NBC aired Super Bowl XX on Sunday and, gotta say: the Bears looked pretty good! Tony Eason's thousand-yard stare from the sidelines after getting pulled six passes into the game summed it up nicely; the Bears were courteous enough to spot New England three points off the top and then pummeled them into the Superdome's bright (so, so bright) green turf.
Here was the NFL's youngest group, coached by a team legend, that happened to have the greatest defense that football had ever seen up to that point. There were nicknames and dances and SNL skits. There was Walter Payton. From 1982-1992 the Bears won six NFC Central titles, had dozens of all All-Pro selections and even more Pro Bowl appearances. So what happened? Why didn't the NFL's next juggernaut ever even make it to another Super Bowl? Aren't you glad we're revisiting this?
Football Teams Need Quarterbacks
As much as
the Bears some modern NFL teams probably wish this weren't true, there's no avoiding it: teams need quarterbacks. It has something to do with passing the ball and running the offense and being A Leader Of Men and all that. Put another way: teams need quarterbacks, but historically speaking, NFL dynasties need a Quarterback. When the Cowboys won three Super Bowls in four years (1992-1995), Troy Aikmen played 60 regular season games and 11 playoff games. In the four championship seasons the Steelers had in the 70's, Terry Bradshaw played in 53 of Pittsburgh's 64 regular season games and started all 12 playoff games. I don't need to do this for Tom Brady.
In comparison, here's how the Bears' QB situation played out after '85. Cue the music:
- Mike Tomczak: 7 games started
- Jim McMahon: 6 games started
-Steve Fuller: 2 games started
-Doug Flutie (?!): 1 game started
-Jim McMahon: 6 games started
-Mike Tomczak: 6 games started
-Mike Hohensee: 2 games started
-Steve Bradley: 1 game started
- Jim McMahon: 9 games started
- Mike Tomczak: 5 games started
- Jim Harbaugh: 2 games started
-Mike Tomczak: 11 games started
-Jim Harbaugh: 5 games started
This sort of goes on for the next two dozen years or so. (And is still going on?) Injuries, strikes, and behind-the-scenes squabbling all played a role, but it's hard to get sustained success off the ground with a rotating cast at quarterback.
Mike Ditka: Good coach! Bad boss!
I'm sure Buddy Ryan wasn't easy to work with. Jim McMahon was certainly a lot to handle. But the unpleasant truths about his leadership are about as cut-and-dry as his Hall Of Fame stats; Ditka's demeanor actively worked against him. Beefs with Ryan, McMahon, Richard Dent, William Perry – among others – didn't help much, nor giving Doug Flutie his first start of the year in their only playoff game of 1986. And true to his Hall-of-Fame career, calling his players 'egomaniacs' and 'prima donnas' while they striked in 1987 was an all-time boneheaded move that deserves enshrinement somewhere. Outside a 1983 draft class featuring two Hall-of-Famers, his decade-long record of draft picks isn't particularly inspiring, either. Ditka's impact on the Bears can't be understated, but it's impossible to talk about his legacy in Chicago without noting what he did to hold them back.
Everyone got hurt
Just some of the players who missed serious time after the '85 win: Leslie Fraiser, Jim McMahon, Richard Dent, William Perry, Dennis McKinnon, Dan Hampton, Mike Richardson, and Otis Wilson. By 1988's NFC Championship against the 49ers, only five of the Bears' defensive starters from Super Bowl XX were playing. By then, the Bears hardly looked like the same team that scored 44 straight points in the Super Bowl, and the dynasty was over before it ever really started.
Thanks to NBC Sports director Matt Ellis, who contributed to this article.