Allow me to offer just the slightest break from our Bears fan business of gamely jousting with Eagles fans wherever they lay their head or show their hide.
Instead, here is a story about George McCaskey giving Jerry Jones a public tongue-lashing in an owners meeting.
I recently finished reading Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times, political reporter Mark Leibovich’s book on the NFL. Published in September, Leibovich’s book chronicles four years in the life of the league, starting chronologically in the summer of 2014 when Leibovich, a Pats fan, bagged an interview with Tom Brady (who answered Leibovich’s email query with subject line, “Tom Brady here”) and ending with the Eagles’ victory in Super Bowl LII.
In between, Leibovich tells the story of the league through the eyes of the NFL’s power players, including Brady (an institution if ever a modern NFL player was one) and commissioner Roger Goodell. The bulk of the perspective, though, comes from the NFL’s owners, whom Leibovich coins “The Membership.”
The book is fascinating for its insider’s view on the owners of the 32 teams, with the New York Times reporter Leibovich not just interviewing but spending what might be called quality time with many of the Membership’s biggest names: Robert Kraft (Patriots), Arthur Blank (Falcons), Mark Davis (Raiders), Bob McNair (Texans), Woody Johnson (Jets), Daniel Snyder (Washington) and of course Jerry Jones (Cowboys).
What do I mean by “quality time”? In the course of reporting this book, Leibovich:
- Receives a gift of organic eggs from chickens at Kraft’s mansion
- Passes out stone drunk on a Cowboys team bus following too much Johnnie Walker Blue with Jones, who then scampers off to a bar for some “SEE-gars”
- Hangs with Goodell on the field in Carolina prior to the 2015/16 NFC championship game as Goodell tries to show off the new NFL mobile app before growing frustrated that it doesn’t work (“Watch, now it’s going to screw up,” Goodell says while fiddling with his phone)
- Gets close enough to the Brady family that Brady’s father reveals his feelings on Brady’s diet: “Sometimes we’ll go to Tom and Gisele’s house for dinner. And then I’ll say afterward, ‘Where are we going for dinner?’”
Leibovich also spends a ton of time writing about three owners (Davis, Stan Kroenke of the Rams, Dean Spanos of the Chargers) trying to move their respective teams to Los Angeles, the owners attempting to navigate the fallout from Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling and the intersection between his political reporting and his NFL reporting via in-depth campaign trail Trump interviews whose snippets make it back to the NFL side.
One ownership team barely visible in the book is the Bears, with one note-worthy exception. Virginia is briefly mentioned on page 27 of this 373-page book, used as an example of the older, family-based owners. And then there is nothing on the Bears owners until page 329, when George — the eighth of the now 10 McCaskey children and the team’s chairman since 2011 — makes his first and only appearance.
Like I said, Leibovich got a ton of revealing material from Jerry Jones, and it’s easy to see both why Jones has such a high opinion of himself (his innovations both of and within AT&T Stadium are professional sports game-changers) and why owners might get tired of his often aimless braggadocio.
For example, in explaining to Leibovich why it’s important to have fun in your business, Jones takes a rather wide left turn into a brief story about masturbating in shoes while working as a shoe salesman. It’s all part of the endless yarn Jones seems to spin at all times and for all occasions — in an owners meeting in Irvine, Texas, in December of 2017, after Jones opined at length on the state of the league, Arthur Blank stood and said, “Jerry, you just spoke for about forty minutes, and I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
And that is basically the harshest rebuke any of these owners gave Jones in the book, until McCaskey was pushed just a bit too far.
In an owners meeting in October of 2017, Jones prepared to deliver his opinion on Goodell’s compensation and impending contract extension, which Jones wanted to curb. He prefaced his remarks by calling himself the “senior ranking owner” in the room, despite having only purchased the Cowboys in 1989, nearly seven full decades after the league’s birth.
That didn’t sit well with the so-called “legacy owners” whose teams have been in their respective families for generations. The one person to voice that dissatisfaction was George McCaskey, who did so two months later at the Irvine meeting.
Collegial and mild-mannered, McCaskey would nevertheless become an unlikely source of resistance against Jones, telling at least two partners before the meeting that he was insulted by the Cowboys owner’s attempts to undermine the compensation committee. “I’m sick of this shit,” McCaskey told another owner before the meeting. “Look out.” He ran into Goodell at the hotel gym that morning and said the same thing.
McCaskey stood up during the owners-only session and listed several owners in the room who were more “senior” than Jones: the Maras of the Giants, the Rooneys of Pittsburgh, the Hunts of Kansas City, and the Bidwells of Arizona, among others. “Jerry, you don’t represent me,” McCaskey said to close his remarks. “The committee represents me.”
McCaskey is indeed collegial and mild-mannered, and as a result his personality can be tricky to parse out. He seems very well liked within the organization, as a philanthropic leader, supporter of one of my favorite organizations and dedicated photo bomber. I enjoyed, therefore, seeing this inside look at what draws his ire, and how he is carrying on the legacy of Papa Bear Halas, his grandfather.
My only regret is that he won’t be able to photo bomb himself hoisting the Super Bowl trophy next month. C’est la vie. Bear Down.
Jack M Silverstein is Windy City Gridiron’s Bears historian, and author of “How The GOAT Was Built: 6 Life Lessons From the 1996 Chicago Bulls.” He is the proprietor of Chicago sports history Instagram “A Shot on Ehlo.” Say hey at @readjack.