Bears

Super Bowl XX: 30 years later in a career covering the Bears

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Super Bowl XX: 30 years later in a career covering the Bears

It was my first road trip as a reporter. Bearing down on 23 years old.

Whenever I'm ready to complain about the occasional, overblown inconveniences of a career that's been blessed to get this far, I have to reset and remember two things: The special people I've had the chance to work with and the special moments I was fortunate enough to witness.

Covering the 1983 White Sox and the 1984 Cubs while still a radio student at Columbia College showed me Chicago teams could, after all, help erase some of the youthful nightmares of my local fandom, while trying no longer to be a fan, but build professionalism for the career I was pursuing.

In 1985, there was no internet, OnDemand, DVDs, Blu-ray, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or SnapChat. The media was limited to newspaper, television and radio. And, in those pre-Internet days, something called SportsPhone. Out of college, despite my belief I was already better than a lot of sportscasters on radio at the time (and, yes, a lot of stations had their very own sportscasters), I cut my teeth on a dial-up, recorded phone version of one-minute sportscasts.

312-976-1313.

Gamblers couldn't check for scores online. They - and fanatics simply curious about what was going on out of town or away from their living rooms to follow their favorite teams - would be billed a fee for every call made. We'd update scores, received from stringers that would be paid throughout the country covering games, every 10 minutes. You may have heard of some of the other folks who got their post-collegiate professional starts there: Jeff Joniak, David Schuster, Les Grobstein, Lou Canellis, Fred Huebner, Brian Wheeler.

But we'd also have specific team "hotlines." I was that guy fortunate to be assigned the 1985 Bears.

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

There were offices here in Chicago, New York and Detroit. We'd conference up, exchange scores, determine which offices pursued which scores every 10 minutes when games were going on, and each office had reporters ("stringers") covering each team. But when the Bears reached the Super Bowl, I was the pool guy that the company resourced to cover the game and file reports throughout the week, tailored for each city.

So many personal and professional moments and challenges have clouded some of the memories over the past three decades. But except for family vacations, there was hardly any solo out-of-town exposure for me before given this opportunity. I'd covered every Bears home game that season, as it unfolded in mind-blowing fashion for a kid who grew up here so foreign to sports dominance. The lone regular season loss in Miami was proof they could be susceptible. The lack of being exposed to local sports dominance kept a Patriots upset very real in this brain.

More than the day-to-day Super Bowl week particulars, I more clearly remember a completely different vibe to New Orleans than this Chicago Boy had ever been previously exposed. The music. The cab drivers. The food. The January weather.

Thirty years ago, the NFL wasn't nearly as organized (er, "controlled") as it is now. Super Bowl Media Day and the other player availabilities during the week were held on the Superdome playing field. Players would just stroll out wherever they'd want to and much smaller clusters of media would hustle up to wherever certain players they wanted to talk to were standing. No individual podiums, nameplates or speakers. There's a picture inside the modern Halas Hall Press Room of Walter Payton and Matt Suhey sitting on the AstroTurf, with reporters gathered around them. That's how things rolled back then.

But pool reporters covering practices had already been instituted back then, so not everyone got to see Jim McMahon mooning a helicopter trying to find out if he was practicing with his sore gluteus maximus. But for this Kid on the Road, making sure he got his job done right, there wasn't much of a desire to see if I could track down and hang out with a team built to pound (its chest, among other things) and party. Lord knows there were enough places Bears worshipers who made the trip from Chicago and other parts could run into the biggest rock stars in sports, buy some rounds and probably have a few purchased in return. After all, the public wasn't part of the "media" back then, as it is now.

Once we finally got to Sunday, the spectacle was bigger than I ever experienced, but a fraction of what it is now. New Orleans native Wynton Marsalis performed the National Anthem. Then the Bears turned the ball over, leading to a Patriots field goal to open the scoring. Here we go again. Chicago heartbreak.

[RELATED - Is Panthers hype video the modern day version of Bears' Super Bowl Shuffle?]

But the Bears became the '85 Bears again, scoring the game's next 44 points with a very non-controversial halftime performance by "Up With People" thrown in the middle. A Henry Waechter safety and a "who cares" Pats touchdown later, Mike Ditka and the Bears were world champions for the first time since I was nine months old, 22 years earlier, since Ditka was a part of that one back then, too. The Bears had seven sacks. They held New England to seven yards rushing on 11 attempts, 123 total yards and controlled the clock for more than 39 minutes.

When I just realized Monday we were a day away from the 30th anniversary of Super Bowl XX, I couldn't find enough time to find out which box in which corner of my house has the media credential, the game program and other interesting souvenirs you guys might like seeing. But it didn't take long to find my postgame audio cassettes, as well as a couple of those from interviews earlier in the week. I'll let all you youngsters guess exactly what cassettes were and how they worked. Look it up on that internet.

Now, the question was whether they'd play in my old Yamaha stereo system and said system wouldn't chew up those 30-year-old artifacts. It was double-decked!

First deck? Nothing. It was quickly popped out in fear of being munched-up into history. I popped the second deck. Inserted the cassette and closed. Hit "play." And now I remembered how it seemed like the Bears thought the real Super Bowl happened two weeks earlier, in the snow, at home, in their NFC Championship win over the Rams.

Jim McMahon: "It's kinda anti-climactic. It's not the kind of feeling I thought I'd have after we won the Super Bowl. 

"It's supposed to be 'we're on top of the World,' and I just feel it's just another ballgame. Maybe it'll hit me later on tonight or something."

He went on to explain the headbands he was offered from fans around the country and how he focused on publicizing charitable causes from United Way to the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation to POWs/MIAs.

Mike Ditka on whether he was surprised at the final score: "No." 

If it bothered him the score was so one-sided: "Not at all. This is the game of football."

Other postgame Ditka-isms: "The game was never in question." "We made history today and that's beautiful."

The late Dave Duerson on defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan's speech to his players: "Buddy's a very tough guy. Of course he plays that role. We all know because we've been working with him so long he's a very loving, caring person and his statement was very simply, 'win or lose, next week, you guys are my heroes.'

"By the time he was able to finish his statement, his eyes were filled with tears. They were running down his chin. His entire face was quivering. We gave him a standing ovation, then Steve (McMichael) proceeded to destroy a chalkboard. Then we had a few seconds of film. We said, 'The hell with this, we don't need it,' and went to our rooms."

Walter Payton was nowhere to be found amidst the celebration and locker room after the game. Despite the blowout win, the Patriots had keyed on him to make sure he didn't beat them, holding him to 61 yards on 22 carries (with a longest run of seven yards), while being held out of the end zone. A touchdown would have been an exclamation point to 11 years of toil for too many bad teams. Ditka was criticized, with a 37-7 lead, for giving the ball to William Perry for a one-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter, rather than giving Payton another opportunity to score on the game's biggest stage. McMahon even took a veiled shot at the playcall after the game (though he probably easily could've changed the call himself).

I walked out of the locker room, towards the field to make my way up to the press box. There was Walter, with his family and friends, starting to walk across the field. I ran up to him, catching up with the guy who'd eluded the NFL's best defenders for 11 seasons and the media that night. A couple of other reporters were there, too, though I can't remember who.

"Whaddya need?"

Though I never specifically asked him about not being "allowed" the opportunity to score, his comments really answered that question after giving blood, sweat and tears to the organization since 1975. It wasn't okay that I didn't ask the exact question, but his answer almost came in the responses to being a Super Bowl champion, similar to McMahon's.

[SHOP BEARS: Get your Bears gear right here]

"It's not like I expected," he said. "Believe me. The mind is unbelievable the way it can paint pictures of things, and when you think about things in your mind, you can do anything with it. But when it actually happens, you know the way you picture it in your mind, it seems a little bit inferior.

"It wasn't easy," Payton continued while briskly walking the length of the Superdome field as I and a few others tried to keep up. "The defense played unbelievable. We had everybody doing their jobs - Jim McMahon, Willie Gault, Ken Margerum, Matt Suhey, Emery Moorehead. They knew what it was going to take to win. They knew what they had to do, and they did it."

They.

Then, when I asked whether he talked to Ditka afterward:

"I didn't talk to him. I didn't get a chance to."

Ditka has since repeatedly, publicly regretted not making a more concerted effort to get Payton a touchdown.

What seemed like the start of a run of Super Bowls actually ended that day. This piece has gone too long and there were multiple reasons that've already been assessed why the Bears were a comet that streaked brightly across the sky, then faded away.

But for a kid reporter who didn't know he'd get the chance to cover Michael Jordan and six Bulls championships and three Blackhawks Stanley Cups in six years, those 1985 Bears were absolutely the most dominant team this town has ever seen. I'm pretty confident about that since not being around or have much to remember prior to 1970. 

That Bears team over Blackhawks and Bulls in one game. Best of-seven? Maybe not.

Pro Football Focus: Khalil Mack is NFL’s most valuable edge rusher

Pro Football Focus: Khalil Mack is NFL’s most valuable edge rusher

It didn’t take the Bears long to see how valuable Khalil Mack is to their defense, elevating the group from the moment he first stepped on the field.

He’s been among the league’s best outside linebackers since he first broke out in 2015, and the analytics back up the eye test.

He was the highest edge defender on Pro Football Focus’ list of the top 50 players in the NFL, and their “wins above replacement” metric shows why.

It’s Mack and Von Miller, then everyone else.

“Foremost, Mack is a slightly more complete player than Miller when it comes to defending the run,” PFF’s Ben Linsey wrote. “Yes, run defense is significantly less important than an edge rusher’s ability to disrupt the quarterback, but with so little difference between the players, everything gets put under the magnifying glass.”

Over the past four seasons, both players have exactly 49 sacks, although Mack missed two games over that span. The Bears outside linebacker has the edge in interceptions, forced fumbles and tackles for loss, most coming with a lower quality defense around him than what Miller has had in Denver.

It’s no surprise Ryan Pace was willing to trade multiple first-round picks to make Mack the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history. He’s the best in the league.

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Projected lineups for Eddie Jackson’s charity softball game

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USA Today

Projected lineups for Eddie Jackson’s charity softball game

Eddie Jackson is hosting a charity softball game this Saturday, June 15th at Schamburg Boomers stadium at 5:05pm. It’ll be offense vs defense so let’s take an early look at what these lineups might look like for both teams.

Defense

1. Eddie Jackson

Has home run hitting ability in the leadoff spot and a flair for the dramatic. This rising star puts the pressure on the opposing pitcher from the very first pitch. Plus it’s his game, so of course he’s batting first.

2. Kyle Fuller

Tied for the NFL interception lead in 2018, Fuller’s combination of speed, instincts and film study  at the top of the lineup helps set the table for the big bats.

3. Akiem Hicks

As Ed O’Bradovich said at the 100 year celebration this past weekend, Khalil Mack “is a man-eater, but (Akiem Hicks) is the man who makes it happen.” It’s long been said you put your most important hitter in the 3-hole.

4. Khalil Mack

The quintessential cleanup hitter. Who else would you want in this spot?

5. Danny Trevathan

Provides world champion protection behind Mack in the likely event that the opponent tries to pitch around #52.

6. Roquan Smith

Just when an opponent think they’ve gotten thru the heart of the lineup, the 2018 rookie who came up just shy of Brian Urlacher’s franchise tackling mark is there to “break a man,” as he said right after his Bears intro press conference.

7. Ha-Ha Clinton Dix

Sliding this new addition into the 7-hole takes some of the pressure off of him to make an immediate impact, while also trapping pitchers into thinking they might get a break against a guy who has shown big play ability in the past.

8. Bilal Nichols

One of the most underrated players in the entire league is perfectly fine lurking at the bottom of the order. A second cleanup hitter, he’s happy consistently performing and making his teammates better. Everyone in this lineup knows how valuable he is.

9. Leonard Floyd

Still in a bit of a prove it spot, but if he consistently plays the way he’s shown shown flashes of, he could not only be dangerous in this spot, but he could climb up the lineup pretty quickly.

10. Prince Amukamara

Veteran who knows he’s there to do a job and turn the lineup over. His speed and ball skills make him a threat.

11. Buster Skrine

Another newcomer, let’s see what he’s got at the bottom of the order.

Offense

1. Taylor Gabriel   *Anthony Miller

We can all agree there’s no reason for Miller, a guy who dislocated his shoulder multiple times to be swinging a bat amiright?? Miller has the Willie Mayes Hayes swag you want from the leadoff man when healthy tho.

As for ‘Turbo’ Taylor Gabriel, of course you’re putting a guy who’s been clocked at 23 mph at the top of the lineup.

2. Tarik Cohen

Perfect spot for the swiss army knife of the offense. Could lay down a bunt and beat it out, move the runner, or even hit one to the gap and clear the bases.

3. Mitch Trubisky

The obvious spot for the leader of the offense and Akiem Hicks’ pick (outside himself) to win the home run derby part of this event. Let’s just hope he breaks out the punky QB headband and sunglasses look again this weekend.

4. Kyle Long

The most veteran member of the offensive line is there to protect the QB. Whether or not he’s even in the lineup, if anyone goes high and tight on # 10, better believe they’ll answer to #75.

5. Cody Whitehair

Some more muscle in the middle of the order. Has made it clear he’s good with moving around the lineup if the coaches think it’s best for the team.

6. Allen Robinson

Based on what we saw in the playoff game, he could be on his way to putting up big numbers anywhere in the batting order. Definitely a guy you want up late with the game on the line.

7. Charles Leno

Flies under the radar at one of the most important positions in football. If a pitcher thinks he’s in the clear after getting past Robinson, Leno will be there to throw a big block into that thinking.

8. Trey Burton / Adam Shaheen

When healthy, they provide some pop towards the bottom of the lineup. Let’s have Anthony Miller ready as the designated runner if these guys can get on base.

9. Bobby Massie

The ultimate team guy as he showed by signing a team friendly deal to stay in Chicago much earlier in the offseason than he had to.

10. James Daniels

As the new man in the middle on the offensive line, the burden falls on him to turn the lineup over and set the table for the speedy top of the order.

11. Mike Davis

Good spot to start for this new addition. Could easily see him towards the top of the lineup if he produces the way Matt Nagy & company thinks he can.

The defense has been ahead of the offense for pretty much the entire Pace/Nagy regime. But if Matt Nagy is involved, there’s sure to be no shortage of hidden ball tricks, squeezes and other trick plays with awesome names, so I might have to give a slight edge to the offense in this game.