Friday, September 10, 2010

1985 Bears Flashback: "Second Best Isn't Good Enough for Me"

     The Bears are about to embark on the 2010 season, and most fans are only guardedly optimistic. The triumvirate of team president Ted Phillips, general manager Jerry Angelo, and head coach Lovie Smith doesn't inspire much confidence. They talk a lot about seeing "improvement" from week to week, and when they are really feeling their oats, they mention possibly making the playoffs. They do not talk much, if at all, about winning the Super Bowl.
     Twenty-five years ago, of course, it was an entirely different story. The Bears were setting off on one of the greatest seasons in their history, in Chicago history, and in the entire history of professional sports.

     The 1985 Bears’ journey to Super Bowl XX in New Orleans actually began more than a year before, in the 1984 NFC championship game. The San Francisco 49ers ended Chicago’s best season in two decades with a decisive 23-0 victory at Candlestick Park. As the teams were leaving the field, 49ers safety Ronnie Lott called out, “Next time, bring your offense.”
     The Bears entered the 1985 season with Lott’s taunt ringing in their ears. “I don’t know about you guys,” coach Mike Ditka said on the first day of training camp, “but second best isn’t good enough for me.”
     The Bears believed they were ready to advance to another level, but there were some questions to be answered. Could their famed “46” defense, the finest unit in the league, withstand the loss of safety Todd Bell and defensive end Al Harris to salary holdouts? Could their quarterback, the tough and savvy Jim McMahon, stay healthy long enough to realize his potential? Could their featured running back, the great Walter Payton (already the NFL’s all-time leading rusher), continue to perform with his usual brilliance for an 11th season? Could they go all the way with the youngest team in the NFL—whose 45 members included 24 with two years’ experience or less, 10 of them rookies?
     Week by week, the Bears turned every question mark into an exclamation point. Even though Ditka later famously asserted that “only cowards and losers” live in the past, we are going to relive some of the highlights of that glorious season in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

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