Coach Dooley’s Wife Goes To Washington
The Bears Championship Super Bowl win against the New England Patriots on January 26, 1986, was overshadowed two days later by the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger, which killed all seven crew members. The accident has been cited as the reason the Bears never had their visit to the White House.
It took almost 26 years, but the celebratory event finally took place this fall. It’s probably more than a coincidence that the sitting President is from Chicago.
“I got a call from the Chicago Bears, out of the blue, asking if I’d like to go to the White House,” says Lake Forest’s Elaine Dooley, wife of the late Coach Jim Dooley. “I told them I’d love to go. How often do you get a call like that?”
Coach Jim Dooley was a member of the Chicago Bears organization for nearly 30 years. After winning All-American honors with the University of Miami Hurricanes, he was drafted in the first round by the Chicago Bears in 1952. When Coach George Halas retired in 1968, he named Jim as his successor as head coach. Coach Dooley was an assistant coach under Mike Ditka.
“The Bears were Jim’s life,” explains Elaine, surrounded in her home by Chicago Bears memorabilia. “And mine, too,” she says while pointing out the replica of the Super Bowl trophy that Coach Dooley received to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Bears Super Bowl win.
Only five wives were invited to attend this White House event: Elaine, Diana Ditka, Nancy Hughes (wife of the late Offensive Coordinator Ed Hughes), Connie Payton (wife of the late Walter Payton), and Alicia Duerson (ex-wife of the late Dave Duerson). “They wanted to keep the trip relatively small, only inviting those closest to the 1985 team. It was such an honor to be included,” Elaine says.
A private plane was chartered to take the team from Chicago to Washington, D.C. “When I got on the plane, I started to walk toward the back when someone stopped me and said, ‘Oh no, Mrs. Dooley, you’re in first class,’” Elaine says with a laugh.
Once the team arrived at the White House escorted by an official motorcade, including fan favorites like Coach Mike Ditka, Coach Buddy Ryan, Jim McMahon, Otis Wilson, and Richard Dent, they were treated to an exclusive tour of the White House and lunch. “My son was getting married that weekend,” says Lisa Trace, Elaine’s daughter. “I was at the bridesmaids’ luncheon when I got this call from Mom saying, ‘Lisa, I’m in the Rose Garden!’”
After a leisurely lunch, the team gathered outside, where President Obama congratulated his hometown team and received a jersey from Coach Ditka. “It was funny to see Mike [Ditka] so tongue-tied,” Elaine says.
When the President was finished speaking, he stepped down from the raised platform where the team was sitting and greeted Elaine who was sitting in the front row. “I told him I was Coach Dooley’s wife,” Elaine says. “And he told me that he had read about Jim and was so glad that I could make it,” she explains. “That meant so much to me.”
Elaine was touched that the White House didn’t rush their visit. “No one seemed in a hurry to go, and even better, no one seemed in a hurry to see us leave,” she says. “It was like old times being together again.”
Not long after Elaine returned home from her White House trip, First Lady Michelle Obama paid a visit to Chicago, and Elaine’s granddaughter, Kelly Trace, had the opportunity to make a presentation to her about work she’s doing in nutrition. “Nothing like upstaging her old grandma,” says Elaine, proudly showing a photograph of Kelly with Mrs. Obama.
To this day, Elaine never misses a Bears game. “I can’t imagine what our lives would have been like without the Chicago Bears. It’s been a wonderful ride.”
—Ann Marie Scheidler