So often when we look back at a memorable time or event, we remember less an individual specific and more the people that made it special. Such is the case with the ESPN "30 for 30" documentary “The ’85 Bears” that airs Thursday night at 8 p.m.
In the end, it really was about the people, and “The ’85 Bears” does a thoroughly enjoyable and informative job of recalling all the epic football but does it all against the fabric of personality that was the really enduring part of it all.
The football parts are the obvious: A defense that in one six-game stretch scored 27 points while the six opposing offenses managed just 27 points – combined. What Jim McMahon accomplished on Thursday night in Minnesota. The successive hammerings of the New York Giants, Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots through those playoffs.
In a way this is a significant part of the whole story of Buddy Ryan, the defensive coordinator who made the defense what it was, and that defense made the ’85 Bears what they were. If there is a surprise it lies in the level of emotion that Gary Fencik, Dan Hampton, Mike Singletary, Otis Wilson and others have to this day around Ryan. Consider this a mini spoiler-alert: Be sure and watch this all the way to the end. Trust me: Some of the guys reading “The Letter” is worth it.
Actually, there are two “The Letters.” And the story around the one the defense sent to George Halas before Mike Ditka was ever hired is a huge part of “The ’85 Bears” and that is the starting point for much of everything. The succession of players — Fencik, Hampton, Steve McMichael, Singletary, Wilson — reading parts of the actual letter, and their telling Halas’ reaction are nothing short of gripping.
So are the recollections of McMahon, Jimbo Covert, and about Walter Payton.
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John Madden told me during the writing of “The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Football Team in History” that the ’85 Bears were something right out of central casting. You really couldn’t make this bunch up, and that still comes through.
“The ’85 Bears” has plenty of history, but doesn’t wallow in the past, not even Ditka himself, the past being of course for cowards and losers. The reaction of the players to Ditka being hired is amusing. As is the reaction of McMichael, Singletary and the others to meeting Ryan.
From working on “The Rise and Self-Destruction of the Greatest Football Team in History” I know very well how deep the frustration still lies. Richard Dent telling me that Ditka was “the reason we won a Super Bowl and the reason we didn’t win three.” Hampton faulting Vince Tobin not for any defensive specific so much as for “turning attack dogs into guard dogs,” going from the woof’ers of ’85 to the more conservative guard dogs of ’86 and after, regardless of what some stats might say.
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But my daughter Jenny was 7-years-old when we were dealing with something sad, and this little kid says, “Dad, let’s not be sad for what we don’t have. Let’s be happy for what we do have.” From the mouths of babes.
Such is what “The ’85 Bears” are all about — not about the Super Bowls that “should” have been won, but the one that was, and all that went with it. This show is a chance to be happy about that.