ESPN '30 for 30' on 'The ’85 Bears' more than just a memory exercise


ESPN '30 for 30' on 'The ’85 Bears' more than just a memory exercise

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.

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

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.

[MORE '85 BEARS: Super Bowl XX - 30 years later in a career covering the Bears]

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.

Bears backfield ranked fourth-best in NFL

Bears backfield ranked fourth-best in NFL

The Chicago Bears have a really good problem in their backfield. Both Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen will demand touches in 2018 and are each starting-quality running backs. Howard is the more traditional first and second-down back while Cohen offers top-tier playmaking ability.

The duo is so talented that they were recently ranked the fourth-best backfield in the NFL.

The Chicago Bears' Jordan Howard has emerged as one of the NFL's top rushers. He finished his rookie season with 1,313 yards, second-most in the NFL. Last season, he rushed for 1,122 yards and 4.1 yards per carry even though Chicago had the league's least threatening passing attack (175.7 yards per game).

Howard isn't the only standout back on the roster, though. Tarik Cohen is a supremely talented runner and receiver and a perfect complement to Howard. Last season, he amassed 370 rushing yards, 53 receptions and 353 receiving yards.

The Bears' backfield was behind only the Rams, Saints and Chiefs.

Howard set Chicago's rookie rushing record with 1,313 yards in 2016 and became the first Bears running back to start his career with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. He should be the Bears' primary back, but coach Matt Nagy expressed genuine excitement over Cohen's skill set which suggests he plans on getting him the ball quite a bit this season.

Regardless of how the touches play out, the Bears will present opposing defenses with one of the most challenging ground games in the NFL.

    Tarik Cohen was NFL's best big-play RB in 2017

    Tarik Cohen was NFL's best big-play RB in 2017

    Tarik Cohen's rookie season with the Chicago Bears was an impressive blend of running, receiving and special teams play. He quickly became a household name. The combination of his diminutive frame and oversized personality made him a fan favorite, especially when he started gaining yards in chunks.

    In fact, of all running backs with a minimum of 80 carries last season, Cohen had the highest percentage of runs that went for 15 or more yards, according to Pro Football Focus.

    Cohen will have a big role in new coach Matt Nagy's offense this season because of everything he offers a play-caller. He's a weapon as a receiver out of the backfield and can chew up yards on the ground like any traditional running back. He's a hold-your-breath talent who can turn a bad play into a touchdown in the blink of an eye.

    Cohen had 370 rushing yards, 353 receiving yards and three offensive touchdowns in what can be described as a limited role last year. John Fox and Dowell Loggains didn't seem to ever figure out how to best use Cohen's skill set. That should be no issue for Nagy and Mark Helfrich, the team's new offensive coordinator, who both bring a creative offensive approach to Chicago.

    Jordan Howard will be the starter and will do most of the heavy lifting. But Cohen is going to have a much bigger role than he had as a rookie, and that should result in more big plays and points on the board.