Two things keep Chicago sports fans together through ages of disappointment: The ’90s Bulls and the ’85 Chicago Bears. Chicago Bulls equipment manager Steve Pankow combines the forces of the two, paying homage to his favorite football team bestowing individual identities through the 2022 NBA Summer League.
In a profile published in The Athletic on Friday, Pankow admits his hand in choosing the team’s funky jersey numbers. While often considered unorthodox, the equipment manager utilizes high digits on incoming rookies in their inaugural summer league.
Bulls General Manager Marc Eversley asked Pankow why one player donned No. 99. The 33-year-old assistant referenced a Hall of Famer, but not one in the native sport. Instead, the number honors NFL and Bears legend Dan Hampton.
According to Pankow, the GM is fully onboard with the ploy, telling the manager, “I love it”. Each player without an active position on the Bulls’ regular season roster pays homage to a member of the ’85 Super Bowl XX winners.
Shooting guard Sindarius Thornwell’s No. 95 representing Hall of Fame defensive lineman Richard Dent. Justin Lewis – Chicago’s prized undrafted free agent signing – dons No. 34, worn by one of the NFL’s most feared rushing talents of all-time: Walter Payton.
However, convincing professional hopefuls isn’t an always-easy task. The Athletic’s story details one conversation between Steve Pankow and Thornwell. The manager tells Thornwell, “This man was a Super Bowl MVP in ’85, the last team to win a Super Bowl in this city”.
Thornwell – immediately onboard with the idea – responded, “He was the MVP, I’m in”.
For Pankow, Honoring The Current Bears Team Proves More Difficult
Convincing players on an inside joke is a lot easier when it honors the city’s legends. Maybe one day Pankow can use Justin Fields’ No. 1 in the summer league. But staring down the barrel of a potentially abysmal season, it’s becoming tough to grow fond of the suffering franchise.
Replacing the failed regime of the last few years at the beginning of the offseason is a good start. But in an effort to rebuild the roster from near scratch, it seems to leave the young QB hanging out to dry.
However, Fields’ top target Darnell Mooney still visions domination in the near future for his quarterback. In an offseason presser, Mooney says Fields “wants to take over the league”. Reducing last season’s playbook to rubble is a nice first step. Replacing Matt Nagy and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor with former Green Bay Packers quarterback’s coach Luke Getsy seems like another positive.
The team also acquired a reclamation project from the New England Patriots in N’Keal Harry this week. But until Chicago builds a roster capable of returning to glory, Pankow might have to recycle some of the ’85 team’s numbers for future summers.