January 26, 2010
In 1985, the Chicago Bears put together one of the greatest seasons in pro football history. Coached by Mike Ditka, they had blazed through the regular season with a 15-1 record, typically dominating opponents along the way – in one three-game stretch in November, they outscored the Lions, Cowboys, and Falcons by a combined total of 104-3. QB Jim McMahon (pictured below left), who missed three full games due to injury, provided leadership on offense along with legendary RB Walter Payton (1551 rushing yards, 49 catches for 483 yards receiving). But the heart of the team was its defense, under the direction of Buddy Ryan with his aggressive “46” scheme.
From the line anchored by ends Richard Dent and Dan Hampton to the linebacker corps that featured Mike Singletary and the backfield that included safeties Dave Duerson and Gary Fencik, there was hardly a weakness to be found in the defensive unit. The numbers sustained that impression – the Bears ranked at the top of the league in fewest points allowed (198), fewest total yards allowed (258.4 per game), fewest rushing yards allowed (82.4 per game), and had the best turnover ratio (+23).
Much media attention during the season focused on DT William “The Refrigerator” Perry, the 305-pound (or so) first draft choice. While initially dismissed by Ryan as “a wasted draft pick”, he worked his way into the defense as an effective run-stopper and was occasionally used on offense as a short-yardage fullback.
Despite any distractions caused by the animosity between Ditka and Ryan (Ditka inherited Ryan, who had been defensive coordinator for four years prior to Ditka’s arrival in 1982) and McMahon’s occasionally eccentric behavior, the team stayed focused on winning as it methodically rolled through the schedule, losing just once along the way (see Dec. 2). In the playoffs, the Bears shut out both the Giants in the Divisional round (21-0) and Rams in the NFC Championship game (24-0).
Their opponent for Super Bowl XX on January 26, 1986 was the New England Patriots. The Patriots, under Head Coach Raymond Berry, had finished with an 11-5 record and, due to tiebreakers, in third place in the AFC East. Still, it was good enough for a wild card spot in the playoffs, and they defeated the Jets, Raiders, and – most stunningly – the Dolphins to win the AFC title. While not in the same class as the Bears, they had a solid defense headlined by linebackers Andre Tippett and Steve Nelson, CB Raymond Clayborn, and FS Fred Marion. Veteran QB Steve Grogan had performed capably when starter Tony Eason went down with an injury, the offensive line boasted G John Hannah and OT Brian Holloway, and FB Craig James ran for 1227 yards.
The 73,818 fans in attendance at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, as well as those watching the telecast, anticipated a big win by the Bears, and that is what they got. The high point of the game for the Patriots came when Payton fumbled during the second play of the contest and LB Don Blackmon recovered for New England at the Chicago 19 yard line. However, TE Lin Dawson couldn’t catch Eason’s throw on the first play, and after going three-and-out, they had to settle for a 36-yard field goal by Tony Franklin. They would not score again until the fourth quarter, when it no longer mattered.
Coach Berry had hoped to surprise the Bears by coming out throwing, and the Patriots did so in their first six plays – the result was five incompletions and a sack. Meanwhile, the Chicago offense took command. McMahon threw a 43-yard pass to WR Willie Gault that set up a 28-yard Kevin Butler field goal. The Bears defense forced turnovers, including two fumbles on successive plays forced by Dent, and after a second Butler field goal and 11-yard run by FB Matt Suhey, the score was 13-3 at the end of the first quarter.
It was 23-3 at halftime, with McMahon having scored on a two-yard run and Butler adding a third field goal. New England was held to -5 rushing yards and -14 net passing yards for an overall result of -19 total yards and one first down in the first half. Eason had already been replaced by Grogan after going 0 for 6 passing and being sacked three times.
If there was any doubt that the Bears would prevail, it was removed in the third quarter as they accumulated three more touchdowns – one by McMahon, one on an interception return by CB Reggie Phillips, and one by Perry (to the annoyance of Walter Payton, who didn’t get to join the scoring parade in this, the only Super Bowl appearance of his long and great career).
WR Irving Fryar scored the only touchdown for the Patriots early in the fourth quarter on an eight-yard pass from Grogan. The Bears added two more points when reserve DT Henry Waechter sacked Grogan in the end zone, and the final score was 46-10. It was the biggest Super Bowl winning margin up to that time.
The Bears overwhelmed New England in every way, accumulating 408 total yards to 123. Richard Dent (pictured at right) was singled out as the game’s MVP, but the entire defensive unit had recorded seven sacks and forced four fumbles – all of which they recovered – plus two interceptions. As had occurred all season, the defense had overshadowed the offense, and certainly the offense benefited greatly from the turnovers and inability of the Patriots to move the ball. Jim McMahon completed 12 of 20 passes for 256 yards with no TDs or interceptions. Walter Payton had 61 rushing yards on 22 carries, and Matt Suhey was right behind with 11 attempts for 52 yards and a TD. Willie Gault (pictured at bottom) ripped the Patriots secondary for 129 yards on four pass receptions.
Playing catchup long after the game had effectively been decided, Steve Grogan completed 17 of 30 passes for 177 yards with the late TD and two interceptions. WR Stanley Morgan led the receivers with 7 catches for 70 yards. The Patriots ran the ball just 11 times for a grand total of 7 yards.
The forced coaching marriage of Buddy Ryan and Mike Ditka ended in the offseason when the brash defensive coordinator was hired to coach the Philadelphia Eagles; he was replaced by Vince Tobin. The Bears went 14-2 in 1986 but lost to Washington in the Divisional round of the playoffs. The Patriots again went 11-5, this time winning the AFC East, but also lost in the Divisional round.
The Chicago Bears displayed plenty of swagger and personality as they dominated the NFL from beginning to end in 1985; their rugged legacy of excellence has not dimmed over the ensuing years.