For Bears fans, there are times to cheer your team for what you hope they will be, and there are times to admire them for who they are.
Washington, Ill., is located about 150 miles southwest of Soldier Field and, as we all know by now, the town was devastated last Sunday when a tornado roared through it just a couple hours before the Bears took the field against the Baltimore Ravens.
Revealed in the storms’ wake were at least six dead, 37 injured and over 1,000 homes damaged or destroyed. Washington, a small town of about 16,000 was among the hardest hit, and it did not go unnoticed by the Bears players or organization.
Fresh off his overtime, game-winning field goal to beat the Ravens, Bears kicker Robbie Gould was hard at work organizing a fundraiser for Monday night to benefit the Washington area and on his Tuesday day off Gould and teammates Blake Costanzo and Sherrick McManus, and retired teammates Anthony Adams, Rashied Davis and Tom Zbikowski boarded a bus and made a round trip to Coal City to see first-hand how and what they could do to help.
The Bears also discovered that beyond all the devastation, the citizens of Washington were actually clinging to a football team of their own for hope and sanctuary. The day before the tornado, the Washington High School football team scored a state quarterfinal victory, putting them into the semifinals for the first time since 1985.
Does that year ring a bell with Bears' fans? But, after the storm, the team's best season in 28 years and the first 12-0 record in school history were nearly forgotten.
Fortunately, the Bears and a number of other Washington neighbors would have none of that.
By Wednesday’s practice, the Bears had requested permission from Washington High School and had Washington High School Panthers Football T-shirts made up for the entire team and coaching staff. Coach Marc Trestman and rookie offensive guard Kyle Long wore them proudly in press conferences for TV, print and radio, and spoke eloquently of their and their teammates’ support for the high school team.
The Panthers will be heavy underdogs when they travel to Springfield on Saturday to face top-seeded Sacred Heart-Griffin for a trip to the state championship in DeKalb. Illinois State University has donated its facilities for the Panthers to practice and prepare, and their opponents have opened their hearts as well. Sacred Heart-Griffin is set to pay for buses to take Panther fans from Washington to the game in Springfield to try and help Washington’s players, coaches, and fans forget their pain, even if just for a few hours.
Meanwhile, the Bears are focused on a lot more than football. Bears Care is conducting an online auction of game-worn and game-used equipment from the win over the Ravens and accepting donations online at www.chicagobears.com/tornadorelief. The Bears and Bears Care together will match all donations and auction proceeds up to $100,000 which will be sent to the American Red Cross to address the most current critical needs of the families who have been impacted by the tornadoes and storms.
This week’s opponent is pitching in too and in addition to all the great Bears memorabilia in the auction, the St. Louis Rams have donated a luxury suite for sixteen (16) people at this week’s Bears vs. Rams game, including food and beverage. You and your friends and family can have the Bears road trip of a lifetime courtesy of the Rams and whatever you bid for your tax deductible donation, the Bears will match dollar for dollar to help the folks in Washington.
The Bears could have done nothing and no one would have said a word. They chose to take a different path. Today is a day to be very proud of your Chicago Bears.
• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at [email protected]