Book it: Flanigan wants all kids on the same page


The question stumped Jim Flanigan for a moment. That night last February, after he agreed to his new Bears contract: What does someone do when they get $4 million?p. “I really didn’t go out and buy anything,” Flanigan said, thinking back on his signing bonus. “I already had a dog. I had my computer. I don’t even remember what I did.”p. Then he remembered. “Oh, yeah. I think I went out to Butch McGuires and had a couple of beers with my friends.”p. The Essential Jim Flanigan.p. He still hangs out with the guys who lived across the hall from him freshman year at Notre Dame. The son of a Green Bay Packer is a core member of the Bears. With his five-year, $15 million contract, he can afford to live anywhere, but he decided Chicago was home after his 1994 rookie season when he bought a home here. In the past several years, he has gone about the business of settling into his adopted hometown.p. Only middle linebacker Barry Minter has been a member of the Bears’ defense longer than Flanigan. No NFL defensive tackle has more sacks (six) this year.p. But his real goals involve more than reading defenses. They involve reading of a different kind, and those goals are bringing Flanigan and Chicago together.p. Flanigan began doing various charity work, beginning with helping fellow Notre Damer Chris Zorich on Zorich’s food drives, when he arrived in Chicago as the Bears’ third-round draft choice in 1994. But Flanigan wanted to concentrate on something that meant something to him and his own experiences.p. The result was the formation of the James Flanigan Foundation two years ago. Now, with corporate sponsorship from Ford, Lattof Chevrolet, Microsoft, Pepsi-Cola, UPS, Wendy’s and others, Flanigan has identified and developed a focus for what he wants to address in Chicago and, ultimately, on a national basis.p. “I thought about it for over a year and finally decided children’s literacy was something that fit well with my upbringing, philosophy and goals,” Flanigan said. "I was a good student in high school and college. So this is not some football player who graduated college without being able to read.p. "I can’t relate to growing up in a bad part of town or not having food to eat when I was a kid. Those aren’t things I can talk with a great deal of confidence to kids about. But if you want to be able to accomplish anything in life, be successful, you have to be able to read not matter what you want to do, whether it’s keeping track of your bank account, reading a bus schedule, whatever, you have to be able to read.p. “Philosophically there’s a help-yourself side. If you teach a kid to read, he can go on and solve some of his own problems. I like that idea.”p. The literacy issue has gained momentum among NFL players. Tampa Bay defensive tackle Brad Culpepper and wide receiver Bert Emanuel work with family reading programs. Oakland Raiders cornerback James Trapp set up “Trapp’s Corner” for 5th-grade students and reading activities. Raiders defensive tackle Darrell Russell is the spokesman for the “Oakland Readers,” a group of middle-school children.p. Flanigan raised several hundred thousand dollars through the foundation in 1997 and devoted his off-season to promoting reading among children.p. His “Great American Book Drive” left Chicago in a car caravan and distributed 5,000 books on stops in South Bend, Ind., Detroit, Charleston, W. Va., and Washington. He and former Bear and Hersey High School star Frank Kmet produce “Time Out,” a free monthly newsletter for high school students that, like the book drive, has attracted interest from more than young readers.p. “What better place to be involved than with reading for school kids, particularly elementary school kids,” said David Chisolm, regional staffing and development manager for UPS. “We felt Jim had his heart in the right place and that was really why we got involved with him.”p. The Bears re-signed Flanigan for five years. The long-term deal was what he wanted.p. “I really, really like the idea of playing with one team for my whole career,” Flanigan said. “I know it may sound strange these days with free agency, but it’s just one of those old-fashioned ideas that I like.”p. It has added to his commercial appeal as well. Pepsi-Cola General Bottlers, also working on deals involving Cubs star Sammy Sosa, has begun working with Flanigan because “he is part of Chicago and his commitment to Chicago,” said Keith Melaragno, director of customer development for Pepsi. “For us, Jim just made sense in Chicago.”p. Flanigan never reached free agency last off-season because he and the Bears, who were threatening to designate him as their franchise player if no deal were reached, agreed to his long-term pact. There was back-channel interest in Flanigan, a Wisconsin native, from the Green Bay Packers and several other teams.p. But Flanigan signed Feb. 12, part of the Bears’ plan to keep and build a veteran core with proven character players. Five days later defensive tackle Mike Wells signed for five years. Three days later middle linebacker Barry Minter re-signed, also for five years, along with Edgar Bennett for four and Erik Kramer for three.p. “I felt comfortable here, and I felt like it’s an organization that can get things turned around in a short time,” Flanigan said. “I felt like I fit in with the character of this team and the blue-collar work ethic Chicago has always been.”

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