1985 Bears Coverage: McKinnon’s return ‘magic’

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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.

Brian Hewitt

McKinnon’s return ‘magic’

Originally published Sept. 1, 1985

The return of wide receiver Dennis McKinnon coincided with the return of the Bear offense last night at Soldier Field.

It was no coincidence.

The Bears scored 45 points, amassed 452 yards and beat the hapless Buffalo Bills by 31 points.

“It was magic,” McKinnon said.

It was more than that, said Bear president Michael McCaskey. “It’s not any mystery,” he said. “Dennis runs his patterns well and he blocks like a demon.”

“We’re a different team with Dennis McKinnon in there,” said quarterback Jim McMahon.

McKinnon caught only two passes for 32 yards against Buffalo. And he didn’t play in the second half.

But, said Bear coach Mike Ditka, “Dennis gives us a nice flair.”

Yes, and the Grand Canyon is a nice ditch.

McKinnon’s first reception produced 11 yards to the Bills’ 29 and helped set up the touchdown that gave the Bears a 14-0 first-period lead.

In the second period McKinnon beat Buffalo’s prize rookie, first-round cornerback Derrick Burroughs, for 21 yards.

But the play that sold the critics on his recovery from his most recent arthroscopic surgery (July 4) occurred between the two receptions.

It was late in the first period on first and 10 from the Bear 24 when McMahon sent McKinnon long down the right sideline against fleet Bills cornerback Rodney Bellinger.


McKinnon burst free from Bellinger at the Bills’ 45. Only McMahon’s overthrow prevented a touchdown. McMahon was characteristically furious with himself.

But, said McKinnon with an understated grin, “The acceleration was there.”

It had been there ever since Tuesday when McKinnon finally returned to practice after fluid on the surgical knee had hindered him through much of training camp. “I knew if I could beat our defensive backs in practice, Buffalo would be no problem,” McKinnon said. “And it seems when I come back we win.”

No brag, just fact. McKinnon originally injured the left knee last season. After starting the first 12 games, he missed the last four because of arthroscopic surgery. The Bears were 8-4 with him, 2-2 without him.

His return in the playoffs coincided with the Bears’ 23-19 upset victory over Washington. Again, it was no coincidence. Against the Redskins he caught four passes for 72 yards and one touchdown.

Two weeks later Ditka took a group of Chicago writers out to dinner in San Francisco before the Super Bowl. The player’s name that kept coming up in his conversation was McKinnon.


Ditka’s main concern with McKinnon has always been durability. It is a concern borne of respect. McKinnon plays with the intensity of a Walter Payton but he doesn’t possess Payton’s rugged body.

But with the regular-season opener one week away, McKinnon is, for now, healthy.

“No swelling in the knee,’ he said. “The quickness is there. And it didn’t hurt when I cut.”

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