Thursday, January 13, 2011

1985 Bears Flashback: "It Didn't Matter What We Scored"

Twenty-five years ago yesterday, the 1985 Bears punched their ticket to Super Bowl XX in New Orleans with a resounding 24-0 victory in the NFC championship game. That game is described below in an excerpt from the recent book Heydays: Great Stories in Chicago Sports.

     The Bears hosted the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC championship game on January 12, 1986. It was a suitably cold and windy day in Chicago, and the Rams looked as if they longed for the temperate climes of southern California. Bears defensive end Dan Hampton said he could see defeat in their eyes even at the opening coin toss. When the Rams won the flip and elected to receive, the crowd of 63,522 cheered, figuring the Bear defenders would push them backward.
     From the start, Los Angeles quarterback Dieter Brock (10-for-31 passing) and running back Eric Dickerson (17 carries for 46 yards) were wholly ineffective. Dickerson, supposed to be the man who would eventually break Walter Payton’s lifetime rushing mark, had gained a playoff-record 234 yards against Dallas the week before. The Bears held him to less than three yards per attempt and forced him to fumble twice. “If they would have run him more,” said defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan, who had predicted three fumbles by Dickerson, “he would have had three.”
     In the third quarter, Dickerson and Bears middle linebacker Mike Singletary—Southwest Conference rivals at S.M.U. and Baylor, respectively—renewed their acquaintance in the Rams’ backfield. Dickerson had just taken a handoff when he blasted into Singletary filling the gap and stopped dead in his tracks; he moved not one inch forward after meeting up with the Bears’ middle linebacker. “I like this kind of party!” Singletary shouted to the Rams. “I’m going to be here all day.”
     Bears quarterback Jim McMahon, meanwhile, was brilliant. Despite the weather, he hit on 16 of 25 passes for 164 yards. On the Bears’ first series, he ran 16 yards for a touchdown on a play that was called as a pass. Later he passed for a touchdown on a play called as a run. “The coach sent in a play I didn’t agree with,” McMahon said, “so I called my own.” His 22-yard strike to Willie Gault put the Bears ahead 17-0, and the outcome was decided. The Bears would be NFC champions.
     The fans began to chant: “Super Bowl, Super Bowl.” Late in the fourth quarter, the hapless Brock dropped back to pass and was flung to the turf by Richard Dent. The ball popped loose. Linebacker Wilber Marshall picked it up at midfield and headed into Rams territory with Otis Wilson escorting him. Just then, it started to snow.
     Marshall and Wilson romped 52 yards to the Los Angeles end zone all alone, while the crowd cheered both them and the snow. As the final minutes ticked away, the Bears briefly abandoned the business-as-usual demeanor that had characterized them all year. The embraced one another on the sideline, and head coach Mike Ditka congratulated each man individually. Safety Dave Duerson asserted that Ditka even became choked up. The final score was 24-0.
“The way we were playing defense,” said Ditka, “it didn’t matter what we scored.”
The Bears became the first team ever to post back-to-back playoff shutouts.
     The Bears were headed to New Orleans for the first Super Bowl in franchise history and their first championship game since 1963. They would make the trip worthwhile.

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