PORTAGE | Every game day before the Chicago Bears hit the field, Ernie Sasser has a little chat with Mike Ditka.
Not the real man, but the life-sized portrait of "Da Coach" painted on the wall of Sasser's man cave.
If Sasser wanted, he could have a little pep talk with Walter Payton, Brian Urlacher, Jim McMahon, Matt Forte and Dick Butkus because all the guys are there.
It's not an understatement to say Sasser is a bit of a Bears fanatic.
This summer, the operating engineer convinced his wife, Heather, that he needed a place for himself at their home in Portage. After all, the couple have four children. And, besides, he told her, they really can't get a vehicle into that one-car garage.
With Heather's permission, Ernie began to turn the garage into Ernie's Man Cave and tribute to the Bears.
That's when brother-sister duo Tracey Caffee and John Earp stepped in. Sasser hired them to airbrush not only the likenesses of the Bears' greats, but also signs, a ceiling fixture, a portrait of Soldier Field and a mini football field on the floor.
"He wanted a man cave and wanted it all out. The more excited he got, the more inspired we got," said Caffee, of Portage.
Earp, of Hobart, said he and his sister drew inspiration from photos they found on the Internet and crafted a vision. It took them about six weeks to complete the painting.
"We wanted to make this man cry when he came in," Earp said.
Sasser nearly did.
Sasser also installed a sliding glass door where the garage door used to be so he and his friends can open it and tailgate in the driveway when weather permits.
"It feels like I'm at the game when I'm in here. When the guys come over, they feel like they are at the game too," Sasser said, adding wives and children aren't allowed on game day.
The painting cost about $2,500 to complete. The entire room, including the 65-inch TV, cost $11,000 -- and Sasser's not done. He has to add furniture and a few other doodads.
For Sunday's epic NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers, he predicts the Bears will win 17-10. The Super Bowl? It will be the Bears over the Pittsburgh Steelers to bring home the title.