BY MIKE DITKA with Rick Telander
Thirty years, huh? It seems impossible that it’s been that long, that the Bears haven’t won a Super Bowl since we did in New Orleans. But that’s how life is. You only get a few opportunities, and you’d better grab them.
Should we have grabbed more with the great team we had? Yeah, probably. Absolutely. But we won that one Super Bowl, and it was a great accomplishment — especially when you consider we went 18-1 and outscored the teams in the playoffs 91-10.
What I’ll always remember and cherish are the players, the men who came together to get us to the top of the mountain. You can talk about coaching all you want, but you can’t win without great players. Now, they were as different as different can be, but they wanted to win — all of them. You take Steve McMichael and Mike Singletary, a tough, tough tackle and our Hall of Fame middle linebacker.
McMichael was like a Harley-Davidson biker. Singletary was like a minister. I think he might have been a minister, might actually have had ministry papers. I don’t think they ever had a conversation that lasted more than seven seconds. So what? They respected each other, and they both had huge hearts.
See, that brings up stuff like the NFL combine, which, thank God, we didn’t have back then because neither of those guys would have impressed anybody at a ridiculous meat market like that. Singletary was short and wore glasses. How do you think the computers would have handled that? Those combines are unadulterated bull[bleep]. You lift weights, jump around, run 40s, take IQ tests. You think that can tell you who’s going to be a great football player? How many times do they hand you pencils on the field?
Anyway, we had great camaraderie and leadership on that team. Jim Finks and Jerry Vainisi had gotten us players like Dan Hampton and Willie Gault and Jim Covert and Wilber Marshall and Mark Bortz.
And there was that defense — ‘‘the 46,’’ named after Doug Plank, the safety who had been there when the system began. That was Buddy Ryan’s naming of it because he called everybody by their numbers, like, ‘Hey, No. 72!’ for Fridge. Or even, ‘‘Hey, Fatso!’ That was Buddy.
And there was a division, sort of, between offense and defense because everybody wanted it so bad. It was intense. Sometimes I got so mad because the defense was beating up on the offense in practice to the point we could barely get anything accomplished. I told Buddy: ‘‘I don’t think we play the Bears. Are they on our schedule?’’
Buddy and I coexisted, and we used the talent around us to get better. We drafted to our needs, and all I can say is, ‘‘Look at that defense.’’ Incredible.
Gary Fencik led the secondary with Dave Duerson, and Les Frazier and Mike Richardson were great corners. Richardson could be a little out there. ‘‘L.A. Mike,’’ they called him, because he was from Los Angeles. But I think he’s doing good now, all cleaned up. I think he’s got it straight.
Then think of those linebackers. Singletary, Otis Wilson and Marshall. Incredible. And the defensive line, with Hampton, Richard Dent, McMichael, Mike Hartenstine and Fridge. So what can the other team do? The quarterback had no time to throw. Teams kept everybody in to block, and
their only hope would have been to use a lot of receivers, split them out. Only Miami really changed things up like that. But they had a great quarterback, Dan Marino, a
Hall of Famer, and his talent was a difference-maker.
It’s talented players, not coaches, who win things. I mean that. Our defense, when it was on the field, those guys didn’t come out. First down, third down, it didn’t matter. Fencik led the back four, Singletary led the front seven.
And on offense, if quarterback Jim McMahon had stayed healthy, who knows what we could have done year after year? But that’s life. And to have a player like Walter Payton, pound for pound the strongest player I’ve ever seen. Just amazing, and he was such a strong individual.
You know, we didn’t reinvent the wheel; we just let these guys go. Walter never stopped, never quit — ever. And it wasn’t all drudgery, either. We had fun. Those guys played a lot of jokes on each other. Hell, they played ’em on me. Walter had this high voice, and he used to call me on the office phone and say he was this woman, Juanita.
He was the strongest of all, and for him to be the first gone from the group, it tears at you. But my memories of him are all good.
And when you talk about fun, how about the Fridge? If you didn’t like him, you didn’t like anybody. And as big as he was, putting him in the backfield, it was physics. He blocked, he caught a pass, he threw one. He wanted to kick field goals, too. Serious! He’d be out there practicing with Kevin Butler.
I’m so proud of that team. Yes, it’s too bad we didn’t win more. I don’t dwell on it anymore. You’re not promised anything in life. What a great time that was for the Bears.