1991. He has been training under his older brother for a year in preparation for his new position. He is not expected to be involved in the day-to-day operations of the team, leaving that to Team President Ted Phillips, and will focus solely on league affairs.
Bears to oppose new kickoff rules
Earlier this month, Rich McKay, the NFL's competition committee chairman, outlined a series of proposed rule changes for the 2011 season. The biggest change on that list is relocating the kickoff line from the 30-yard line to the 35-yard line.
The committee feels that kickoffs, where players sprint roughly 60 yards at full speed before crashing into each other, are becoming increasingly dangerous to the health of players. It believes less kick returns will result in less serious injury, specifically concussions. In addition to the location of the kickoff, coverage men will only be allowed to begin running from the 30-yard line – just five yards behind the kickoff line.
Chicago's special teams are annually one of the best in the league. Much of that has to do with the unit's success in the return game, where Devin Hester and Danieal Manning have been game-changing performers. Currently, about one in five kickoffs, or 20 percent, result in a touchback. That number could jump to 50 percent if the proposed rule is put in place. This would leave significantly fewer opportunities for the Bears to gain the field-position advantage.
As such, the Bears plan on opposing the rule during the spring owner's meetings. Team President Ted Phillips recently outlined the Bears' stance on this issue to the Chicago Tribune.
He said, "I don't want to say anything definitively before we have gotten in the meetings. So I would say that we'll listen to the arguments, but we're a little surprised by the proposal and we'll probably be against it. With our return game being such a big part of our offense, I would tend to think we would vote against it. There are some aspects to the proposal, including the elimination of the two-man wedge and having all the players except the kicker no more than 5 yards behind the ball, that would be more acceptable than moving the kickoff to the 35."
The team's opposition, though, looks like it will fall on deaf ears. ESPN's John Clayton reports that the rule change, despite it being roundly criticized by teams and fans alike, is likely to pass.
This does not sit well with Hester, who posted on his Twitter account: "I see the NFL is trying to take the kickoff game out. They already punt out of bounds. What's next?"
UPDATE: The proposal passed this morning, meaning kickoffs will now be kicked from the 35-yard line. Coach Lovie Smith, speaking at the meetings in New Orleans, was none too pleased.
"You just wonder how did we get to this point?" Smith said before the rule passed. "First off, I can't believe we're really talking about it, the most exciting play in football. You would think we would want to keep that in."
"We would work as hard as we could to try to make it safer, but to eliminate that to me is just kind of tearing up the fiber of the game a little bit. Yeah, we have a great returner. But that's a big part of the game. Our fans are probably more interested in coming there to see Devin Hester running a ball back as opposed to seeing a kicker kick it out of the end zone with no action."
Peppers on the cover of Madden 2012?
Chicago's Pro-Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers is one of 32 players currently in the running to be the next player to grace the cover of Madden 2012, EA Sports' best-selling football game.
The "Madden curse" is well documented. All but a few past cover choices have gone on to have poor seasons. Fans can vote for, or against, Peppers as the next Madden cover man by clicking here.
ESPN's Chris Wright recently spoke with Bears GM Jerry Angelo, who talked about the lockout, free agency, the draft, the value of the under tackle in Chicago's defense and more. View the full interview here.
Natural grass at Soldier Field to stay
In a recent interview with Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune, Bears President Ted Phillips discussed, among other things, keeping natural grass at Soldier Field.
He said, "We've had great success at Soldier Field in December and January. The grass field there will never be top-notch late in the season, but it's more of a perception issue than a real negative issue. The players know how to play on it, and frankly, it's been part of our home-field advantage. If the time ever comes that the technology gives us an infill surface that plays like grass, and more importantly the studies about lower-extremity injuries show there are not quite the discrepancies that they show now, we'll consider making a switch at that time. I don't know that time will ever come."
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.