By Andrew Donlan
When Chicago Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky threw six touchdowns in late September, Chicago’s sports historian thought of Sid Luckman, who once threw seven. As the Bears 2018-2019 defense celebrated takeaway after takeaway, he was reminded of the ’63 team—that was his father’s squad, and one of the best NFL defenses ever. His research aids his memory— and vise versa—and his writing lets contemporary sports fans in on unexplored pasts.
Jack Silverstein is that sports historian. The 37-year-old journalist keeps the legends of Luckman, George Halas, and Walter Payton alive. The average fan perceives a sports achievement as unprecedented but Silverstein’s work reminds them that it’s probably not. As Brian Urlacher became eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the Chicago sports guru made sure that his Twitter followers remembered every accomplishment of his 13-year career with the Bears.
“Jack’s brain is like a storage facility for all this insane, obscure knowledge,” said Pierce Roberson, the editor-in-chief of the Chicago-based publication, The Barber’s Chair. “I’ve told him before how I envy his ability to retain information. He’s an encyclopedia of sports and Chicago knowledge.”
Silverstein has written for a variety of Chicago sports media, including the Chicago Sun-Times, the Chicago Tribune and the Windy City Gridiron; a SB Nation affiliated blog covering the Bears. His Twitter account, @readjack, is the premiere destination for Chicago sports fans interested in the history of their favorite teams. On his Instagram account, @ashotonehlo (named after the call of Michael Jordan’s famous game-winner versus the Cavaliers in 1989), he posts largely forgotten tales— how the Chicago Bears-Chicago Cardinals game on December 7, 1941 at Comiskey Park was interrupted by the announcement that the United States had been attacked at Pearl Harbor. George Halas, the Bears legendary head coach, declared his decision to join the war effort at halftime of the game, Silverstein explains.
As the Golden State Warriors prepared to surpass the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls regular season record of 72 wins, Silverstein wrote “How the GOAT Was Built,” a book focused on that Bulls team, and six lessons that can be learned from them.
“The things you see and you remember have way more context and nuance and detail,” Silverstein said. “When I write about something that’s old, I try to deliver that and try to go back to like, this is what it might have felt like to live through this or or watch this in real time. Because that’s kind of what gets lost.”
Greg Braggs Jr., a bricklayer and Chicago sports fanatic who has gained a following large enough to wade into the media waters himself, connected on Twitter with Silverstein after recognizing his one-of-a-kind sports history threads.
“That’s the stuff I grew up on. He just gives a perspective that really hits home for me.” Said Braggs Jr., who co-hosts a radio show, Bears Hour Live. “It doesn’t matter what situation or moment in Chicago sports history, he’s got it—right in the back of his head. It’s always impressed me. The amount of information he remembers, it’s staggering to me. He’s the most detailed writer I know.”
Silverstein grew up in Evanston and later moved to Wilmette, attending New Trier High School in Winnetka. When he is doing research that’s not numerical for a book or an article, his steadfast persistence aids him well. He once interviewed the mayor of Evanston—that was in third grade. Later, he worked for the school newspaper in his undergrad career at Indiana University. After college, he leveraged his niche to freelance for Chicago publications while working full-time for non-sports outlets, like the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
Ironically, Silverstein now spends his days writing about the future. As his Twitter bio states, he’s a “Sports Historian & Aging Futurist”. He’s the Associate Editor of Branded Content for Aging Media, where he writes about what the future holds in regards to care for the elderly.
“I think there’s a natural connection between being interested in the past and interested in the future,” Silverstein said. “It’s why Back to The Future Part II is such a good movie. Because it has more to do with the uncertainty of time, the feeling of being wedged between timelines.”
Chicago sports fans may not have a time machine, but they have Silverstein.
“There’s a guy on Twitter… he’s @readjack, he’s a Chicago sports historian, Jack Silverstein,” Marc Silverman said on air during the popular “Waddle and Silvy” show on ESPN 1000. “If you want to learn more about the Bulls break up… if you’re younger, or maybe you’re like Waddle and you forgot a lot of the debates… he wrote an entire thread on how a championship team just basically broke up…. it’s a must read.”
If the ESPN 1000, 670 The Score, the Chicago Tribune and the Sun-Times are the bread and butter of a Chicago sports media diet, Silverstein is the vegetables. He’s the vital but often forgotten component.
His work is a guide to becoming the most knowledgeable Chicago sports fan possible. And as for sports debates, it’s better to sit those out when he’s around.
“Yeah, my stuff is just unfair,” Silverstein said.