Mike Schaefer was sitting in his living room, watching the Chicago Bears take on the New Orleans Saints, when he saw it.
Schaefer, the vice president of sales for a tech startup company, had his computer out and got some work done each time there was a stoppage of play. But around 10 minutes into the first quarter, the TV had Schaefer’s full attention.
On the screen was Bears coach Matt Nagy. He was wearing a white neck gaiter that had a horizontal orange stripe between two blue stripes and blue GSH letters in the center, which stand for the Bears founder George Stanley Halas.
“When I saw it, I had this weird feeling in my stomach,” Schaefer said. “My wife was in another room and she was working too. I called her over and she’s like, ‘How did he get that?’”
Schaefer, a lifelong Bears fan and season-ticket holder, sent the gaiter to Nagy.
As a hobby, Schaefer, 37, and his childhood friend Mickey Waszkowski took graphic design and art classes at Saint Patrick High School, with the hope they could start their own T-shirt company one day. About a year ago, the two turned their aspirations into reality and created a Chicago-themed apparel website called Deep Dish Tees.
Waszkowski came up with the name, and Schaefer found inspiration for the logo one morning while looking at the stars on the Chicago flag.
“I guess if you look at the negative space around the star, it kind of looks like Lou Malnati’s slices,” Schaefer said. “I took out some highlighters and did this rough sketch in pen, and I’m like, ‘This kind of looks cool.’”
Throughout the week, Schaefer will get ideas for potential designs for products from listening to sports radio, watching TV or while he is at work. On Saturday mornings, he will get up around 5 a.m., make a cup of coffee and go straight to the couch to sketch out those ideas.
Once the sketches are done, Schaefer will scan them to his computer and begin creating the digital version of the design with Inkscape — a graphic editor program. This process can take a few hours, but over a weekend Schaefer can develop up to two new designs and upload them to the website.
Deep Dish Tees currently has over 80 items, everything from snapback hats to T-shirts and, of course, face masks and neck gaiters.
While Schaefer was having a few gaiters made for his friends and family, he decided to send a white and orange one to Nagy.
“I sent a couple to Halas Hall with zero expectation that he would ever get it, and if he got it, I would never know,” Schaefer said. “It would probably just sit in a pile of other stuff that people send him.”
Schaefer’s package was delivered on Oct. 26 — six days before the Bears played the Saints.
Throughout Schaefer’s life, he has had many memorable Bears moments. Being featured as one of the main cast members on ESPN’s documentary series “We The Fans” ranks high on his list. And so does the Bears’ victory over the Saints in the NFC championship game during the 2006 season. But now both those moments have taken a back seat.
“What makes it so crazy to me is that the NFL is so strict about what is worn on the sideline,” Schaefer said.
“So getting something to that level I think is quite the achievement. I will rank it No. 1.”
After the Bears’ 26-23 loss to the Saints, Schaefer tweeted a side-by-side picture of him and Nagy wearing the white gaiters. Not long after, people began asking where they could get one themselves.
— Mike Schaefer (@MikeSchaefer14) November 2, 2020
Greg Braggs Jr., a Bears fanatic, bought two gaiters and even updated his profile picture on Twitter to him wearing the white one.
— Greg Braggs Jr. (@GBraggsJr23) November 13, 2020
“It’s tight around your face and your neck,” Braggs said. “But I made it my profile picture. They look cool. They are just like the socks, the traditional Bears socks, and that’s what I love about them.”
So far, Schaefer has sold over 250 gaiters, raising $1,600. His goal is to earn close to $5,000 and then donate the proceeds from the gaiters to Bears Care, the charitable arm of the Bears franchise.
“I would love to make a big push here in the next few weeks and throughout the rest of the season as we get closer to the holidays,” Schaefer said. “If we could get to 5k, then maybe we can make an even bigger goal. It’s all about spreading awareness and letting people know that it’s for a good cause.”
As for the future of Deep Dish Tees, Schaefer admits the website may only be a hobby, but there is no doubt this hobby has left its mark, in more ways than one, on the Bears community.
“I didn’t realize there was so much of a contingent of fans, Bears fans, that are looking for something else, and I think that creative fans find a way to provide that for them,” Braggs said. “That’s what Mike Schaefer does. He has the Deep Dish Tees.”