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1985 Bears Coverage: Basically, Bears are at their best

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.

Basically, Bears are at their best

Kevin Lamb

Originally published Jan. 13, 1986

The Bears raised welts on their opponents and spirits in Chicago again yesterday. They rolled another shutout off the assembly line, 24-0 over the Los Angeles Rams at Soldier Field.

“It’s basically the way we’ve won all year,” coach Mike Ditka said.

But this one was different. This one, said safety Dave Duerson, “was the first time I’ve seen Mike with glassy eyes after a game.”

This one put the Bears in the Super Bowl.

They’ll play Jan. 26 at New Orleans against the New England Patriots, whom they beat 20-7 Sept. 15.

It will be Chicago’s first major league championship game since the Bears won the NFL title in 1963. The occasion is rare enough to start cats barking and sheep baying at the moon.

It has been that kind of season since September, with defensive players barking and a defensive lineman running for touchdowns. The Bears expected to get this far. They have gone 17-1, reducing their schedule to a checklist.

“We’re 0-0 again,” Duerson said.

“We’ll still come up short if we don’t win the last one,” Emery Moorehead said.

Jim McMahon was 4 years old when the Bears won their last NFL championship. He gave them their next chance by running for a touchdown on their first drive and passing for another – when he changed a play Ditka called midway through the third quarter. For good measure, he also thumbed his nose at Commissioner Pete Rozelle.

But the Bears are a team where the quarterback plays straight man to the rookie defensive tackle in commercials. They’re a team that held 13-of-18 opponents to 10 points or less. They live on their defense, the first ever to shut out two straight teams in the playoffs.

That defense took Eric Dickerson away from the Rams, which is like taking a bow away from a violinist. After that, the only question was whether the Bear defense would outscore the Ram offense.

It did. When Richard Dent smacked the ball from quarterback Dieter Brock, Wilber Marshall took it 52 yards for the final touchdown. He was the 23rd Bear and 10th defensive player to score this season.

By then, the fourth quarter had turned into a long curtain call for the Bears. The players waved to the crowd in thanks at one point. The crowd even cheered the first snowflakes.

The NFL’s outlaw team had spray-painted a big smile on the face of its city. “Chicago deserves it,” Ditka said.

Actually, the game was beyond reasonable doubt for the last 50 minutes. The Bears led 10-0. They had established the Rams couldn’t run and the Bears wouldn’t need to.

Game of take away

“When we took the ball away from Eric, it was our football game,” Ditka said. “It wouldn’t have mattered what we scored, because they weren’t going to score points.”

Dickerson finished with 17 carries for 46 yards. It was his third-worst total this season and 202 less than he had against Dallas last week. His longest gain was nine yards.

Walter Payton’s numbers were lower, 32 yards on 18 carries, but the Bears didn’t lean on him. They came out passing in front of the Rams’ zone coverage. On the first two drives, they passed on 5-of-6 first downs. McMahon completed all five for 71 yards. His touchdown and Kevin Butler’s 34-yard field goal made it 10-0.

“I was glad we came out throwing,” said McMahon, who hit Payton seven times for 48 yards. “I think that loosened them up. I think they expected us to come out running.”

The early touchdown was supposed to be a pass on third-and-eight, but McMahon scrambled to his left. After downfield blocks by Dennis Gentry and Moorehead, he dived across the left corner for a 16-yard TD.

“That’s what makes Jim such a threat,” Ditka said.

There’s another reason. “Guts. He’s got guts,” Ditka said. McMahon used them in the third quarter when his 22-yard pass to Willie Gault put them ahead 17-0 with 6:56 left in the third quarter.

The drive began with Eric Dickerson’s fumble. Otis Wilson forced it and Mike Richardson recovered at the Bear 48. When they reached the Ram 35, they called timeout on fourth-and-six. Ditka changed his call from a crossing pattern to a sprint-out pass.

Payton caught it for 13 yards on the right sideline. The play worked so well, McMahon called it to the left side two downs later, on second-and-10. Never mind that Ditka had called a draw. “I didn’t think the draw would get what we needed,” McMahon said.

Gault lined up to the left, ran straight downfield and faked a cut to the inside. Cornerback LeRoy Irvin bought it. No one was near Gault when he caught the pass in the left corner of the end zone.

“That put us out of reach,” McMahon said.

On the Rams’ next two possessions, Leslie Frazier made an interception and Dan Hampton made the first of three Bear sacks. The Rams would go as far as Brock took them. But his passing suggested that somewhere in Brock’s house, there is an empty wastebasket with balls of paper lying around it. He completed 10-of-31 for 66 yards.

Poor timing

The Rams’ only serious threat was late in the first half. They enjoyed it so much, they lost all track of time. The half ended before they could try for a short field goal.

They got the ball when their punt bounced backward off Bear blocker Reggie Phillips. Jerry Gray covered it at the Bear 21.

But with 10 seconds left, they snapped the ball from the 12. Brock said he thought there were 13 seconds left. He thought he could call timeout after the play and try the field goal.

By the time Dickerson caught it at the 10 and was tackled at the 5, the clock showed two seconds. Any Ram could have called timeout, but no one caught an official’s attention.

The Rams’ longest gain was 15 yards with 11 1/2 minutes left. They finished with 130 total yards. Three of their nine first downs were in the last five minutes.

“I knew we had their run shut down early in the second quarter,” Duerson said. “Because our guys were winning it up front.”

Those guys were the same defensive linemen coordinator Buddy Ryan said the Rams had whipped in three straight games. “We’ve got a lot of attributes,” Hampton said, “but I think our greatest one is pride.”

Their strength helped, too. They took on the big Ram blockers chest-to-chest. “They were keeping those guys off me,” linebacker Mike Singletary said. “Once the back made his commitment, I could go to him.”

The victory was the Bears’ 33rd in 42 games after a 6-13 start under Ditka. Did he think they could go so far in his four seasons? “Yes, but I’m an egomaniac,” Ditka said.

Most winners are. “The way we’re playing,” said Wilson, “It’ll take a miracle to beat us.”