When Don Wachter opened his front door a few days ago, he was met by Bears Hall Of Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher, who was dressed in his HOF gold jacket.
Urlacher had flown in from his home in Phoenix to announce to “Bearman” that he was one of six finalists for the Ford “Hall of Fans”, which is a new exhibit in the Pro Football Hall Of Fame.
“I was dumbfounded,” Wachter said in an exclusive Windy City Gridiron interview.
What Bears fan wouldn’t be?
The greeting was filmed by a crew hired by Ford. Wachter had been hosting the the crew for the day, with the understanding that he was being considered as a finalist.
Urlacher knocking on his front door, however, came as a complete surprise.
“It was past 12:00 (noon) and there was this loud knocking on the door,” Wachter said, ”which I thought was strange, there were a lot of guys coming and going and I have a door bell, and the door was unlocked but I thought maybe a crew guy had locked himself out or something. The director goes ‘why don’t you go answer that’ and I was closest to the door, so I got up and answer it and was like ‘oh my God there’s Brian Urlacher standing there.’”
“I just couldn’t conceive why he was there,” he continued with a laugh, “I know we were doing this interview and all it took me a bit to put two-and-two together, you know...”
Urlacher told Wachter that he had been nominated as a finalist for the Ford Hall Of Fans, “He congratulated me,” Wachter said, pointing out that Urlacher was extremely nice and gracious throughout the entire day, even when the cameras were not rolling.
It’s likely that every Chicago Bears fan knows Don Wachter’s face. The Plainfield, Illinois resident’s face and image has been all over television, print and online media since the 1990’s.
Wachter has been a season ticket holder since 1985, and hasn’t missed a home game in 33 years.
His trademark face paint has been around since he first started becoming an “ultimate fan” back in his college days in the 1990’s. The bear’s head was a later edition.
During his many years of being the Bears’ most well-known fan, he’s had many highlights and some lowlights as well, but nothing to compare to having Brian Urlacher fly out from Arizona to spend the day with him.
In the video filmed that day on the way to Wachter’s house and at the house, Urlacher states “Fans are the life blood of our sport; without them, pro football wouldn’t exist.”
“That’s why Ford is creating the Hall Of Fans,” he continued in a segment filmed before he reached Wachter’s residence, “to recognize the unsung heroes who help make our game great. I’m in Chicago to surprise Don Wachter, and nominate him for induction into the inaugural class of the Ford Hall Of Fame.”
“Don has no idea I’m coming to see him,” Urlacher explains, “this is going to be really exciting!”
The video shows the outside of the house, with Urlacher firmly knocking on the door as Wachter is doing part of his interview in full Bearman regalia. Wachter opened the door and found the most recent Chicago Bears Hall Of Famer standing there waiting.
Wachter led Urlacher through a tour of his home, up to the Bearman’s man cave and memorabilia rooms. On their way up the stairs, Wachter pointed out an autographed picture of Bearman and Urlacher together, taken during Urlacher’s rookie year. “Look how young I was,” Urlacher is heard saying in the video.
Upstairs, Urlacher signed a jersey that was provided by Ford, and Wachter states Urlacher spent considerable time looking through the memorabilia room and commenting on a lot of Bears historical items that Wachter has collected over the years.
The Bearman persona has developed over time, from his early college days back in 1985 through many changes.
The biggest change was when he moved away from his earlier football helmet, through a phase where he wore multi-colored orange and navy wigs and on through to his Bear’s head hat. Unlike most other bear’s heads seen around Soldier Field, Wachter’s head is from an actual bear. He purchased it from a taxidermist, and it was intended to be part of a bearskin rug.
Wachter cut off the rest of the fur, fashioned a hole the right size to fit his head and added/adjusted an appropriate amount of padding. He then attached a strap to the plywood base that the head is attached to.
The Bear’s head made its debut in November of 1996 and has been a fixture at Bears games since.
Wachter’s look and positive attitude caught the notice of the Chicago Bears organization, who invited Wachter to become one of the two people who ran giant flags around inside Soldier Field down the sidelines and in the end zone.
After the Bears introduced their new mascot Staley, Wachter moved back into the stands where he has been cheering on the Bears since.
Not surprisingly, his spectacular outfit, energy and positive good humor has attracted a lot of media attention over the years. He’s been featured in countless promos on all of the national television networks and online media, including here at Windy City Gridiron.
Donning the jersey of his all-time favorite Bear, Doug Plank, Wachter has become a legend among not just Bears fans, but his fellow ultimate fans as well. Wachter is a member of an association of high profile ultimate fans, the Pro Football’s Ultimate Fan Association.
This also isn’t his first nomination for a “Hall Of Fans” award. Wachter was an inaugural member of the Visa Hall Of Fans, Class of 2000.
One of Wachter’s favorite parts of being Bearman is interacting with fans of all teams throughout the country at the games, at pregame festivities, and any time he’s dressed as the Bearman.
“I love interacting with fans,” he said, “taking pictures, you know, I get asked a lot... I love taking pictures with fans, I try not to ever say no, and I’m so honored when they say ‘wow, you made my day, this is my first Bears game.’ Or they’s say ‘I’m from Mexico I came all this way,’ or ‘I’m from London I came all this way,’ or ‘I’m from Germany, I just want to get a picture’ or ‘I’m from Spain and I want to get a picture with you.’”
From six to three to one
Following an extensive background check, there are six nominee that have been chosen as finalists out of the fanbases of all 32 teams.
These six fans each received a visit from a Hall Of Fame player from their respective teams to inform them that they were finalists.
Three of the six will be chosen to continue on to the Super Bowl in Atlanta for an all-expense paid trip to the game and to enjoy the week’s festivities leading up to the announcement of the overall winner and inaugural Hall Of Fans inductee.
According to Wachter, fan voting is only one-third of the deciding factor, the nominees are also being reviewed by a team chosen by the Ford Motor Company and the Pro Football Hall Of Fame.
The winner will be inducted into the Hall Of Fans exhibit during the Pro Football Hall Of Fame enshrinement week this summer at the Hall Of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Wachter’s immediate goal is to be one of the finalists and hopefully be able to root on his beloved Chicago Bears in person at the Super Bowl in Atlanta. “Wouldn't that be something!” he said.
Fans can show their support for the Bearman by going to the Ford Hall Of Fans website and voting for Wachter daily.
“I’d be very grateful and appreciative of your support,” he said.
So would Brian Urlacher:
Ken’s Note: I’ve got to admit, holding off on telling this story was hard. Don (who’s a friend although we are not “in-real-life” bests or anything) hit me up on messenger then called me the night Brian visited, and you all can just imagine how absolutely pumped he was. I was, of course, sworn to secrecy until the contest opened, and once it did I’m happy to share his story with you.
Don is one of the good guys, and as a fanbase we have until January 27 to vote for him daily to get him to Atlanta to cheer on (hopefully) our Chicago Bears.