CHICAGO — Jerry Vainisi, the Chicago Bears‘ general manager when they won their lone Super Bowl championship, has died, the team announced on Wednesday. He was 80.
The team said he died Tuesday in suburban Oak Park, Illinois.
A Chicago native who attended Georgetown University and Chicago-Kent College of Law, Vainisi joined the Bears in 1972 as controller and worked as the team’s treasurer and lawyer. He became the team’s general manager in 1983 after Jim Finks resigned.
Vainisi remained in that role for four years. He oversaw contract negotiations and worked with coach Mike Ditka and player personnel director Bill Tobin to run the team.
“I will always appreciate the few years I spent with Jerry and am forever grateful for his decision to hire me as the Bears controller in 1983, which started my 40-year career with the Bears,” team President Ted Phillips said in a statement. “My thoughts and prayers are with him and his entire family.”
The Bears went 47-17 during during Vainisi’s tenure and fielded arguably the greatest team the league has seen in 1985.
With Hall of Famers Dan Hampton, Mike Singletary and Richard Dent leading one of the most ferocious defenses in NFL history and Walter Payton taking handoffs, the Bears shuffled their way to a 15-1 record and the franchise’s only Super Bowl victory to date. It was Chicago’s first NFL championship since 1963 and the ninth in all.
The Bears fired Vainisi after going 14-2 in 1986 and losing to Washington in the first round of the playoffs. Vainisi and then-president and chief executive officer Michael McCaskey were apparently at odds, though McCaskey said at the time the decision was mutual.
Chicago did not hire another general manager until Jerry Angelo in 2001. Tobin, Rod Graves, Dave Wannstedt and Mark Hatley served as de facto GMs in the interim.
Vainisi went on to work for the Detroit Lions and helped create the World League of American Football, which became NFL Europe. He later took over Hinshaw & Culbertson’s sports and entertainment law division in Chicago and bought Forest Park Bank before becoming its chairman and CEO.
Vainisi is survived by friend Doris L. Vainisi, five children and 14 grandchildren. His brother Jack, a scout and personnel director for the Green Bay Packers, died from a heart attack in 1960 at 33.