The roar would start even before the team ran out from the tunnel to take the field. It was a primal sound, the kind of noise one might hear at a gladiatorial contest where the crowd anticipated blood being spilled or animals loosed upon unfortunates tied to stakes in the middle of the arena.
And then, as if shot from the mouth of a cannon, Mike Singletary would lead 1985 edition of The Beloveds on to the field at full gallop. The crowd, already working themselves into a fevered pitch, would scream even louder. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that this Bear’s team was something special. And people appreciated the fact that the contest that was about to unfold would prove as entertaining an afternoon of football as had ever been seen in Chicago for all the long history of this team in this town.
This team. This town. The 1985 Bears were a team for the books. Not just sports record books mind you. The 1985 Beloveds could have provided fodder for tomes from a couple of academic disciplines. There was the sociological phenomenon that were the 1985 Bears – a team that united a city as it perhaps had not been united before. The influence of the football team permeated all levels of society in Chicago, all income groups, all races, creeds, ethnicities, and classes. Then there was the economic impact of that team. If you had something with a Chicago Bear on it or the Bear’s logo, it sold out. Retailers couldn’t keep the stuff on the shelves. The city also estimated that year that each home game brought an additional $20-30 million dollars to Chicago businesses.
One might be tempted to even explore the religious angle to the story of the 1985 Bears although prayers offered for victory by priests, ministers, rabbis, imams, and clergy from every faith on gameday might be stretching my point a little too far.
The team’s march to the Super Bowl that year was filled with some of the most memorable moments in the long and storied history of Chicago sports. There was that incredibly dramatic performance by Bears quarterback Jim McMahon against the Vikings on September 20th. On the sidelines at the start of the game due to a sore shoulder and infected leg, McMahon convinced Da Coach to send him into the game in the middle of the third quarter with my beloveds trailing 17-9.
The very first play from scrimmage, the punk QB threw a 70 yard TD to speedster Willy Gault. Then, following an interception by Wilbur Marshall, McMahon’s first play in the series was another TD pass, this time a 25 yarder to WR Dennis McKinnon. Finally, getting the ball back after a Vikings punt, McMahon coolly led the team down the field, topping off his third quarter effort with a 43 yard strike once again to McKinnon.
Three touchdowns in 6:40, turning a 17-9 deficit into a 30-17 lead and an eventual 33-24 victory. It is the stuff of legends. And the nearly speechless ABC crew televising the rare Thursday night contest began to talk about the Bears as serious contenders.
There was the 49’ers game a few weeks later with the defense swarming, darting, and burying the Super Bowl Champs 26-10, avenging the humiliation of the 23-0 drubbing meted out by San Francisco in the NFC Championship game the previous January.
Then there were the Green Bay Packers. Ditka hated the Packers. He hated everything about them. He most of all hated their coach Forest Gregg. In the team’s 23-7 victory, Da Coach sent in “325 pound” defensive lineman William “The Fridge” Perry in goal line situations for the offense. I put Perry’s weight in quotes because it was obvious to all that Perry may have been 325 pounds at some point in his life – high school perhaps – but weighed closer to 380 that night.
Lining up in the backfield as a blocker for Walter Payton, Perry made Packer linebacker George Cumby the answer to a trivia question by knocking the poor unfortunate halfway to Peoria and opening a gaping hole for Payton to walk into the endzone. Later that year, Perry would actually run the ball for a touchdown in the Super Bowl and later in his career, catch a pass for a TD. But it was that magical night against Green Bay that started the Perry legend that has endeared him to Bears fans to this day.
There was the 44-0 blowout of Dallas and the playoff wins in the cold and snow against New York and the Rams before the lopsided 46-10 triumph in Super Bowl XX - all memories cherished by fans for the last 21 years.
That team was as unique a group of players who ever suited up together. The disparate and clashing personalities somehow all seemed to meld together to form an unbreakable bond – a bond that extended to the fans as well. There were quiet ones like Fencik and Gayle. There were loud ones like McMichael and McMahon. There were funny ones like Perry and McKinnon.
And presiding over the mayhem was the fiery Ditka who was at war with everyone – his own players at times, his own coaches (especially defensive coach Buddy Ryan), the press, the opposing players and coaches. One would think that if he could swing it, Ditka would take on the popcorn vendors at the game so combative he was. And the city ate it up.
It was the defense, of course, that brought out the beast in fans. Much has been made of the 2007 version of the Bears defense in comparing it to the 1985 crew. This is silly. The Buddy Ryan led group were nothing like this year’s cat quick, cerebral, position-conscious crew. That 1985 bunch were like animals in a zoo that Ryan kept locked up for 6 days without food and then opened the cages on Sunday afternoon to feast on opposing players. The flew around the field like madmen – ravenous beasts swarming, grappling, fighting, and hitting like a ton of bricks. Opposing teams were terrified and it showed.
This year’s defense is good and will be better with the return of safety Mike Brown and defensive tackle Tommie Harris next year. But even when they were playing lights out the first 8 or 9 games of the season, they relied more on deceiving the other team’s offense than frightening them to death. The NFL will be a long time before they see the likes of that 1985 crew again.
They are all in their late 40’s and 50’s now. Recently, the plight of some of them has been highlighted, shining a light on the crime that is the NFL pension and health care system for retired players. A couple of them are suing the league and the NFL Players Union for what they consider unfair treatment. But most of the 1985 Bears who survive are fit and reasonably well off. We lost Sweetness in 1999 to a liver ailment and Todd Bell to a heart attack at age 43 in 2005. The remainder pass in and out of memory as they appear here and there on television, calling to mind a glory that will always be remembered but can never be recaptured.
No matter what the 2007 Bears do on Sunday, they too will enjoy a modicum of immortality. And judging by their quality coach and the quality ballplayers he has assembled, I feel confident in saying that no matter what happens this year, the Chicago Bears will probably not take 21 years to get back to the Super Bowl.
But Lovie Smith could win a Super Bowl every year between now and the time he retires and it will not dim the memories or the rub the luster off that 1985 squad – the most beloved of all Bears teams.
Actually, if Smith wins on Sunday, it wouldn’t hurt. No sir…wouldn’t hurt at all…