Most of the correspondence I get from the managers of my apartment building concerns repairs (Please be patient . . . ) or lease renewals (Please be prompt . . . ), so I was surprised to receive their invitation to “An Evening With the Three Little Bears,” by which they meant Diana Ditka, Connie Payton, and Debra McMichael. These three women, who are all married to Chicago Bears, had “graciously agreed to participate in a lively question and answer period,” the invite said. “What a great, informal way to find out what it’s like to live with a real Bear.”

When the big night came, I went. One of the first things I learned was that on the way over, Steve McMichael made an illegal left turn and was stopped by a policeman. “Steve got out of the car,” said Mrs. McMichael, in a demure Alabama accent, “and when the policeman saw him, he said, ‘You’re lucky,’ and we just drove away.” This was in response to a question about the perks of being a Bear or being related to one.

Connie Payton agreed there were fringe benefits–like being invited to the White House for dinner. She said she didn’t think she’d have been invited if Walter didn’t happen to be a great football player.

Of course being a Bear spouse has its drawbacks. One of them is that dancing becomes difficult. Diana Ditka said once she tried to dance with her husband at Ditka’s and five women came along to join her. Connie Payton said when girls ask Walter to dance in public she says, “Well, OK,” but she feels sort of otherwise even though the other girls think she doesn’t mind. Debra McMichael said she doesn’t go out dancing anymore. “We go to restaurants and we rent movies and just lay on the couch and watch them. We’re homebodies. Steve gets up about 11 or 12 and then works out for three hours.”

There was some talk about the strike and the scabs, but most of it was kind of roundabout. Connie Payton was angry that the problems had gone this far and that they couldn’t be worked out earlier; she said she was going to a luncheon on Sunday so would not be seeing the new Bears. Steve McMichael yelled from the audience that he would watch on Sunday, although Debra wasn’t so sure. Diana Ditka thought the striking players should come back and play for her husband, who is somewhat frustrated by the team he has at the moment.

All three wives admitted their weddings weren’t the most romantic. Diana Ditka–who emphasizes that she is not Mike’s second wife but his last one–said that at their wedding, which was 11 years ago, her groom was worried about getting to a golf game. And their blood tests had to be waived because he couldn’t find time for them. They had dated for five years.

Connie Payton said that she and Walter were fixed up on a blind date by Walter’s college coach, who was dating Connie’s aunt. Walter and Connie didn’t like each other at first, she revealed.

Debra McMichael said Steve saw her on a plane three years ago; she was a flight attendant. But he wouldn’t ask for her number, his mother had to do it. Six months later they eloped to Las Vegas, went to one of those hokey chapels and cracked up when the taped music began.

“Steven is my perfect man,” said Debra, who holds the title of Mrs. Illinois. “I love him more each day. He’s the boss of the family and that’s the way I like it. He puts me in my place. I challenge him to keep him on his toes but he puts me right back in my place. I’ve been with other guys who let me run over them but they were no challenge. He’s strong-willed and he comes first.

“We do everything together. And he’s sweet and kind. I’m always included. He’s like a little teddy bear. He’s not mean at all.”

Connie Payton also said nice things about her Bear. He is extremely affectionate, warm, charming, has time for the kids, has so much energy it’s unbelievable, does something every minute of the day–errands and stuff–and is just about perfect. Except he does have his moods in which he clams up and won’t let his feelings out.

Diana Ditka said Mike’s strong point is his honesty–except she feels pretty rotten when he honestly tells her she doesn’t look so good. Also she appreciates the fact that he puts his cigars in the garbage disposal the minute he walks in the door.