The people in Chicago have seen most of their local sports teams win a least one championship.
It may sound crazy to outsiders, but the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls teams that won six championships and the recent run made by the Blackhawks pale in comparison to what the Bears did during the 1985 season.
Even if the Cubs finally win a World Series, it won’t be the same as when the Bears won Super Bowl XX.
It wouldn’t come close.
Chicagoans talk about the ‘85 Bears in a different tone than the city's other champions. They weren’t just a team that won a title. They also brought the city together at a time when Chicago had fallen on hard times, needing uplifting and was facing some fierce socio-economic challenges.
People talk about that team like most people talk about their first car, or the first time they listened to their favorite album. Many of those guys are still beloved in the city, wherever they go.
By the time Chicago’s first black mayor, Harold Washington, was halfway through his first and only term and the burst of positive athletic energy that was Michael Jordan came upon the scene, the city already had its fair share of problems.
Believe or not, the violence was worse in the 1980’s than it is today. According to the Chicago Police Department’s statistical report, the city averaged 706 murders from 1985-86. In 2015, Chicago had 488 murders. Also, the crack epidemic hit the city especially hard.
One of the things that made this team special was how connected people felt to the players. They were visible in public, a part of the community, people had this sense that they could feel and touch them. Even the biggest stars were seen as everyday people who were in touch with the ills and struggles of the average person.
(Photo Credit: USA Today)
They became a source of inspiration in a time of turmoil and social frustration.
Defense was their staple and defining imprint. Throughout the team’s history, names like Dick Butkus and Bill George laid the blueprint for an aggressive and ferocious defensive style that came to define future Chicago Bears squads.
Any defense that plays well for a substantial period of time is often compared to the ‘85 Bears. Of course Pittsburgh’s “Steel Curtain” won more championships, but this team was liked by the media and loved by the fans.
The “Monsters of the Midway” is often one of the first teams brought up by NFL historians as of the league’s most fascinating.
The vaunted 46 defense -- the name of the Bears’ dominating alignment -- was named after safety Doug Plank, who wore number 46 for the Bears. The architect of the unit was defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan.
Ryan was a holdover from the previous staff from when Mike Ditka took over as head coach. Ryan was a maverick who did things his own way and he and Ditka often bumped heads.
The Bears ran off an impressive 15-1 record and instead of hanging their heads after a crushing loss to Miami late in the season, they defiantly recorded “The Super Bowl Shuffle” the next day.
Safety Doug Plank once told ESPN’s “Sportscentury” that the goal of the defense was to see how good the backup quarterback was. Eliminating the opponent's starter was a goal. In the playoffs, they pitched back-to-back shutouts against the Giants and Rams on route to the Super Bowl.
In fact, Buddy Ryan’s bandits only allowed 10 points in the playoffs that season. Also, they forced six takeaways in their 46-10 lambasting of the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX.
The diversity on the squad was encompassed by guys like “The Punky QB” (Jim McMahon), “Sweetness” (Walter Payton), “Samurai Mike” (Mike Singletary), “Sack Man” (Richard Dent), “Danimal” (Dan Hampton), “Mongo” (Steve McMichael) and “The Fridge” (William Perry), who all continue to be household names 30 years after the fact.
Five of the players on that ‘85 Bears team - Payton, Ditka, Hampton, Dent and Singletary - are in the Hall of Fame.
To most sports fans these days, Mike Ditka is the guy who falls asleep on air and gives tone deaf responses to sexual assault allegations on ESPN. But to folks in Chicago, Ditka is an exemplary coaching legend and a fiery defender of players rights.
He’s the last NFL championship coach the city has seen in over 30 years, and he also won a championship with the team during his Hall of Fame playing career. Not many have done that.
In The Windy City, Ditka is still “Iron” Mike. When their was talk of him running for a Senate seat against Barack Obama, many Bears fans said they would elect the revered coach.
Lost in everyone’s enamorment with the 46 defense was the fact that the offense was lethal and multi-faceted as well. Payton, speedster Willie Gault and Jim McMahon spearheaded the attack.
Gault had 1,300 all-purpose yards as a receiver and kick returner. Payton, who may be the NFL’s best running back of all-time, had over 1,500 rushing yards along with 480 yards in receptions. He also averaged close to five yards per carry. Zany Jim McMahon, with his ubiquitous headbands, rowdy demeanor and offensive behavior, passed for over 2,300 yards and had 18 total touchdowns.
The ‘85 Bears also had an effect on the NFL’s future coaching pipeline as former team members Mike Singletary, Leslie Frazier, Jeff Fisher and Ron Rivera, who is at the helm of this year's NFC champion Carolina Panthers, went on to become head coaches.
Many of Rivera’s teammates have stated that they are pulling for him to win this weekend's Super Bowl against the Denver Broncos.
The memories of the ‘85 Bears continue to deeply resonate with local fans.
To those who say that Chicago ought to let go, they ought to understand how fun and excitement the team brought to the city. The Chicago Bears had a good thing going once. It’s okay to reminisce every now and then.