The ’85 Bears: To get it all, look way beyond just the football


The ’85 Bears: To get it all, look way beyond just the football

"One for the ages" is usually cliche'd, overused hyperbole.

But 30 years ago it was a fitting characterization of the 1985 Chicago Bears, a team-for-the-ages concoction of talent, personality, eccentricity and ego that transcended their sport and stands the test of time as one unlike any other team that came before them or after. No other squad has ever created a phenomenon like the one that swept not only football, but the nation and beyond during — and long, long after the Bears’ run to and through Super Bowl XX that finished Jan. 26, 1985.

Actor and lifetime Bears fan Joe Mantegna, around whom the initial “Superfans” sketch was written, told me while I was writing The Rise and Self-Destruction of the Greatest Football Team in History: “In a way it was like watching a magnesium flare. The thing built up to this one moment in time and then ignited itself with this brilliance. But you knew deep down it wasn’t going to sustain. It was going to give you something great, great heat, for that minute but then it was going away. And you would never have that heat, that brilliance again.”

The Bears transcended the sport. “People liked John Wayne to walk into a bar and announce, ‘Whiskey for my men, beer for my horses,’” Dan Hampton declared. “That was us.”

John Madden, broadcasting Bears games with CBS boothmate Pat Summerall, saw that, “all of America liked the Bears, not just football fans. They were the big, bad guys, but they still managed to be underdogs, too.”

It had been a long time since things had gone Chicago’s way in the world of sports; the White Sox in 1983, the Cubs forever and in 1984, most recently. And the city’s blue-collar image made the Bears easier to like.

America likes rebels. That’s what the ’85 Bears were, too. They had fun, sometimes at the expense of the rest of the NFL, and they made football fun for everybody watching.

They won a Super Bowl in an epic fashion and then faded away on the football field. But in the culture at large, they were (are?) outsized. The iconic Saturday Night Live skit “Superfans” built around them first appeared fully five years after that Super Bowl.

They changed sports marketing in America for all time. They drew women viewers to the sport. Mike Ditka once proclaimed that one billion Chinese could not care less about the Super Bowl. But as Hall of Fame football writer Don Pierson noted, millions of Chinese were enthralled with “Dian Bingxiang” — “Electric Refrigerator” William Perry.

The whole thing spilled over way beyond Soldier Field. “The Super Bowl Shuffle,” was nominated for a Grammy. Perry and tackle Jimbo Covert were late, wildly popular additions to Wrestlemania II. Perry and Payton were together on the cover of Time. McMahon appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone, which labeled him a “Rock ‘n’ Roll Quarterback.”

The Bears went to England during the 1986 preseason, and as those there at the time recalled, it was the Beatles in reverse, a sort of sports Magical Mystery Tour. The Bee Gees hosted a party for the Bears in their 800-year-old mansion; Phil Collins and Ringo Starr came around practices looking for autographs.

And when the Bears finally did play the Dallas Cowboys in London, “fans stood in the rain the entire time for this game,” said British journalist David Tossell. “It was a like a Papal visit. You could be in the back of the crowd of a million people, not hear a word he said, but just to be able to say you were there, that was what really counted.”

Madden said that in all his years of broadcasting, the 1985 season was the most fun he ever had. Early during that season, he and Summerall did a Bears game, went back to their hotel and got on the phone with CBS that night: “I don’t care what the schedule says,” Madden said. ”Put us on Bears games from now on.” 

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A place in history

The best single team ever? You decide.

Talk with Madden found its way around to the greatest teams of all time. I started to mention that the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s had won four Super Bowls with a legion of Hall of Fame players and a defense that —

Madden interrupted me: “That ’85 Bears defense was the most dominant thing I’ve ever seen,” he said. “Even the Steelers. I went against those Steelers. Those ’85 Bears were more dominant than the Steelers.”

Tom Landry, who faced that Pittsburgh defense in his own Super Bowls, also said that the ’85 Bears were better even the Steel Curtain.

“If they had won two more (Super Bowls), maybe even one more, there wouldn’t even be a debate,” said Hub Arkush, former publisher of Pro Football Weekly, now editor and general manager of Chicago Football and “The only teams to compare were the ’70s Steelers and maybe the ’72 Dolphins, but only because the Dolphins were undefeated. But for that one year, nobody comes close.”

The Bears went through that season 15-1 — so how did a “greatest” lose a game? That’s its own story — and then the team from the Second City annihilated the teams from — fittingly somehow — New York and Los Angeles on consecutive weekends, allowing just 118 rushing yards and zero points, total.

In one six-game stretch, the Bears defense scored 27 points. The six opposing offenses over that span totaled 27 points. The Bears’ offense was scoring 143. For that year, the Bears led the NFL in total and rushing defense and were third in passing yards allowed — which annoyed some members of the defense because the only reason they thought they were third was due to teams needing to pass constantly in just about every second half.

Fourteen of the Bears’ 19 opponents scored 10 or fewer points. Eight different defensive players scored that year, not even including Perry scoring on offense.

The broader point was that the Bears were not solely a team with a good defense. The Bears scored 456 total points, averaging 28.5 per game, which ranks them among the top 50 scoring teams in NFL history.

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Giants crushed

But all of the fun and marvel surrounding the ’85 Bears meant nothing without not only winning, but also winning in ways as outsized as the personalities.

The Giants brought the NFL’s No. 2 defense, behind only the Bears, and had mauled Joe Montana (four sacks) and the 49ers in the wild-card game. Lawrence Taylor was third in voting for NFL defensive player of the year — behind Mike Singletary and Richard Dent.

But as the 21-0 destruction unfolded, the Bears saw something: “They had this look,” safety Shaun Gayle said, “that they were someplace they had never been before and they had no idea what was happening to them, what this was all about. They had this look like, ‘This is a foreign land, and we don’t know anything that goes on here.’”

Buddy Ryan devised a dozen different fronts and nearly 20 different coverages for the Giants, plus one more with a motive. Dent was in search of a new contract, and his teammates concocted a way to help him out and turn him into the game’s MVP.

The plan was a stunt they dubbed “echo:” Hampton, Steve McMichael and Mike Hartenstine slanting and tying up the entire Giants line while Dent looped around and through a vacated spot on the right side of the New York line.

The result: Dent’s 3 1/2 sacks of Phil Simms accounted for 33 lost yards by the Giants offense, one more than New York’s entire rushing total. Joe Morris had rushed for 1,336 yards and 21 touchdowns but “one time I looked down and thought it was a poster of him,” Otis Wilson said.

The ignominy extended into special teams. With Gayle and the Bears screaming at him, Sean Landeta whiffed on a punt (he claimed it was the wind). Gayle picked up the loose ball and stepped into the end zone for the Bears’ first touchdown.

McMahon threw two touchdown passes to Dennis McKinnon in the third quarter. The Giants ran 11 plays in the quarter and lost 11 yards and converted none of 12 third downs for the day.

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Rams destroyed

Not everyone was buying the Bears, though. CBS and Las Vegas oddsmaker Jimmy the Greek picked the Rams.

Pete Rozelle had fined McMahon for a contraband headband, so McMahon and Walter Payton were in the locker room pregame with magic markers printing “ROZELLE” on white headbands. The commissioner took it well, with a funny note to McMahon, lamenting tongue-in-cheek only that Rozelle hadn’t been able to put out a shoe line to capitalize on his newfound celebrity.

It wasn’t as amusing to the Rams. Ditka proclaimed that some teams are Smiths, some are Grabowskis, “the Rams are Smiths, we’re just Grabowskis." Ryan made it more personal, stating simply that his defense would make Eric Dickerson fumble three times (he lost two). The Rams answered the insults by practicing in shorts and T-shirts in the freezing weather, defensive end Gary Jeter declaring, “We don’t want those guys (at the Super Bowl). They talk too much.”

Turned out to be more than talk. Hampton was asked when he thought the Bears took control of the line of scrimmage: “Kickoff,” he said. When the Rams won the toss and elected to receive, Gary Fencik applauded.

McMahon ran in from 16 yards, and Kevin Butler kicked a field goal late in the first quarter. Dickerson took a third-and-one handoff, Singletary met him in the hole, and “Mike hit him so hard, I don’t think he knew where he was,” Wilber Marshall said.

Wilson would see Dickerson at charity events and such in the years that followed. “He still remembers and brings up that game,” Wilson said, laughing. “He says, ‘I didn’t do nothin’ to y’all, why’d you treat me like that?'”

The game was another mauling, most notable for its final moments. In the fourth quarter Dent crashed in on Dieter Brock and knocked the ball loose with a sack. Marshall grabbed the ball near midfield and headed toward the Los Angeles end zone with Perry, Wilson and others on escort duty.

As if on cue — mythmakers maintain it was the work of George Halas — snow began falling and formed the backdrop for the finish of the game that put the Bears into Super Bowl XX.

[SHOP BEARS: Get your Bears gear right here]

The final act

Final approach to Super Bowl XX began with a furor when Bears president Michael McCaskey refused to allow an acupuncturist favored by McMahon, Wilson and others to come with the team. McMahon was in pain from a hit to his hip in the Rams game, and the state’s Acupuncture Association eventually paid the doctor’s way to New Orleans. McMahon dropped his pants and mooned a news camera helicopter covering Bears practice: “Just showin’ ‘em where it hurt,” McMahon deadpanned.

When McMahon was pilloried for allegedly calling the women of New Orleans “sluts” on a 6:30 a.m. radio program, McMahon scoffed, since there was no way he nor any of the Bears would’ve been up at 6:30 because they were out until 4 or 5 most mornings.

More to the football point, Hampton and others recalled later that while watching TV broadcasts of New England Patriots interviews that week, they saw fear. “After the shutouts against the Giants and Rams, the Super Bowl was just about setting a score,” Hampton said. “We knew it. They knew it.”

What drama there was in the game came on the game’s second play when Payton fumbled and New England recovered at the Bears 19. Three incompletions later, the Patriots led 3-0 on a field goal. Mantegna was too nervous to watch so he taped the game and just popped into the TV room to steal occasional looks. The Payton fumble “proved they weren’t indestructible,” Mantegna said. “And after all, this was Chicago.”

Mantegna and Chicago needn’t have worried. The Bears would score 44 points before the Patriots scored again. On their first nine plays, covering four possessions, the Patriots lost 22 yards and the ball twice on fumbles. With four minutes left in the first half, New England got its first first down. The play that converted was the Patriots’ 18th of the game and only the third to gain positive yards. For the half the Patriots had minus-19 yards of offense — minus-5 rushing, minus-14 passing, all Super Bowl records for a half.

The Bears allowed 132 total yards and were mad; they’d wanted to break the Pittsburgh Steelers’ record of 119, but Ryan put in the reserves — which he named “F Troop” — for most of the fourth quarter and New England managed 37 yards to avoid the humiliation of the first sub-100-yard Super Bowl.

At one point a teammate turned to All-Pro guard John Hannah in the huddle and said, “OK, we can’t run. We can’t pass. Now what?”

At halftime, with the Bears up 23-3, huge portions of the crowd of 73,818 stood up and belted out “The Super Bowl Shuffle.” It was less a Super Bowl than a coronation.

The amount of money you'll need to get into Bears-Patriots will make your head hurt

The amount of money you'll need to get into Bears-Patriots will make your head hurt

It costs a lot of money to see the GOAT, apparently. 

According to TickPick, a secondary-market ticket site, the get-in price for Sunday's Bears-Patriots matchup is currently sitting at a nice, plump $356. 

That price is, according to this article in the Chicago Sun-Times, more expensive than a ticket to No. 3 Clemson vs. No. 16 North Carolina State ($161) and No. 5 LSU vs. No. 22 Mississippi State (39$??) combined. It's also over 100 percent (116, to be precise) higher than the Bears' following game against the New York Jets. 

This is on top of what is, according to CNBC, already the most expensive gameday experience in the NFL. Soldier's average beer costs $9.50, coming in as the 2nd-most expensive cup of Bud Light Foam, behind only San Fransisco. 

Honestly though, it's not even that cold yet. Who needs heat/electricity when you can have nosebleed seats and *one* beer instead! 

Putting Bill Belichick’s complimentary comments about the Bears in context


Putting Bill Belichick’s complimentary comments about the Bears in context

Bill Belichick had plenty of good things to say about Matt Nagy and the 2018 Bears during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. Some of the highlights:


On the Bears’ season as a whole:


“The Bears have lost two games, one on a game when they were in control of the game and another one they lost in overtime. This really looks like a 5-0 team to me, if you change one or two plays. You can say that about a lot of teams, but that’s the league we’re in.”


On Mitch Trubisky:


“I think he’s done a good job of getting ball to the players that are open or in space and letting them be playmakers. He has a lot of them. That’s the quarterback’s job is to deliver the ball to the playmakers and let them go. I think he’s done a good job of that. He’s a tough kid, which I respect. That’s what we would ask our quarterbacks to do, to make plays to help our team win, to get the ball to the players that are open and in space. It’s not about stats. It’s about doing what you need to do to win.”


On Tarik Cohen’s usage:


“He plays about a little bit less than 50 percent of the time and he’s in a lot of different places, he’s hard to find. He’s a dynamic player that can run, catch, really threaten every yard of the field from sideline to sideline, up the middle, deep. You can throw it to him, you can hand it to him and he’s elusive with the ball and he’s elusive to be able to get open so the quarterback can get him the ball. Those are great skills to have. Any one of those is good and he’s got several of them.


“He’s very hard to tackle. But they do a great job mixing him, not just putting him in the game but who he’s in the game with, what the combinations are and then where they locate him and so forth. There are a lot of multiples. It’s hard. Coach Nagy does a good job with that and he’s a special player that you gotta know where he is at all times.”


On Trubisky’s 54-yard bomb to Taylor Gabriel on Sunday:


“That’s about as good a throw and catch as I’ve seen all year. The execution on that was like 99 out of 100. It was a great, great throw, great route, great catch. There was like a few inches to get the ball in there 50 yards downfield and that’s where it was.”


On Akiem Hicks’ impact, who played for the Patriots in 2015:


“He’s hard to block. It doesn’t make any difference what the play is, you can run to him and he’s hard to block. You can run away from him, and he makes tackles for loss on the back side. He’s quick and can get around those blocks when there’s more space back there because everybody is going to the front side. He can power rush. He can rush the edges with his quickness. He’s a very, very disruptive player. He’s hard to block on everything.


“I appreciate all of the plays he makes. He makes plays on all three downs, against all types of plays, whether it’s reading screen passes or power rushing the pocket to help the ends, to help (Leonard) Floyd and Mack and (Aaron) Lynch rush on the edge. He’s a powerful, disruptive guy. (Eddie) Goldman has done a good job of that. (Bilal) Nichols has done a good job of that too. They have some really powerful guys inside that are hard to block, and they change the line of scrimmage in the running game and the passing game. It really creates a problem, frees up the linebackers in the running game and helps the ends because the quarterback can’t step up in the pocket in the passing game.”


On Matt Nagy:


“Obviously he's done a great job, as has Ryan with building the team. They have a lot of good players. They have a really experienced staff and they do a great job in all three areas of the game. They're good in the kicking game, they're good on defense they're good on offense. They have highly-skilled players in all three areas.


“It's a well-balanced football team that does a lot of things well. Run the ball. Stop the run. Throw the ball. Rush the passer. Intercept passes. Return kicks. Cover kicks. Cover punts. They're at the top of the league in all those categories. Turnovers. Points off turnovers. It doesn't really matter what area you want to talk about, they're pretty good at all of them. That's why they're a good football team.


“Coach Nagy and his staff certainly deserve a lot of credit. It's not a one-man band. They're all doing a good job. It's a good football team. I'm sure there will be a lot of energy in the stadium this week. It will be a great test for us to go into Chicago and be competitive against them.”


While listening to Belichick rave about the Bears, this missive from former Patriots general manager Michael Lombardi stands out:


“Whenever Belichick tells the media on Mondays or Tuesdays that he has already moved on to the next game, trust me, he’s not lying. I worked with Bill for five years in Cleveland, and then during the 2014 and 2015 seasons in New England. Belichick treats every game like a Super Bowl; no detail is too small, no possible scenario or situation goes overlooked. I have heard Belichick break down a bumbling Jaguars team as if it was the reigning two-time Super Bowl winner and treat Blake Bortles like he’s the second coming of Aaron Rodgers. Belichick does it with tape to back up his claims, only showing his team the opponent’s greatest strengths. (With Bortles, I swear, he must have used George Lucas to doctor the video.) No Patriots opponent is underestimated or taken lightly — EVER.”


One of the myriad things that make Belichick the best coach in the NFL — and maybe the best coach in NFL history — is how he never takes an opponent lightly, and then how he’s so successful at scheming against what an opponent does best.


The Bears are undoubtedly better in 2018 than they were in the John Fox era, or when these two teams last met in 2014 (when New England waxed a moribund Marc Trestman side, 51-23). And a lot of Belichick’s points are valid – that throw Trubisky made to Gabriel was outstanding, for example.


But Belichick talks this way about every team he faces. And that, again, is part of what makes him the best at what he does.