Bears

Ditka Revisited: Dent, others still think of what could have been

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Ditka Revisited: Dent, others still think of what could have been

A few years back when I was doing the research for my 2005 book, The Chicago Bears and Super Bowl XX: The Rise and Self-Destruction of the Greatest Football Team in History, I had dinner with Richard Dent. The Colonel was MVP of the game but not all of his thoughts were particularly fond memories.
 
At one point, Richard summed up his feelings about his head coach:
 
He was the reason we won that Super Bowl and the reason why we didnt win three, he told me.
 
On Wednesday morning, Dent visited with The Mully and Hanley Show on WSCR 670 AM The Score. It was clear that the edges on those feelings are still sharp.
 
The disappointing part to me is that we only got one out of it, Dent told Mike and Brian. We should have been the first team ever to win three Super Bowls in a row.
 
Roots of the collapse
 
It was difficult to disagree with Dent. Ditka alienated elements of the team with the handling of Doug Flutie and the quarterback situation around injuries to Jim McMahon. It didnt matter that Flutie eventually became a decent NFL quarterback, leaving Ditka feeling vindicated.
 
During that season Ditka castigated the team for its loss of focus over off-the-field endorsements and activities, then players went home and had to see TV ads for Ditka endorsements on all four stations that night.
 
The situation turned worse in 1987 when Ditka declared the Spare Bears as the real Chicago Bears. Whether or not that was the only real choice management gave him didnt matter to the players.
 
And the overriding problem was that the Bears were in the deep water with other sharks like the New York Giants, San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins, all Super Bowl winners. Even the slightest slip or drop of blood and the sharks were all over the Bears.
 
What was unfortunate was the level of hurt feelings and disappointment that still lingered in Dent, and in a number of the other players I talked with. It was truly the best of their football times, it was the worst of those times.
 
John Madden told me that the 1985 Bears was the greatest team he ever saw (and he coached against those 1970s Steelers teams). In the Forward to the book, John said, You would have thought it would have gotten them through another year or two, except that things just happened to them.
 
As far as The Colonel still calculates, Ditka was the single biggest thing.
 
The great might-have-been
 
Well, we are going to be king of the hill all the time," Dent said to The Score guys. "It doesn't matter. I was on a team that took on the world. It wasnt just winning the Super Bowl. Hell, we got a gold record. We got a platinum video. We talked about it and we did it.
 
"And we came back three years in a row and had home-field advantage. Our coach couldnt figure out the right quarterback to play. ... It was there in the taking, but we didnt manage that one position right."
 
Dan Hampton told me in the course of the book research that Vince Tobin replaced Buddy Ryan as defensive coordinator and turned attack dogs into guard dogs.
 
But Dent was insistent on the main problem:
 
"Mike didnt manage that quarterback position," Dent said. "Bringing Doug Flutie in and thinking that he's gonna come in and be on a team for three weeks and start him in a playoff game? Hell, I mean you're trying to change the name on the Super Bowl trophy to Mike Ditka from Vince Lombardi when you do something like that.
 
"We had won with Mike Tomczak and Steve Fuller. Thats all we needed to do is stay with that plan."
 
Ditkas seeming favoritism toward Flutie angered the Bears but the Washington Redskins, who ousted the Bears from the 1986 and 1987 playoffs, liked Flutie in a Bear uniform just fine.
 
"We played the Redskins and Washington cornerback Darrell Green had told me, 'Hey man, I heard you guys are gonna start Doug Flutie,' Dent said on The Score. But hey, you know, we should've won more than one Super Bowl, but the one we won is bigger and better than anybody ever won.

Kevin White, Bears focusing on the present and not his unlucky past or uncertain future

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Kevin White, Bears focusing on the present and not his unlucky past or uncertain future

Kevin White had little interest in engaging with reporters on Wednesday, the first time he was made available to the media since suffering a season-ending broken scapula in Week 1 of the 2017 season. His answers weren’t combative, but they were short and terse. 

Then again, how was he supposed to handle yet another round of questions — none of which were unfair — about his star-crossed past or his uncertain future? He did offer up this quote-worthy line when asked what he’s learned about himself after all the adversity he’s faced since being drafted with the seventh overall pick in the 2015 Draft:

“Built Ford Tough.”

If White would rather live in the present than in the past or future, that’s fine. It’s actually ideal if the Bears want to get something out of him in the final year of his rookie contract. And it’s also the mindset preached to him by wide receivers coach Mike Furrey, his fourth position coach in four years in the NFL. 

“We sat down from Day 1 and I said listen, I don’t know anything about your past, I don’t want to know anything about your past,” Furrey said. “From here on out it’s just going forward and just doing everything that we can control day in and day out and that’s it. I won’t talk to you anything about tomorrow, I’ll only talk to you about what we’re doing today and how we’re building today.”

If the Bears hope to get anything out of White in 2018 — and if White hopes to revive his career without job security beyond this season — that narrow mindset is a good starting point. It’s even more important during OTAs here in late May, with there still being about two months until the Bears’ first padded practice and two and a half months before preseason play begins. 

The Bears insulated themselves from needing White to produce this year by adding targets for Mitch Trubisky in Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Trey Burton and Anthony Miller over the last two months. The spotlight is off White, in a sense, and he’s okay with that — “I don’t need attention,” White said, “I just come here and do my job.”

But in another sense, there’s an immense amount of pressure on White to prove himself worthy of a roster spot not in 2018, but in 2019. Not many receivers with White’s numbers — 21 catches on 40 targets, 193 yards, no touchdowns in five games — are able to hang around the league for long without being a special teams ace (like Josh Bellamy, for instance). Neither the past nor future for White is particularly rosy. 

So that’s why White said he doesn’t have any specific goals for the season: “Doesn’t matter,” he said, “As long as I’m out here.” 

All White can do is show up to Halas Hall and, eventually, Olivet Nazarene University ready to practice with a narrow mindset on that day, and that day only. If he sticks with that approach — and doesn’t suffer another horribly-unlucky injury — eventually, he’ll arrive at Lambeau Field in September for the season opener, finally given the opportunity to prove himself. 

But that’s a long ways away. For now, White’s well within his rights to not want to entertain any thoughts about what happened in the last three years or what lies ahead. 

“I don’t know the past and I don’t want to know the past,” Furrey said. “Everything from here on out is going to be everything in the future. We’ve kind of established that and that kind of allows him to relax a little bit and not be judged and to have all these things said about him — because I don’t know. I don’t want to read it, I don’t want to hear about it, I don’t even want to know. 

“All I want (is for) him to be comfortable and be able to learn a new system and be able to learn it as fast as he can so he can go out there — and everybody sees it, he’s very gifted. He’s very powerful, lower body powerful. He can run, he’s got a great catch radius. He has all those intangibles and that’s exciting, but it’s really what you do with those every day. So we’ll just continue to have the daily routine and hopefully get better every day and then be able to put it together when we gotta go.” 

SportsTalk Live Podcast: What should be the plan to call up the White Sox prospects?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: What should be the plan to call up the White Sox prospects?

SportsTalk Live is on location for White Sox Authentic Fan Night. Phil Rogers (MLB Network), Mark Carman (WGN Radio), David DeJesus and Ozzie Guillen join Kap to talk about Manny Machado Mania, Anthony Rizzo’s struggles and the White Sox plans for calling up their best prospects. 

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: