Bears GM's Daughter, Mary Rogers of Geneva, Has Fond Memories of Bears' Last NFC Championship
Twenty-five years ago, Mary Rogers of Geneva had a front-row seat to the Super Bowl season, when dad Jerry Vainisi was general manager.
Twenty-five years ago, a different NFC championship game consumed Chicago. That one, like this Sunday’s Bears-Packers matchup, was for the chance to go to the Super Bowl and the 1985 Super Bowl Shuffle Bears were the toast of the town.
There was great frenzy and fever attached to the team and this particular game, as fans who had been denied for so long, saw a chance for glory. There hadn’t been a championship team in Chicago, in any sport, in decades, after all.
Genevan Mary Rogers remembers the game—and the ensuing Super Bowl contest between the Bears and the New England Patriots—very well and very fondly, and from an up-close-and-personal view. She was college student Mary Vainisi then, and dad Jerry Vainisi was general manager and executive vice president of the Bears.
She saw Super Bowl XX in New Orleans from the stands with her mother and sister, sitting with the coaches’ families and the Bears administration and families. Her brothers were ball boys on the sideline, as they had been during the season.
“The most fun part of that whole experience is the game that’s happening this Sunday, the NFC championship game,” Rogers said. “It was very, very exciting.”
It was a wonderful time for the Bears and to be a Bears fan, she said.
“They had been bad for so long—and here we were on the brink of the Super Bowl. There was such an excitement in the whole city.”
That was the year of the Super Bowl Shuffle music video, of course. (Opening lyrics: “We are the Bears Shufflin’ Crew/Shufflin’ on down, doin’ it for you./We’re so bad we know we’re good./Blowin’ your mind like we knew we would.”)
The players were larger than life, too—Walter Payton, “punky QB” Jim McMahon, William “Refrigerator” Perry, Mike Singletary, Steve McMichael, Willie Gault, Gary Fencik ... the list goes on. And that doesn’t even include the larger-than-life coach, Mike Ditka.
Longtime Bears leader George “Papa Bear” Halas had died a few years earlier. And on that Sunday in Chicago, in the fourth quarter, as the Bears were on their way to a 24-0 shellacking over the Rams, it started to snow. Wilber Marshall picked up a fumble and ran 52 yards for the final score.
“Anyone who cared about football, and saw the snow, believed Mr. Halas had sent the snow. It was a message from him, to make us all believe that this is for real, that this is going to happen and the Bears will go to the Super Bowl,” Rogers said. “It was almost like his blessing.” (Indeed, the Bears website refers to the snow and the end of that game as “high drama.”)
The Super Bowl, and being at it, was exciting as well. But it wasn’t in Chicago, with delirious Chicago fans everywhere, which changed the dynamics.
As the team landed in Chicago, however, ground crew members cheered and pumped their fists, Rogers remembers. And as the Bears contingent, on team buses, traveled from the airport, “the cars on the other side of the expressway were stopped and people were standing on the tops of their cars cheering,” Rogers said. “It was just thrilling. I have very fond memories of that.”
These days, Rogers’ football energy is concentrated on Geneva High School, where son Ben plays the game and husband Tom is principal. The family—athletes all—is a fan of all the Chicago teams but particularly roots for the Chicago Cubs.
An interesting sidelight for this Sunday’s game is the strong connection not only to Chicago and the Bears, but to the Green Bay Packers as well. Jerry Vainisi worked as a ball boy for the Packers; his oldest brother Jack was a pro scout who brought to Green Bay the players who led the team to the glory years.
“He revolutionized the way scouting was done in the NFL,” Rogers said. A story on PackersNews.com calls Jack Vainisi “a pioneer in NFL scouting who essentially started the Packers’ college scouting department in 1950. He also was a major force behind bringing Lombardi to Green Bay and recommended the drafting or signing of eight college players who went on to Pro Football Hall of Fame careers under Lombardi.”
“Our dog growing up was named Packer,” Rogers said. “We have a very strong tie to the Packers also.”
They’ll all watch Sunday. And perhaps in the back of Rogers’ mind will be the memories of a game a quarter-century ago, a chance to recall the time, the place, the atmosphere, the heady emotions.
“It was a very, very exciting time for my dad, of course, and the culmination of years and years of hard work,” Rogers said.
“And it was a wonderful time to be in Chicago and be a Bears fan.”