Where were you on January 26, 1986? Nearly every sports-minded Chicagoan (of a certain age) remembers where he or she was when their beloved, dominating football Bears crushed the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX. Most of us were sitting on our couches, watching the gridiron slaughter on television. Friar alumnus and lifelong Berwyn resident Ken Geiger worked as a scout with the team at the time and remembers the electric atmosphere in the Super Dome, where he sat with his wife, Sheryl.
When it came to actually participating in sports, the young Geiger was a small but feisty athlete. A friend of Johnny Lattner at Fenwick, Geiger played junior-varsity football during an era when varsity teams often made front-page news. (The Friars’ varsity lost a close game, 13-7, to Lindblom in the ’48 Prep Bowl at Soldier Field.) Standing only 5’4” and weighing 135 lbs., “I didn’t play that much in high school, but I credit my football knowledge to Fenwick,” he says. “I absorbed a lot.” In addition to playing offensive guard for the Friars, Geiger also boxed all four years. “Boxing was a mandatory part of P.E. class at Fenwick back then,” he recalls. Coaching legend Tony Lawless “would set up a ring in the old gym and pair us up. He called it the ‘Silver Gloves.’ Boxing was a good learning lesson for me.”
Collegiately, Geiger played two sports after packing on about 50 pounds and growing four more inches. He was named an All-Conference football player in the fall of 1952 at Monmouth College in Illinois, where he helped lead the Scots to consecutive conference championships his junior and senior seasons. He also played baseball for three seasons. After graduating in ’53, Geiger became a member of the 101st Airborne Division during the Korean War. He entered the U.S. Army early in the year and “came up about three months short of making it to Korea,” he explains.
Prior to joining the Bears’ organization as a player-personnel assistant in 1982, Geiger enjoyed a 34-year career coaching football and wrestling at Morton High School. Together with other suburban coaches, he was instrumental in bringing about the IHSA football playoff system in 1974. He also coached football at Monmouth and at the University of Missouri. In addition to his post-retirement job with the Chicago Bears, Geiger had stints with the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints as a college scout and pro player evaluator. In the early ’90s, he served as one of the NFL’s first advance scouts. He also was a moving force in bringing American football to Europe, teaching the game to European youths and representing the National Football League as a clinician.
During the NFL players’ strike in 1987, Geiger spent a month living in an O’Hare Airport-area hotel and supervising 50 young “Spare Bears” while the union’s labor issues were addressed. “It was like being in the service again,” he told the Chicago Tribune at the time. “Every morning you never knew what would happen.” The following season, Geiger was with Iron Mike Ditka when Da Coach “went down” with a mild heart attack while working out. “I stayed with Mike in the locker room while Johnny Roland [Bears backfield coach] called the paramedics,” he remembers. “Special teams coach Steve Kazor then went with him to the hospital.”
Geiger is a 1996 inductee into the Monmouth Scot’s Hall of Fame (HOF) as well as a 2001 inductee of the Chicago Catholic League HOF as a player and a coach. Celebrating their 63rd wedding anniversary this year, Ken and Sheryl have five children, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren to date. The couple still lives in the same house in which he grew up on South Maple Avenue in Berwyn, where he attended St. Leonard’s church and school. After getting his master’s degree, Geiger originally wanted to teach and coach at Fenwick, but he was already married with kids at that point. “Father Walter told me that the school didn’t have a lot of money to pay teachers … that my best bet was to try a suburban [public] school.” Lucky for him, Morton was hiring. “I took a chance and drove from Oak Park right to Morton and filled out an application on the spot! A lot of my buddies went there. They had around 6,000 students at that time.”
Reflecting more on his Fenwick experience, “My Mom and Dad sacrificed for my brother and me to go there,” Geiger says. “I was taught how to study and how to learn. Fenwick always has had great teachers, which were mostly priests and some brothers back then.” Geiger also forged lifelong friendships at Fenwick and looks forward to summer because, every Monday, “I still play golf with some of my Fenwick teammates, classmates and other graduates.”