'85 Bears gather to celebrate 25th
'85 Bears gather to celebrate 25th anniversary of title
By: Larry Mayer | Last Updated: 11/6/2010 5:35 PM
CHICAGO – The most popular team in Chicago sports history reunited to celebrate the 25th anniversary of its unforgettable championship season Friday night at Arie Crown Theater.
More than 25 members of the famed 1985 Bears were feted as part of the Allstate Glory Days event, which was billed as a night of storytelling and entertainment in front of a live audience. (See photo gallery.)
“The best thing about that team is we’re all still very close,” said kicker Kevin Butler, scanning a room packed with his former teammates. “Chicago has given us a lot of opportunities to stay together. Twenty-five years later we find ourselves here, and it seems like it was just yesterday.”
Coach Mike Ditka was joined by a handful of his former assistants and players including Jim Covert, Richard Dent, Dave Duerson, Gary Fencik, Dan Hampton, Tyrone Keys, Dennis McKinnon, Jim McMahon, Steve McMichael, Emery Moorehead, Matt Suhey, Tom Thayer and Otis Wilson, among others.
The Bears were represented by team president and CEO Ted Phillips, as well as senior director of business development Brian McCaskey, who presented each player with their own Bears jersey.
Duerson said he feels that the 1985 Bears remain as popular today as they were shortly after thrashing the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX “because of the unique relationship we had with the fans here in Chicago. But this is a unique city in that regard.”
Ditka has frequently described the ‘85 Bears as a team of characters with character.
“At the end of the day, that’s exactly what it was,” Duerson said. “We were a unique set of guys and Mike allowed us to be ourselves.”
Duerson was eager to see cornerback Mike Richardson, who has struggled through some difficult times.
“Mike and I were roommates on the road,” Duerson said. “We came in the league together. We’ve had a lot of phone conversations over the last couple months as well. Just eyeballing Mike has been special. With all the challenges he’s had, to see that he’s come out on the other side stronger and better, I’m excited for him.”
Butler joined the Bears in 1985 as a fourth-round draft pick from Georgia, ultimately setting an NFL rookie record that still stands by scoring 144 points.
“Being a rookie on that team was just incredible,” Butler said. “I was playing with a lot of my heroes. A year before I was down in Georgia and then I found myself up in Chicago, playing for the Bears and learning about history.
“Most of the time when you come out of Georgia, [the movie] ‘Brian’s Song’ is really your [only] connection to the Bears. I won the Piccolo Award that year, which still sits in my office and is very important to me. It just instilled what kind of values the Bears had.”
At the other end of the spectrum, defensive end Mike Hartenstine was in his 11th season with the Bears in 1985 when they won their first NFL championship since 1963.
“I appreciated it greatly just because of all we had been through,” Hartenstine said. “I came in ’75 with [Walter] Payton, and him and I were the old-timers on the team.
“I always liked our teams. I thought we played hard all the time, but we could never get over the hump and get it done. To finally get it all done was very rewarding.”
10-7-07 Bears 27,Fudge Packers 20...12-23-07 Bears 35,Fudge Packers 7 Then Favre quit and became a Jet...
I have never heard of Mike Hartenstine before. Strange last name.
Flashy styles, warring factions of 1985 Chicago Bears are back
By Jon Saraceno, USA TODAY
The 1985 Chicago Bears were cool, hip and devastatingly effective.
On a split-personality team replete with punishing defenders and a punky quarterback, Da Bears were light-years ahead of their time. They blitzed teams and the pro football suits on Park Avenue with a recklessness and zeal that made quarterbacks edgy and the NFL edgier, more relevant.
They were the league's newest anti-establishment contingent that went mainstream because of audacious talent and bravado, soap-opera conflict and marketing genius. Need proof? Led by Willie Gault, Walter Payton, Mike Singletary and a 335-pound football refrigerator named William Perry, Da Bears filmed an unforgettable hip-hop video the day after their only '85 loss.
"We're not here to start no trouble, we're just here to do The Super Bowl Shuffle…"
MORE: Q&A with Mike Ditka, other '85 Bears
Sure. Tell it to then-Commissioner Pete Rozelle. (Remember when rebel-without-a-pause Jim McMahon wore a "Rozelle" headband in the '85 playoffs, less than two weeks before the iconoclastic quarterback mooned a helicopter during practice for Super Bowl XX?)
"It was all very rebellious," kicker Kevin Butler recalls.
Dozens of '85 Bears players and coaches will convene Friday in Chicago to celebrate their 25th anniversary. Long-simmering heavyweight grudges — chiefly Mike Ditka vs. Buddy Ryan— and petty player jealousies will be shelved. Da Bears remain a beloved bunch because they gave the city its first championship since the '63 Bears.
"We pulled together an entire city — and we were America's team," says tight end Emery Moorehead, a Chicago native. "Nothing against Michael Jordan (and the Bulls), but our championship team is what everyone (in Chicago) remembers. If the Cubs ever won (the World Series), it would be incredible, but you would still have (White Sox) 'haters' from the South Side. It never would be as galvanizing as that Bears team."
Joe Pistello, a fan for five decades, says, "That meant everything to us in Chicago — not just to people from my era, but fans 30 years older, and younger."
In a pre-free agency era, Da Bears produced nine Pro Bowlers, three Hall of Fame players (Payton, Singletary and Dan Hampton) and sold more than half a million copies of their Grammy-nominated rap video. The Super Bowl Shuffle became their anthem and off-field persona, although tight end Tim Wrightman says, "If we had lost, we would have been the biggest joke of all time."
The reunion, a public event at the Arie Crown Theater that will be edited into a TV special, will be missing two fun-loving former Bears, Payton and Perry.
Payton, the superstar running back, died at age 45 in 1999 from complications of bile-duct cancer. Perry, the mammoth defensive tackle and rumbling part-time running back nicknamed "The Fridge," is recuperating in South Carolina from Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a disorder that ravages muscles.
"Made me almost paralyzed," says the 47-year-old grandfather with memory issues. "I am back up and doing things, just a little slower. I'm enjoying life."
Just like his old team — then and now.
Ryan, the 76-year-old retired defensive coordinator, will make the trip from his farm in Kentucky because, as he says, "If you were around the '85 Bears, whether it was practice, a game or a party, we always had fun. Can't miss this."
'Characters who had character'
Da Bears boasted uncommon swagger, even with each other. It was a complex group whose loyalties were divided.
By day, they engaged in spirited practices, often fighting among themselves. During that season, offensive tackle Jimbo Covert recalls a memorable skirmish with 270-pound Steve McMichael.
"I picked him up and body-slammed him," Covert says. "Then I got his helmet off and gave him a couple of shots."
By night, the brawlin' Bears had better chemistry — they caroused on Rush Street and cruised Windy City haunts.
"Our players were characters who had character," says Ditka, 71, the former head coach and current ESPN analyst. "They were not aloof — they were regular guys and people related to them. They were fun loving; I didn't keep a tight rein on them. But when it came time to play, it wasn't about that. It was about kicking ass and taking names."
Ditka's loosey-goosey attitude had repercussions. After an early-season revenge win in San Francisco, he celebrated with too much wine on the plane. Upon leaving O'Hare Airport, Ditka was pulled over, handcuffed and charged with drunken driving. He tearfully apologized the next day (Ditka was found guilty, had his license suspended for six months, was fined $300 and placed under court supervision for a year).
The Ditka-Ryan feud fueled the Bears' intensity. In a new book, Da Bears!, author Steve Delsohn is most surprised by the "intensity of the rift." The quarrelsome relationship started when owner George Halas didn't promote Ryan and appointed the temperamental former Bears tight end as head coach in '82.
When they were not cursing and arguing on the sideline, Ryan ignored Ditka and openly fostered an us-against-them antagonism between the offense and defense, former players says.
During a contentious halftime in Miami, where Da Bears lost to the Dolphins, players were forced to separate Ditka and Ryan as the two wailed away in the locker room.
"In a perfect world, it will be, 'Bygones will be bygones,' " backup quarterback Mike Tomczak says. "I don't know what is in their heads, but I hope they rid themselves of those ghosts. It will be great drama, like Grumpy Old Men."
Ryan finally got what he lusted for after the Super Bowl. Upon being named head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, he was asked how Mike took the news.
"Mike who?" Ryan jabbed.
They rarely have spoken since. Today, they say all is forgiven. Or, maybe, because of their ages, it is mostly forgotten.
"There are no wounds on my part," Ditka says. "I have said it 100 times and I will say it again: We would not have won without Buddy Ryan." Ditka pauses and reflects: "Buddy never (reached) another Super Bowl without me — and I never (reached) one without him."
Ryan says, "There are a lot of negative (stories) about us, things that never happened. As far as Mike goes, I look forward to seeing him and the '85 Bears."
Da Bears used the tension between the coaches, egged on by Ryan's sarcasm and territorial behavior, to inspire aggressive preparation. The defense despised the offense (except on game day). Practices were brutal exhibitions. Players wore full pads on Fridays.
"You wouldn't prescribe that formula to win a championship — usually, it will divide a team," says Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, a former Bears cornerback. Frazier is among the coaches Ryan's defense spawned, including NFL head coaches in Tennessee (Jeff Fisher, on injured reserve in '85) and San Francisco (Singletary).
On Sundays, Da Bears coalesced. Creative friction produced factions and a rare Super Bowl moment when players carried off Ditka and Ryan.
"We took sides, but that's what made us eclectic," Tomczak says. "We defied odds. What allowed us to exist is that we won."
Domination and head-hunting
Da Bears bludgeoned opponents by an average of 16 points in the regular season as their clever but often-injured and moody quarterback displayed his wits.
"Ditka would give me a play, I would give it to McMahon and sometimes he'd say, 'That won't work,' " receiver Ken Margerum says. "So he would call his own play, then sometimes change it again with an audible. I would come off the field and Ditka would grab me and yell, 'What the hell was that?' Hey, Coach, we just got a first down."
Today, McMahon is a motivational speaker and part-owner of the Chicago Slaughter of the Indoor Football League.
And that "jailbreak" defense, as safety Gary Fencik terms it?
"Buddy would tell McMahon, 'Put 10 points on the board and we'll let the dogs loose,' " Moorehead says.
The beat-downs were scary by any "Monsters of the Midway" standard. Da Bears rearranged quarterbacks' mugs and separated receivers from their senses. In an NFL first, they shut out the New York Giants and Los Angeles Rams in the playoffs. Add the team's 46-10 Super Bowl annihilation of the New England Patriots in New Orleans, where defensive end Richard Dent was MVP, and Da Bears outscored their foes 91-10.
James Lofton, the Hall of Fame wide receiver, recalls the long week leading up to a Bears game. The Green Bay Packers coaching staff would reduce its 100-play offense to maybe "10 to 15 where we thought we could block them.
"It was daunting — like waiting for a tornado to hit. Buddy Ryan looks like the nicest, little ol' man in the world, but there was something else going on."
Ryan's futuristic blitzkrieg "46 defense" — of which more than mere remnants exist today — was all about "domination and intimidation," says receiver Dennis McKinnon.
The '85 Bears could not easily exist, if at all, in today's slicker, sanitized-by-the-rulebook NFL. The league's desire to encourage scoring and discourage naked violence prohibits the sort of weekly mayhem in which Da Bears reveled.
Even then, "We were not the fair-haired child," Ditka says.
Says Fencik: "We used to take cheap shots on receivers who were not even involved in a play. We nailed somebody just because we could."
Da Bears specialized in crushing blows that paid off in more ways than one. Bounties were but one example.
"Before games, we talked about knocking out quarterbacks," Butler recalls. "We had a little grab bag that players would put $100 or so into. Whoever got the big play got the money. They did not care what the NFL thought."
When Wilber Marshall launched himself at Joe Ferguson with a vicious, under-the-chinstrap spear that rendered the quarterback limp before he hit the turf, the NFL fined the linebacker.
"Nowadays, those Bears would have to see the commissioner — naughty boys," says Hall of Fame Washington Redskins running back John Riggins.
Marshall will not attend the party. At 48, he is permanently disabled.
Mike Richardson will be there for a poignant moment. Only three months ago, the cornerback-turned-convicted drug dealer was released from prison. He long has had substance-abuse issues.
Collateral damage isn't uncommon in the NFL, and watching those Bears was like rubber-necking a 10-car pileup. They remain popular in Chicago; nearly 3,500 fans will attend the reunion.
"We had so many interesting characters that people who weren't even interested in football found us fascinating," Wrightman says.
Naturally, sponsors did, too.
During the early '80s, the league had experienced a hangover. There was the players' strike in '82, talent raids by the rival USFL and dwindling TV ratings.
Ditka's blue-collar "Grabowskis" became a compelling national Sunday afternoon diversion. TV ratings soared more than 20% in 1985.
"They jump-started the league when it was in the doldrums," Delsohn says.
Fortunately for Da Bears, and NFL fans, they were at their grizzly-best before the 5-yard bump rule and an increased emphasis against unnecessary violence — and, of course, long before the saturation of the Internet and social media.
"Cellphone cameras alone would have buried us," Butler says with a laugh.
"LIFE'S ALOT LIKE ASS EITHER YOUR KICKIN' IT OR YOUR LICKIN' IT AND TODAY WE DEFINITLEY WEREN'T KICKIN' IT" STEVE "MONGO" MCMICHAEL
James Lofton, the Hall of Fame wide receiver, recalls the long week leading up to a Bears game. The Green Bay Packers coaching staff would reduce its 100-play offense to maybe "10 to 15 where we thought we could block them. "It was daunting — like waiting for a tornado to hit. Buddy Ryan looks like the nicest, little ol' man in the world, but there was something else going on."
Thats a great line ..... most teams were beat before the game started.
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I did not know that Wilbur Marshall is permanently disabled. What is wrong with him?