Every day of the 2015 Chicago Bears season, Chicago Sun-Times Sports will revisit its coverage 30 years ago during the 1985 Bears’ run to a Super Bowl title.
’85 Bears recall perfect Dolphins
Originally published Nov. 22, 1985
This was before Mike Singletary looked up at the people fleeing Texas Stadium in horror when the destruction of the Dallas Cowboys was not yet official and yelled, “Don’t leave! I want witnesses!”
This was before William Perry picked up Walter Payton and threw him toward the goal line as if he were practicing for a dwarf-throwing contest.
This was before Jim McMahon became injured and Mike Ditka became mellow and Buddy Ryan became a genius and the Bears became the darlings of the Midway.
This was in 1972 when the Miami Dolphins won every game they played, including the Super Bowl. This was a level of perfection never achieved in the National Football League before or since. This is what the Bears are trying to do now.
“Let me tell you what the similarities between the Dolphins then and the Bears now are,” says Bob Griese when he answers the phone. Half an hour later, he is just getting warmed up.
Griese, it will be recalled, was the quarterback for those Dolphins. At least he was part of the time. For more than half the
season, he was injured, on the sidelines and watching Earl Morrall lead Miami to victory after victory.
But midway through the AFC championship game, Griese came off the bench and passed the Dolphins into the Super Bowl.
Two weeks later, he started his first game in 13 weeks and Miami beat Washington 14-7 to end its season with a 17-0 record.
Does any of this sound familiar? It should and Griese knows just how Jim McMahon feels when he sees Steve Fuller playing instead of him and the team winning convincingly anyway.
“Everybody’s down when they’re hurt,” says Griese, who dislocated his ankle in the fifth game of the 1972 season. “I think my attitude was I wouldn’t be playing the rest of the season. I was supposed to be back in three months. But my ankle was swollen and I wasn’t moving well.”
So Griese was as surprised as anybody when, with the score tied in the AFC championship game against Pittsburgh, Miami coach Don Shula told him he was starting the second half.
“I didn’t know until halftime when he said, `You’re going in,'” Griese says. “It was quite a move on his part. But he did that all year – he made the moves that had to be made.”
Shula made another controversial move when he picked Griese to start the Super Bowl over the veteran Morrall, who had done so well for so long.
“It was interesting to say the least,” Griese says of Shula’s decision. But he justified it by throwing a touchdown pass and running the Dolphin offense as if he hadn’t missed a game.
In retrospect, Griese believes the time he missed may have actually helped him.
“Sure, I hadn’t thrown that much,” he says, “but I hadn’t been bumped and bruised a lot either. My arm was fresh, my ankle was fresh and my mind was fresh.
“Sometimes the best thing to do is come out, sit on the sidelines, refresh yourself and recharge your batteries.”
What the Bears should learn from this, Griese believes, is not to rush McMahon for fear he might be rusty when he returns.
“You get your timing the first game back,” he says.
“You had all training camp, all season. You can get a lot of it back in practice. One game and he’s ready.”
But it wasn’t just in their quarterback problems that the Dolphins of 13 years ago resembled the Bears of today.
The first similarity – and in many ways the most important one – goes back to before their respective seasons started.
Miami lost the 1972 Super Bowl to Dallas 24-3 and Griese compares this to the Bears’ 23-0 defeat to San Francisco in last season’s NFC championship game. To come so close and have the door shut so convincingly can be a powerful motivator.
“After that Super Bowl loss, we sat and thought all we had accomplished had gone for naught,” Griese says. “We got beat and we
didn’t like it. So really, our season started with a loss the year before.”
As for the two teams themselves, it is hard to overlook the importance of their defenses.
Just as Miami did then, Chicago today relies to a great extent on a powerful and intriguing defense.
With the Dolphins, it was the No Name defense – a group of players who, once you got past Nick Buoniconti, Jake Scott and Dick Anderson, didn’t have any real stars. The Bears, on the contrary, have any number of Pro Bowl candidates. But both defenses were pre-eminent in their time.
“The Bears are a little more flamboyant, have a more dominant style,” says Griese. “I don’t think the Dolphins had that style. They were more workmanlike. They’d keep plugging, keep chugging and get it done. They were not braggadocious. And the Bears do it with their people up front. Their front seven dominate the game. I think we had more balance between the front seven and the back four.”
Griese points to one more similarity between his Dolphins and the Bears of today. The coaches set the proper tone.
“Shula did a very good job of knowing what was going on,” Griese says, “of doing what he needed to do and saying what needed to be said.
“He controlled the pulse of the team. His only thought was to get back to the Super Bowl and win it.”
Similarly, the Bears continually point to the relaxed atmosphere Ditka has created at practices. Griese is sure that the circus surrounding Perry is a part of it.
“Perry has got to help loosen them up,” Griese says.
“I’m sure he’s not doing it because he needed to score that way, but just as a diversion, because it’s fun. I’ll bet the players look forward to it.”
Almost as much as they look forward to trying to match the Dolphins’ record.