It was more than a football team. It was a movement.
The 1985 Chicago Bears should easily rate the favorite team of any Bears fan old enough to have seen them play. The fact they are the franchise’s only NFL champion since 1963 makes them an easy choice, but it goes well beyond winning.
Never in the history of the NFL has a single team so captivated the football public, as well as the non-football public.
A perfect storm of sorts developed in 1985 along the shores of Lake Michigan. The Bears’ roster had more characters than Disney studios. They were talented, brash and blossoming as the league’s youngest team. They had motivation, along with a fan base starved for victory. It all came together to form something special.
None combined complete domination with wild fun like the ’85 Bears.
Hall of Famers Walter Payton, Mike Singletary and Dan Hampton, Hall of Fame hopeful Richard Dent, the Bruise Brothers offensive line featuring tackle Jimbo Covert and center Jay Hilgenberg, nasty linebackers Wilber Marshall and Otis Wilson, blazing wide receiver Willie Gault and quarterback Jim McMahon led the league in cockiness and wins.
McMahon defied coach Mike Ditka and commissioner Pete Rozelle, head-butted his offensive linemen, and showed no regard for his body.
Gault organized the “Super Bowl Shuffle”—the famed rap video proclaiming the Bears Super Bowl-bound when they had merely clinched home field playoff advantage.
There was the big rookie, 310-pound William “The Refrigerator” Perry, playing like a man 50 pounds lighter.
The nicknames spoke for their personalities: “Danimal,” “Mongo,” “The Colonel,” “Sweetness,” “Silky D” and Jimmy Mac, the Punky QB.
“We were pretty much a circus,” Ditka wrote in, “In Life, You Kick Ass: Reflections on the 1985 Bears and Wisdom from Da Coach.”
Ditka might have been the biggest character of all, and an underlying feud he had with defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan added daily to the soap opera. Ditka got the head coaching job Ryan wanted, but when team founder George Halas hired Ditka, he said Ryan had to be defensive coordinator. The two barely avoided strangling each other and put together the highest-scoring offense in team history, along with a defense widely recognized as greatest of all time.
Greatest defense ever
That defense held 14 of 19 opponents to 10 or less, had 80 sacks, blanked both NFC playoff opponents, and could have shut out New England in Super Bowl XX except for a lost Payton fumble near the Bears’ red zone and a late touchdown allowed by the second string defense.
Over the previous five years Ryan had concocted a gambling, blitzing scheme named “the 46”, for the jersey number of former strong safety Doug Plank. The defense sometimes put two outside linebackers on one side and sent blitzers from all angles with the idea of outnumbering blockers. Ryan finally had the talent perfect the scheme, and the brains on the field to lead it with Singletary.
The Bears drew motivation all season from an embarrassing 23-0, 1984 NFC title game loss to San Francisco, and it was there where Perry’s legend began. Ditka felt 49ers coach Bill Walsh rubbed his nose in it by using guard Guy McIntyre as a blocking back in that game. So in 1985, he put Fridge in the backfield at the end of a 26-10 revenge beat-down of the Niners. Then he used Perry to settle a score against another antagonist, Green Bay coach Forrest Gregg. Perry ran for a TD on Monday Night Football against the Pack, then caught a TD pass in the rematch.
The fun was more violent on the defensive side. Week by week, the Bears’ defense embarrassed the opposition and had a running body count of quarterbacks knocked out of games.
They embarrassed Dallas, America’s Team, 44-0, and made Cowboys QB Danny White look more like Betty White. Then they claimed they were now the true America’s Team.
City of losers no more
Chicago had been a town of losers. The pre-Jordan Bulls had been horrible dating back to the late 1970s, and had never made a championship series. The Blackhawks hadn’t won a Stanley Cup since 1961. The White Sox hadn’t won a pennant in 1959. The Cubs were, well…the Cubs.
It was a city starved for victory. Instead of mere victory, it was as if the Bears treated fans to a feast, while the rest of the league had to starve and watch them eat. Fans delighted in seeing their wild, raucous team trash opponents, waste quarterbacks and win 15 regular-season games.
For 22 years, Bears fans suffered through the likes of Bobby Douglass, Ken Grandberry, Don Rives, Bob Avellini, Bo Rather, and Ricky Watts. They had seen Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers perform brilliantly and lose. Playoff football always meant watching Dallas or Washington.
Now football had not only become fun, it provided a chance to get back at every other city’s fans for 22 years of total frustration. It seemed like this cast of talented marauders handed Bears fans a license to thumb their noses at the rest of the NFL each week.
When the playoffs started, the sense of entitlement and joy grew to greater proportions.
The easy Super Bowl XX victory seemed almost anticlimactic.
Then, the perfect storm subsided. Different parts that made this all possible dispersed. Gault and Marshall left as free agents, McMahon kept getting hurt, Payton retired, Ryan left for Philadelphia, and Ditka’s ego became larger than Perry—who ballooned to 350 pounds.
But almost 25 years later, that one, beautiful, joyous romp through the NFL remains unmatched for dominance and fun.