ESPN 30 for 30 'The '85 Bears': TV Schedule and Documentary Preview

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ESPN 30 for 30 'The '85 Bears': TV Schedule and Documentary Preview
Charlie Bennett/Associated Press

Watching Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton this season has been a genuine joy for many football fans, but he also irritated some supporters of the teams he beat on the way to the Super Bowl because of his celebrations and dancing.

Imagine if he and his teammates invented an entire choreographed song and dance that was nominated for a Grammy titled “The Super Bowl Shuffle.”

That is exactly what the 1985 Chicago Bears did on the way to the franchise’s only Super Bowl title. Chicago boasted arguably the most intimidating defense in the history of the league, but it was known just as much for its personality off the field as its dominance between the lines.

ESPN elected the 1985 Bears as the subject for its next 30 for 30 documentary. The film was directed by Jason Hehir and will air on Thursday, Feb. 4 at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Ed Sherman of the Chicago Tribune noted The ’85 Bears, which is narrated and executive produced by actor and Lake Forest, Illinois, native Vince Vaughn, will air for two hours. It comes right around a meaningful anniversary as well, as the 30 for 30 Twitter account pointed out:

ESPN’s Robert Flores praised the film:

John Mullin of CSNChicago.com summarized the crux of the film and why the 1985 Bears will always have a famed place in football history:

But 30 years ago it was a fitting characterization of the 1985 Chicago Bears, a team-for-the-ages concoction of talent, personality, eccentricity and ego that transcended their sport and stands the test of time as one unlike any other team that came before them or after. No other squad has ever created a phenomenon like the one that swept not only football, but the nation and beyond during—and long, long after the Bears’ run to and through Super Bowl XX that finished Jan. 26, 1985.

Mullin expanded on the idea and recognized that “America likes rebels,” which is exactly what that Bears team was for the entire season.

Yes, they won the Super Bowl, but they also inspired a Saturday Night Live skit titled “Superfans,” were nominated for a Grammy for “The Super Bowl Shuffle” and featured a cast of memorable characters, including head coach Mike Ditka, big man William “Refrigerator” Perry and quarterback Jim McMahon.

McMahon was on the cover of Rolling Stone (and called the “Rock ’n’ Roll Quarterback"), Perry occasionally came in on offense to score from the 1-yard line, despite his status as a defensive lineman, and Ditka resided over all of it as an outspoken and beloved coach in the Windy City. 

Linebacker Mike Singletary even gave fans a recent glimpse of “The Super Bowl Shuffle” on Twitter:

The personalities were memorable, but the Bears didn’t win the Lombardi Trophy for their dancing.

The defense is still widely accepted by many as the best unit to ever lace it up in the NFL, and Mullin said, “In one six-game stretch, the Bears defense scored 27 points. The six opposing offenses over that span totaled 27 points.”

Chicago led the NFL in total and rushing defense that season, and only finished third in passing defense because opponents were forced to throw so often after they faced insurmountable deficits. Chicago held 14 of its 19 opponents to 10 points or less and featured eight different defenders who scored during the 1985 campaign.

Former coach and commentator John Madden described the defense, per Mullin: “That ’85 Bears defense was the most dominant thing I’ve ever seen. Even the Steelers. I went against those Steelers. Those ’85 Bears were more dominant that the Steelers.”

The defense was so talented that it often overshadowed an offense that averaged 28.5 points a game and featured running back Walter Payton, who is largely considered one of the greatest players in the history of the game. Sweetness ran for 1,551 yards that season, even though it was his 11th in the league.

RED MCLENDON/Associated Press

Even McMahon made his only Pro Bowl that season and threw for a career-high 2,392 yards.

The on-field dominance culminated in a 46-10 beatdown of the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX. The Patriots only managed 132 total yards during the game, some of which came with the reserve defenders playing out the string in the fourth quarter because the outcome was well in hand.

Buddy Ryan (the father of Rex and Rob Ryan) was the defensive coordinator for the Bears, and Sherman said he was “a central focus of the film.”

Sherman said the 81-year-old Ryan is dealing with health concerns, is in a wheelchair and is “limited in speech,” but the defensive coordinator is featured in the film when Singletary pays him a visit.

Sherman set the stage and passed along a quote from the director: “The scenes between Singletary and Ryan are immensely powerful. Ryan even flashed his old linebacker the signal for the famed 46 defense…‘It was incredible,’ Hehir said. ‘They still were communicating through the game.’”

The film details a letter from the players to owner George Halas asking to keep Ryan after then-coach Neill Armstrong was fired in 1981, a feud between Ditka and Ryan, their eventual acceptance of each other and the “deep affection between Ryan and his players that hasn’t dimmed through the years,” per Sherman.

The documentary also discusses the death of Payton from liver disease and bile duct cancer, the health troubles McMahon experienced as a result of playing football and taking so many hits and just how popular the Bears were for fans even outside of Chicago.

Even 30 years later, the legend of the 1985 Chicago Bears continues to grow.

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