One of the most dynamic players and personalities from the franchise’s golden era is in severe decline as he battles Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Legendary Bears defensive tackle Steve “Mongo” McMichael, an outsized personality who starred on the 1985 championship team, has been diagnosed with 36-month onset ALS.
He is paralyzed from the shoulders down and does not have movement in his arms or hands, according to a family spokesperson. His legs are weakening. He relies on his wife Misty to feed him and help with hygiene. He will soon need a customized wheelchair, which the Bears have paid for, the spokesperson said.
“I promise you, this epitaph that I’m going to have on me now?” McMichael told the Chicago Tribune. “This ain’t ever how I envisioned this was going to end.”
Former defensive end Dan Hampton said Friday that he’s visited his “brother for the last 40 years” two or three times per month since a doctor confirmed the ALS diagnosis in January. Two weeks ago, Hampton took fellow Hall of Famer Richard Dent with him to McMichael’s Romeoville home. Hampton said he’s been impressed by McMichael’s and wife Misty’s good humor.
“What do you say? What do you do? How do you respond?” Hampton said. “It’s like a plane crash. You don’t know what’s up. You have to start making contingency plans.
“I admire him so much. He and his wife’s attitude has been just spectacular. If something like that happens to me or most people, you become bitter. Moribund. To his credit, his attitude has been exemplary. The whole thing is like a bad dream.”
Former Bears coach Mike Ditka was still reeling from the news Friday afternoon and hadn’t had much time to process his thoughts. Nonetheless, it immediately reminded him of what a joy it was to coach McMichael.
“The way Steve conducted himself and played for the Bears in those years is a great example to all the young players,” Ditka told the Sun-Times. “He was a hard worker. He was a no-nonsense guy. He didn’t take any [garbage] from anybody, including his teammates. You had to love him. You had to love his spirit and the way he went about playing the game. He was special. He didn’t have all the talent that Richard and Dan and some of the other guys had, but he gave it everything he had all the time, and you’ve gotta love that.
“I don’t want to say that you have favorites, but I would have to say that Steve McMichael was always one of my favorites. There was no quit in the guy. He gave you what he had. Whether it was enough or not, it didn’t matter. You were going to get his best effort. And that’s what I love about him.”
Former receiver Dennis McKinnon found out about the diagnosis when he got a text from Misty two months ago. He soon went to their house, where he found McMichael to be the same zany friend — “He’s a few fries short of a Happy Meal, but who doesn’t like McDonald’s?” McKinnon said — albeit with physical limitations.
“I almost lost it — there’s so much love that I have for Steve,” McKinnon said. “To see him like that … anytime you can embrace a brother and he can’t hug you back, it’s one of the worst feelings in the world.”
McMichael, who is 63, has been married to Misty for 20 years. They have a 13-year-old daughter, Macy.
Hampton, who built a ramp at the McMichael home so his friend could spend time outside, called “Mongo” one of “a half-dozen alpha males” on the 1985 Bears’ championship team.
“To see that now he’s not in a position where he’s able to control his life, it’s a sobering gut punch,” he said.
McMichael had concerns about his health for several years, but was in good shape and spirits when he appeared at the Bears 100 convention in 2019. He quoted a line from Russell Crowe in the movie Gladiator to describe the rock-star reception he received at the event.
“‘Your name echoes through eternity,’” he quipped. “That’s some pride, isn’t it?”
McMichael, 63, played for the Bears from 1981 through ‘93 and was not only one of their best players of that era, but of all time. He was an all-pro in 1985 and ‘87 and made third-team all-pro three times.
The Patriots drafted him in the third round in 1980 and — in a fortuitous moment for him and the Bears — cut him a year later. The Bears signed him and quickly installed him as a starter.
McMichael finished his Bears career with 814 tackles, 92.5 sacks and two interceptions. He is second in franchise history in sacks and third in tackles.
He played his final season in 1994 for the Packers before retiring and performing as a professional wrestler from 1995-99.
A GoFundMe page has been established to help pay the costs of McMichael’s medical care. The McMichaels are looking for a handicap-accessible van and have made a down payment on a handicap-accessible van. Obvious Shirts has created a Team Mongo T-shirt; 100 percent of the proceeds with benefit the family.