Bears, colleagues mourn the loss of John 'Moon' Mullin originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
In the Spring of 2009, as part of a large round of layoffs from challenges facing the newspaper industry, John Mullin and Melissa Isaacson left the Chicago Tribune.
They had covered — some might say dominated — the Bears beat for close to 10 years together. Already fast friends and accomplished journalists, Mullin and Isaacson began meeting for breakfast weekly to commiserate, vent, laugh, cry, plot what’s next.
Mullin, who went on to become the Bears Insider for NBC Sports Chicago, started teaching journalism at local colleges. He encouraged Isaacson, who went on to enjoy a 10-year run writing for ESPN.com, to pursue the same and invited her to speak to one of his classes at DePaul.
“There was such an obvious joy with teaching in him,” Isaacson said. “He was the first pro journalist I ever saw up close as a teacher. And the thought you could do both and do both well made a huge impression on me.
“The rapport he had with his students was so wonderful and so natural. They had such respect for him. The same way he is with his friends, he had such an easy way with his students. It made a lasting impression on me. I knew it was something I wanted to do. And I wanted to do it like him.”
Mullin, 74, passed away Sunday after a lengthy battle with pancreatic cancer, his family confirmed. First diagnosed in late 2019, Mullin outlived expectations with positivity and his omnipresent curiosity, always seeking new information and discoveries.
Just last week, he told hospital staff that the disease was “a blessing” because it helped him learn new things about himself.
The outpouring of love and support for this longtime fixture on the local media scene and, in particular, the Bears and NFL beat, surprises no one who knew the man most everyone called “Moon.” His last days were filled with a steady stream of visitors to his hospital room and plenty of laughs.
Earlier this year, Mullin excitedly shared an email with friends touting his “Attitude Over Cancer” videos on YouTube. Go watch the series here. They’re a masterclass in courage and grace.
In the email asking for help to promote the series on Twitter — Mullin had friends from all walks of life, including sports, media, music, biking and education — he again used the word “blessed” to describe his status and stated his simple mission in making the short, inspirational videos.
“The goal is just to help someone who’s struggling with cancer — or anything, really,” Mullin wrote. “No money involved, unless some sponsor comes along, in which case every dime goes to pancreatic cancer research to kill this little monster. My goal the last two years has been to keep the beast at bay in a cave until we get the silver bullet to kill it. This thing may win because we don’t yet have the firepower to kill it. But it will not beat me.”
And it didn’t.
Mullin golfed. He biked. He fly fished. He played guitar. He traveled with his wife, Carolyn.
To know Mullin was to know kindness. And generosity. And such a spirit for life.
In 2005, the Chicago Tribune editors asked me to try the Bears’ beat, considered the largest at the newspaper. With our first son on the way, my wife wanted me to try it for less travel.
I loved covering the NBA but begrudgingly accepted, knowing it would place me in a cubicle next to Mullin at Halas Hall.
I immediately walked into a major news story. Cedric Benson, the team’s first-round pick, staged the longest contract holdout in franchise history. I had no sources, no relationships, nothing.
But I had Mullin.
To this day, I’m convinced I got callbacks because Mullin told these people to call me back. I once asked him if this was true and he just smiled, that omnipresent twinkle in his eye.
Mullin, who started his Bears coverage at the Daily Herald, was a monster and a mainstay on the beat. Don’t get his kindness and generosity twisted for a lack of competitiveness. He loved being first. But most important, he demanded being accurate and fair.
“John was one of the most professional, hard-working, football-educated and personable sportswriters I’ve dealt with in 17 years as a head coach,” former coach Dave Wannstedt told NBC Sports Chicago this week.
Indeed, Mullin’s knowledge and recall was perhaps only surpassed by his ability to form genuine relationships.
“What a kind man,” Kyle Long told NBC Sports Chicago this week. “He never wanted anything from me even when he was sitting in my locker waiting for me to come in from games and practices. We enjoyed each other’s company for whatever reason. He would come hang out at my house and we would smoke or have a drink. He was old school, the kind of person you want to get every ounce out of because there won’t be many Moon Mullins walking around this Earth.”
Mullin was known for avoiding the media scrums and going to interview the linemen. He often felt they owned some of the best insights and just genuinely connected with them. Last week on Twitter, former All-Pro center Olin Kreutz said that “nobody covered the Bears with more class and dignity.”
Mullin possessed that rare ability to walk the line between forming relationships and maintaining objectivity.
“Beyond our work conversations, we spent plenty of time at the coffee shop or on long bike rides just talking about our families and other outside interests,” former general manager Ryan Pace told NBC Sports Chicago this week. “He’s really good at what he does. But most importantly, he’s just a very thoughtful and caring person. He’s someone that makes you better just being around him.”
Indeed, away from work is where Mullin made the strongest impression on people.
He made a home-cooked meal and drove from the suburbs to the city to serve it and ease the burden on us when our first son arrived. An accomplished musician, he showered me with guitar accessories when I came to the instrument late in life and delighted in hearing tales of that son — now 16 years old — taking up the instrument and quickly passing me in proficiency.
Mullin’s hospital room became such a destination place last week that visitors had to wait to give him space and rest between engagements. He delighted in the company and smiled at hearing of his friends’ latest happenings.
"We’re saddened to hear of the passing of John 'Moon' Mullin. John was an instrumental part of our Bears coverage over the years and was always a thoughtful and wise leader of our team," NBC Chicago President/GM Kevin Cross said. "He was more than just a writer. He was a teacher. He was a leader among his peer and he was an inspiration to us all. He will be missed dearly. All of us at NBC Chicago send our condolences to his family.”
Because that’s the thing about Mullin: He was at his best, his fullest, when he was surrounded by friends and family. When he was sharing his love for life. When he was giving of himself. When he was teaching.
“It may seem unusual to some that a man 15 years my senior would become one of my very best friends, someone who I trusted and respected and gossiped with and laughed with and relied on and admired in so many ways. But I never, ever thought of the age or gender gaps in any way,” Isaacson said. “At the heart of it, we were just buddies. He was just my pal.”
Isaacson indeed entered teaching. After serving as an adjunct professor for eight years, she became a full-time faculty member at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism in the Fall of 2017. And when she received her promotion to assistant professor this Spring, she immediately called Mullin.
She could feel the twinkle in his eye sparkling through the phone.