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1985 Bears Coverage: 2 offensive stars pass on celebration

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.

2 offensive stars pass on celebration

Ron Rapoport

Originally published Sept. 16, 1985

Jim McMahon stood ramrod stiff, a sort of quarterback-en-brochette for whom the slightest untoward movement of head or body was agony.

“I might spend the night in traction,” he said. “I can’t go through another week like this. I just wanted to rip my head off a few times.”

Dennis McKinnon rubbed the latest bruise of his nether regions, a gift from a New England defense that had tried earnestly and unsuccessfully to keep him from catching passes and scoring touchdowns.

“Just another injury from another war,” McKinnon said. “The regular season’s the regular season. You’ve got to play.”

If ever two men deserved to be able to grin, McMahon and McKinnon qualified off their excellent and opportunistic performances in the Bears’ 20-7 victory over New England yesterday at Soldier Field.

But McMahon couldn’t smile and McKinnon didn’t really care to. The pain of the present inhibited the former, while concern for the future preoccupied the latter.

It seemed a shame that matters such as these put a damper on the celebration of the Bears’ second straight win of the young season. Especially when the continued success of the team’s newly liberated passing attack was cause for jubilation among fans who never thought they’d live to see the day.

But one look at McMahon – and a couple of words from McKinnon – were reason enough for sobriety. The record may say 2-0, but the prognosis is one of caution.

McMahon played much of the game with a painful upper back injury that flared up every time he turned his head. After throwing a touchdown strike to McKinnon and completing 13-of-21 passes for 232 yards, he finally came out of the game in the fourth quarter, leaving the Bears to hope against hope it wasn’t too late.

“It’s been hurting all week,” said McMahon, who missed seven games with injuries ranging from a fractured throwing hand to a lacerated kidney last year and might have been forgiven for thinking he deserved a pain-free season this time around. “I don’t know if it’s a pinched nerve or not.”

McMahon said the pain became severe after the Bears’ season-opening victory over Tampa Bay last week, and damned if he knows why.

“I don’t know if it was from the game or if I slept on it wrong Monday night,” he said while manipulating his body slowly and stiffly like a robot whose limbs might fall off from any sudden movements. “On Tuesday, I couldn’t move my head very well at all.

“It’s just sort of been a nagging thing. It’s been nagging all week long. But I’ve got to deal with it.”

A hit from a New England defender in the first quarter ruined any hope McMahon might have had of getting through the game with no further damage.

“It bothered me the whole game,” he said. “It screwed my delivery up.”

You could have fooled the Patriots. In the first half, when the Bear offense was at its best, McMahon was 10-of-16 for 135 yards and a 32-yard touchdown to McKinnon.

So shockingly easy was the Chicago march to a touchdown with the opening kickoff, in fact, that it wasn’t until New England’s lone touchdown in the fourth quarter narrowed the gap to 13 points that anybody realized there was still a football game going on.

This disparity between the Bears’ domination on the field and the narrow gap on the scoreboard bothered McKinnon.

“We only played two quarters of football again today,” he said. “In the second half, the offense was really sluggish. We can’t do that all year. I don’t know if it’s the play-calling or if the guys don’t care.”

McKinnon might have been thinking about himself. All five of his catches – he gained 73 yards on them – came in the first half, including the one he caught between two defenders near the goal line for a touchdown with only 3:03 elapsed.

“He did a great job of catching it, and he’s the last guy we would hit on that pass,” said coach Mike Ditka.

The catch was remarkably similar to a touchdown pass McKinnon pulled in last week in the Bears’ victory over Tampa Bay.

“Same action, same corner, same results,” McKinnon said. “I can’t believe it.”

Neither could many of the 60,533 in attendance. Nothing against McKinnon. He more than proved his worth last year. It’s just that in two games this season, he has caught nine passes, including two for touchdowns. Last season, he wound up with 30 catches and three scores. Walter Payton led the team with just 45 receptions.

While the Bears gained fewer than 154 yards per game through the air last season – 26th in the league – they have started off this season about 100 yards above that figure. And when Tim Wrightman caught passes of 49 and 25 yards, they marked two of the longest receptions by a Bear tight end in recent memory.

Something, it is clear, has changed.

“When we get guys wide-open, that’s the way the offense is supposed to work,” McMahon said. “They’ve got problems when we come in with four wide receivers. I’m glad we finally got that in our offense. They don’t know where we’re going.”

“Right now, we’re looking for the open guy, period,” said McKinnon. “It’s not necessarily throw to the guy the coach tells you to.”

But if different patterns and a different philosophy accounts for some of the Bears’ new reliance on passing, McKinnon sees another, more practical reason as well.

“Walter’s a little nicked,” he said of Payton’s bruised ribs. “We’ve got to utilize the other guys.”

Which is to say the guys who catch the ball.

McKinnon will be around to do that in Minnesota Thursday. McMahon’s participation is more problematical. And now that the Bears have decided to throw the ball with a vengeance, the last thing they need is something wrong with the man doing the throwing.