Chris Zorich grew up in a fatherless household, but the Notre Dame defensive tackle thinks it was a bit of mom-and-pop conspiracy in heaven that put him into a Chicago Bears uniform.
"Mom" was Zorich's irrepressible mother, Zora, who died earlier this year at age 59, while "Pop" was George "Papa Bear" Halas.Zorich says on National Football League draft day, he prayed that the two would pull a few celestial strings to make sure the Bears picked him.
"She's the one who hooked up with Papa Bear and cooked this up," Zorich said, holding up his new jersey, No. 97. He wore "50" at Notre Dame, the number worn on the Bears by perennial All-Pro Mike Singletary.
"I'm very happy and I'm sure she's very happy for me. I just wish my mom had a chance to see this. I don't think there was a day in the 21 years she raised me that I didn't tell her that I loved her."
Zorich, an only child raised on a welfare check by a single parent, knew that his mother could rise to any occasion. She got around their tough South Side neighborhood on a bicycle, and wasn't the least bit shy about promoting her son's athletic career.
At a high school sports banquet several years ago, Zorich's mother spotted Bears coach Mike Ditka.
"She walked over to say `Hello, I'm Chris Zorich's mother,"' Ditka recalled this week. "I said, `My God, you're embarrassing me.' But afterward, she dragged me over there to meet him."
Like her son, Zora Zorich was a devoted Chicago football fan.
Zorich returned from Notre Dame's loss to Colorado in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 2 to find his mother dead, at age 59.
"I'm sure she'd be crying because she was a very big Bears fan," Zorich said as he attended opening of the Bears' mini-camp, four days after he was chosen by his hometown team in the second round of the NFL draft.
Zorich's main liability as a pro prospect is his size - he is 5-foot-11 and 265 pounds and has a knee injury that hobbled him part of his senior year.
But he won the Lombardi Trophy as the nation's outstanding college lineman and got picked on several All-American teams. He bench presses 455 pounds and runs the 40-yard dash in 4.75.
Ditka wanted to grab him in the first round when the team had the 22nd selection. But Bill Tobin, the player personnel chief, vetoed the idea and chose offensive tackle Stan Thomas.
Seven defensive linemen were taken in the first 1 1/2 rounds, but Zorich was still available when the Bears picked again, 49th overall.
Ditka likes his intensity and aggressiveness.
"He's a Bear," Ditka said.
Zorich was elated.
"The only way I can sum it up is: if you were a young kid and had the opportunity to watch a professional team all your life and actually have the opportunity to play for that team," he said.