Have you ever seen a 6'1", 277-pound angel? Dozens of underprivileged families and children in Chicago have, and that angel goes by the name of Chris Zorich. The 25-year-old Bear defensive tackle, who grew up in a housing project on Chicago's South Side, has dedicated his life to helping the poor. Two years ago he started the Christopher Zorich Foundation, which operates several charitable programs, including food drives. For Thanksgiving, Zorich, whose uniform number is 97, gave away 197 15-pound turkeys and copious quantities of other types of food to needy families.
"When I was a kid, I'd go to the Department of Public Aid office and pick up food for the holidays," Zorich recalls. "I had to take two buses to get there, wait in a long line, then carry two big bags home in the cold weather. The bags would break, and the food would fall out. I don't want anybody else to have to go through that. Next year my goal is to give away 997 turkeys."
He's passionate about working with kids in orphanages and shelters for displaced children. Never having known his father, who left the family shortly after Chris was born, Zorich feels a kinship with such youngsters. Livery time the Bears May at home, Zorich treats 15 kids to tickets to the game and dinner at Planet Hollywood. On Thursday nights in the off-season he has dinner at the Maryville City of Youth, a home for about 275 displaced kids in Des Plaines, Ill. "The first time I had dinger there, I drove home in tears," Zorich says. "The fact that people don't want them or don't care about them hurt me so much. All they need is someone who cares about them."
When Zorich was a child, his source of love and support was his mother, Zora, who suffered from diabetes and made ends meet with her monthly $200 disability check. Chris says that despite the hardship she faced, Zora often opened her kitchen to friends and strangers in need. Chris, an only child, and Zora found joy in being together, time they often spent watching Bear games and movies on television. All they really had was each other, and when Chris went away to Notre Dame in 1987, he called Zora every day.
When Zorich returned home after playing the Orange Bowl, on January 2, 1991, he found his mother dead in her apartment. Words couldn't describe his grief. Three months later he was drafted in the second round by his and his mother's beloved Bears. "I think my mom and Papa Bear made a deal in heaven," Zorich says. "She said, 'If you draft my son, I'll do your laundry for eternity.' "
Since draft day Zorich has done all he can to make her proud. This season he is tied for second on the Bears in sacks (5.5) and ranks among the top NFL linemen in tackles (89). Next spring he'll select the first recipient of the Zora Zorich Scholarship, to be given to a Chicago-area high school student admitted to Notre Dame. Recently, Zorich played Santa for 50 orphans at Maryville. Next week he will do the same for kids at the Lydia Children's Home in Chicago.
"When my mother died, I got 5,000 cards and letters from people who'd never met her, including President Bush, and it struck me that here was a woman from the South Side, a poor, single parent who took time out for people, and her life had made a difference," Zorich says. "Regardless of what you do in life, what matters is that you're a good person.
"My main goal in life is to sec my mom again. If I can help people the way she did. I think I will."
The Bear defensive tackle is always ready to offer the needy a helping hand, or 197 Thanksgiving turkeys.