The Chicago Way: Gary Fencik Ran with the Bulls in Spain, and Ran with the Bears on the Lakefront, Would He Run for Mayor of a Troubled Chicago?

By John Kass

November 19, 2022

Chicago Bears great Gary Fencik grew up in Chicagoland, watching Chicago sports and reading “the paper.”

Yeah, that paper.

“I spend a lot of decades with the Tribune, which I finally gave up on,” Fencik told Jeff Carlin and me on The Chicago Way podcast on WGN plus. “If you look at the cost, it’s pretty expensive and any local writers are no longer there. John you got booted years ago.”

It seems like years.

I wasn’t ‘booted’ but I did get the hell out of the woke-pit as soon as I could.

“And everything is just AP and stuff you can see on your own on the internet, but the thing that really struck me was the first section I’m going through  half of it were obituaries. When a section is on dead people, maybe it’s a reflection of the newspaper itself.”

But he’s gone back to “the paper” for at least the rest of the Bears’ season because of  “Dan Widerer and other sports guys.”

And “the paper” just called me to make me an offer I could refuse. They’re giving it away. And I don’t want their “free” paper. I wouldn’t wrap a fish that I despised in that thing.

I hope you listen to this Fencik edition of The Chicago Way podcast here you’ll learn about what happened to the lovely young woman who featured with him in an Illinois Lottery commercial, and what Oakland Raiders star Kenny Stabler said to Fencik right before the snap in one of the most brutal games I’ve ever seen.

You’ll have to listen for yourself to hear him talk about going crazy and staying up all night drinking in Pamplona with his good friend Michael Jones (who contributes for under the pen name ‘Michael Ledwith.’)

Fencik wasn’t supposed to run with the bulls. He had a contract, and Jones talked him into it. But with his friends out there, Fencik just said “(screw) it” and jumped the barrier and ran with them. Crowds clotted up there was the usual panic, but he found a hole in the fence and escaped.

But Jones didn’t know his friend had escaped and ran into the dark dangerous tunnel leading to the bull ring, worrying that the star Bears safety may have been gored by a crazed bull and that he, Jones, was about to become the most hated man in all of Chicago sports history.

But then he spotted Fencik safe in a nearby café, enjoying himself. It was all good.

Who doesn’t like Spanish wine and Spanish ham?

And it all worked out.

What were my impressions of Fencik?

He’s been a fixture in Chicago, and I was a Chicago Bears fan and loved watching him play. I had tickets to the NFC championship game with my brothers, the Bears vs the Rams to determine which team would go to the Super Bowl.

But I had been scheduled to work that day, and I’d just started the job at ‘the paper’ and didn’t feel right about asking for a day off. I was a kid in the business trying to make my way.

My brothers went without me. Looking back on it, I should have just gone to the game. What’s the worst “the paper” could have done? Stab me in the back and try trashing my reputation?

They waited years for that.

In our interview on The Chicago Way, I learned Fencik can joke about himself. And that’s cool.

He’s a thoughtful, erudite, inquisitive and intelligent man, which is why so many have tried to convince him to run for public office in this broken state of Illinois, in the broken city by the lake. I’m glad for his sake and for his family that he told them no.

NFL football is brutal. But there is little honor in Chicago politics. Even the good are stained. And the best candidates are often ruined by knaves, jesters and thieves and the usual group of suspect weasels.

“I think the best position would be mayor of the city of Chicago,” Fencik said. “I’ve lived here my entire life. You could have an impact. But am I willing to put myself out there in the public glare?”

He isn’t willing, he said.

Good for him and his family. The campaign for mayor is a snake pit. And those who’ve ruined the city want to kick it to death, and those who’d fight for the city will themselves be shamed and crushed. That’s Chicago politics. That’s how it is in the whirlpool going down

I tried to prod him into attacking incumbent and fading Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, but he diplomatically declined.

He loves Chicago, sees the potential in the great city and sees the stress points on Chicago’s precarious fiscal situation, but while avoiding direct personal criticism of the mayor, he did not shy away the obvious:

Chicago is in trouble.

“It’s a shame what’s going on right now with the city,” he said. “You walk down Michigan Avenue and you see stores boarded up. Crimes happening. I’ve lived on the North Side my entire career, outside of football. Chicago is not fun right now. People don’t feel safe. And that’s the responsibility of the police and the mayor and the politicians. There’s a lot of angst right now. This is a great city. I ride my bike up and down on the lake, you know, you go out at night and it’s a little dicey.  A little different feeling than it has been.”

A lot different.

Jeff Carlin and I hope you listen to The Chicago Way podcast. You can subscribe FREE wherever you get your podcasts or subscribe to and have it sent FREE to your email inbox. The Chicago Way podcast will always be free.

In a city and state of political weasels, The Chicago Way is a true sanctuary. It is the No Chumbolone Zone.


(Copyright 2022 John Kass)

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