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1985 Bears Coverage: Did Buffalo's TDs ring a Bell with anyone?

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.

Did Buffalo’s TDs ring a Bell with anyone?

Ron Rapoport

Originally published Sept. 2, 1985

Exhibition football, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

Take the Bears’ 45-14 victory over the NFL’s designated morale builder, the Buffalo Bills, at Soldier Field Saturday night.

Once the candle-lit romance of this first pre-season win faces the harsh light of dawn with a hangover and no makeup, you are troubled with the ever nagging question.

Is it the real thing?

“You’ve got to keep in mind,” said general manager Jerry Vainisi when he was offered tentative congratulations after the game. “We were facing the team that came in last last year.”

Indeed, the Bills’ 2-14 record was the worst in the NFL in 1984, but that was not the only reason Vainisi had cause to temper his jubilation.

While others were celebrating the Bears’ first real offensive production of the summer, his thoughts may have been dominated by two long second-period scoring passes from Buffalo quarterback Vince Ferragamo to wide receiver Andre Reed.

One came when rookie Bear cornerback Reggie Phillips fell down. The second went through an area theoretically guarded by veteran Mike Richardson. Though these touchdowns accounted for Buffalo’s only points of the evening, they served to underscore the problem that could be the Bears’ downfall this season.

Which is to say: Todd Bell, where are you?

Vainisi talks tough about the missing All-Pro safety and his fellow absentee, linebacker Al Harris, who are asking for a sum of money he finds excessive.

“This is our team,” he said with jaw firmly set. “The other two guys are history.” But however harsh these words may appear, it must be noted that there have been limits to the Bears’ rigidity.

Just when the two sides seemed to be at their worst impasse, Vainisi flew off on a heretofore unpublicized mission into the heart of enemy territory last week.

“I went to Los Angeles after our game with Dallas last Monday to see Howard Slusher,” Vainisi said of Bell’s agent, the very mention of whose name sets general managers throughout the NFL to trembling.

That this trip was deemed futile before it began was best summed up by Mike Ditka. Though the Bear coach must long for Bell’s return the way schoolchildren yearn for summer, he counseled Vainisi not to go.

“I don’t know why you’re bothering,” Ditka said. “All you’re doing is frustrating yourself.”

Ditka on the money

Though Vainisi’s meeting with the redoubtable Slusher turned out to be pleasant enough, Ditka proved correct. Bell remains in Ohio. The Bears’ defensive backfield remains suspect.

Nobody can predict how this will end. Vainisi says the Bears have made their final offer and the common wisdom is that Bell must return sooner or later. Under the NFL’s inflexible free-agent system, he has

no other choice if he wants to play. Indeed, Vainisi expected him back for last week’s game against Dallas.

But Slusher is a tough nut who has held his players out before. Tony Dorsett is playing for the Cowboys today only because he got a new agent. Slusher didn’t blink. Dorsett did.

Slusher has dropped his original demand that Bell receive $950,000, first to $750,000 and most recently to a bargain-basement price somewhere above $600,000. Vainisi won’t reveal the Bears’ counter-proposal, but does say, “There are a lot of Pro Bowl players making $350,000 or $400,000.”

If Vainisi brought one breath of hope back from his trip to Los Angeles, it was Slusher’s promise that he would take the Bears’ proposal to Bell and let him decide for himself.

“He said if he wins, he wins,” Vainisi said. “If I win, I win.”

Since there has been no further communication from either Slusher or Bell, Vainisi can only assume he lost.

In the meantime, however, there are other areas of concern for the Bears. A controversy has grown among the coaching staff about which running back, or backs, to keep as Walter Payton’s backup.

Given Payton’s durability – not to mention his brilliance – over the years, this would not seem to be of overwhelming concern, but that was before a serious look was given to Thomas Sanders.

Sanders impressive

A quick and shifty runner – Sanders rushed seven times for 59 yards Saturday – the ninth-round draftee from Texas A&M has developed a devoted following among certain members of the Bear brain trust. Others prefer third-year man Anthony Hutchison. Dennis Gentry also figures in this equation, but is likely to make the team because of special teams skills.

If it seems unfair to devote so much attention to question marks and controversy in the wake of what was, after all, an impressive Bear performance, then let us end by noting a couple of satisfying constants.

Anybody concerned over whether Jim McMahon’s serious liver injury would cause him to be more tentative this season, could only have smiled in satisfaction at one third-and-five play in the first quarter Saturday.

Eleven yards from the goal line, McMahon circled to the right sideline and gained enough yards to go out of bounds unmolested with a first down inside the 5. Instead, he put his head down, butted straight ahead into the Buffalo defense and came away with a painful but satisfying touchdown.

On defense, there was Richard Dent sacking Ferragamo to force a fumble he then recovered that led to the Bears’ first touchdown, and later catching up with Greg Bell downfield just when the former Notre Dame runner seemed ready to break a long touchdown run. Not bad for a man with a bum hamstring.

“I was worried about pulling it during the game,” said Dent, who led the NFC in sacks last year. “Running after Bell hurt it more, but there are certain things you can play with and certain things you can’t.”

Now to find out if the Bears can play without Todd Bell.