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.
Halas had brought him home to right the team
Originally published Jan. 27, 1986
This was the man many said was too volatile to be a head coach in the NFL.
This was the man who seemed ready to prove them right when he scorned his detractors and tried to re style a metal locker after a frustrating loss – only to re style the bones in his hand instead.
George Halas had brought him home four years ago to right the Bears’ course, to take them to the Super Bowl.
Mike Ditka didn’t let the old man down.
Sunday morning. Super Bowl morning.
It began the same as any other morning for Ditka. He went to church. And after his personal prayers, he left to say them again with his men at a team service.
The late, television-dictated start for the game left many more hours until kickoff. But Ditka had been ready to play days earlier.
“Let’s get on with it,” he had said. “We’re looking forward to it. I hope it’s the kind of game people appreciate.”
That meant old-style football. The kind his Bears play. The kind he teaches. The only kind he knows. And the only kind Halas would tolerate.
Someone asked Ditka what the old man had said to the Bears before their 1963 championship game.
“He usually had something to say to us before every game,” he answered. “If I remember correctly, he said if we played the kind of football we played all year, we should let the chips fall where they may.
“The term Halas used was `Bear football.’ That’s important. There’s something to it. It’s something that’s played on more than talent. It’s pride in what you do.”
Someone asked Ditka what he would tell his men before this Super Bowl XX.
“I’m not going to give them a pep talk. They know who the opposition is and what this is. That ought to motivate them.”
He walked onto the Superdome floor at 3 p.m. and started clapping.
Around him were the Bears he had grilled and guided through a near-perfect season. It was now time for one more word of
encouragement. He rubbed their shoulders and patted their backsides as they passed him like thoroughbreds, champing at the bit to start.
Ditka was ready, too. He walked to the 50-yard line and stopped at midfield, over the NFL logo. He wiped his mouth with a handkerchief, chewed his ever-present gum and looked up.
Raymond Berry walked up to him, and the two head coaches talked. Berry once had been Ditka’s coach, when Ditka was a tight end with the Dallas Cowboys and Berry an assistant coach there.
Berry left. Then Ditka’s boss, Michael McCaskey, joined him at midfield, followed by Bear general manager Jerry Vainisi, and then NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle.
Ditka stood calmly as the TV cameras focused on him, hands behind his back, watching his team go through its warmup as an artist would study his creation.
Walter Payton passed Ditka and the two spoke. It was 3:30 p.m. when he left with his team.
One more hour.
Like a nervous father awaiting the birth of his child.
Like a caged lion waiting for the chance to break loose.
He paced the sidelines throughout the game because it was all he could do until the victory was assured.
In four years as head coach of the Bears, Ditka learned to temper his emotion. He showed that now.
He put an arm around Jim McMahon as the quarterback left the field when the Bears fumbled on the second play of the game. And when the Bears got back the 3 points they had surrendered to the Patriots, he barely changed the resolute look on his face.
When Matt Suhey brought the Bears their first touchdown in the first quarter, Ditka gave the air one short, sharp punch, then turned his back and walked down the sidelines.
When the defense swarmed around Buddy Ryan like the followers of a guru getting their marching orders, Ditka stood aside, arms folded, head down, like the commander-in-chief who lets his field general implement the battle plan.
With less than 8 minutes to go in the first half, Ditka jabbed the air again in delight as McMahon went in for a touchdown, then paced over to get a drink.
He mopped his brow when Leslie Frazier went down after a tackle in the second quarter, and paced until Frazier finally arose. And he paced as quickly when Mike Singletary went down after getting accidentally blind sided by William Perry.
He dropped his emotional shield as the seconds wound down in the first half, yelling to the offense to stop the clock to give the field goal unit time to score.
And, after Butler did with 3 seconds left, Ditka abrupted marched off the field with his troops.
Thirty minutes to a championship.
To the end, he remained calm.
He clenched his fist again in elation when McMahon carried in the team’s third touchdown in the third quarter, stopping his pacing briefly when MVP Richard Dent offered his hand to shake, a sign the victory was sealed.
His walk quickened in delight when Reggie Phillips intercepted a Steve Grogan pass and carried it for a touchdown, then again when Perry lumbered in for yet another one.
He never flinched when the Fridge lifted him on his shoulders at the end.
“This was football,” he said afterward, sweat streaming down his face. “There were great performances by everyone. I don’t think the game was ever in question.”
“It was easy to coach good talent,” he said, crediting his players for the championship. Then he praised Chicago.
“It’s a proud city, a great city. Frustration has been there a long time. They’ve been shell-shocked for a lotta years, but tomorrow they can welcome back the world champions.”
And when someone asked how this compared with his own success as a player with the last champion Chicago Bears in 1963, he answered the question – and those who doubted Halas’ decision to hire him:
“This is the greatest thrill because I’m sharing it with a lot of people.”