The Chicago Bears are making headlines this season and not for all the right reasons as many armchair quarterbacks can attest. As we look ahead to what we hope will be a reborn Bears team, I’ll take us back to another time when there was a Riverside connection with George Halas’ boys.
Mirro Roder played two seasons in the 1970s for the Chicago Bears and two games for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a new expansion team at the time. He was born in what is now the Czech Republic in 1944 and would become the first Czechoslovakian-born player in the NFL.
At 6-foot-1, 218-pounds he wasn’t your average NFL place-kicker. A soccer player growing up, Roder came to the United States in the late 1960s. In 1973, Roder was a 29-year-old construction worker who played soccer on the weekends and taught himself how to kick field goals when he was signed by the Bears after a free-agent tryout.
He kept the position for two seasons when injuries caused him to leave the team. His career field goal percentage was just 53 percent, but Roder was good enough one year to be named to the Pro Bowl as a First Team All-Pro.
After missing the 1975 season, he went on to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1976 during their inaugural season in the league. He only played two games and missed all three of the field goals he attempted. In 1977, he tried one more time but was let go during the preseason by the Cleveland Browns.
While he did gain some notoriety on the field, his biggest fans were those young fans who discovered a real professional football player lived in Riverside. He built a house on Herrick Road, and family members still reside there. Youngsters and adults alike would drive or ride past the house for a chance to see a real professional football player and a Chicago Bear on top of it.
He remained in Riverside with his family, but following a divorce he returned to the Czech Republic. His daughter, Michelle Roder, who still lives in the Riverside house contacted me to inform me of her father’s passing on July 9, 2021.
He had remarried in the Czech Republic but maintained contact with his family here. Michelle Roder was able to visit her father while he was sick, but travel back and forth was difficult partly due to travel restrictions involving COVID -19.
Roder says she enjoys hearing stories about her dad and how people liked to see him drive his car with his license plate bearing his number, 15.
Quiz time: Name another pro football player who lived in Riverside and one who lived in North Riverside. This is easy sports fans!