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.
Bears’ 1985 story: Diary of dominance
Originally published Jan. 3, 1986
Sources of inspiration aren’t always obvious, but that isn’t the case with the Bears of 1985-86.
Losing 23-0 to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC championship game Jan. 6 provided the dip for the chip on the Bears’ shoulder.
“We’ll be back,” coach Mike Ditka said. “Believe me, we’ll be back.”
APRIL 30: The Bears’ ascension into the national spotlight starts on draft day with the NFL’s most notorious pick in years, if not ever.
World, meet 319-pound William “Refrigerator” Perry, drafted with the 22nd pick in the first round.
For the record, Ditka and player personnel director Bill Tobin are for drafting Perry. President Mike McCaskey and general manager Jerry Vainisi are against drafting Perry.
“He’s got a chance of becoming a very dominating player,” Tobin says. “He’s also got a chance, if he doesn’t control his weight, of making us all look bad.”
JULY 21-28: A quiet offseason winds down with the return to pre-season camp at Platteville, Wis. Ditka is not a happy camper because players hadn’t come around to Lake Forest for offseason workouts as much as last year.
“It’s apathy,” Ditka says. “Apathy bothers me. Just remember, you’re only as good as your last game, and our last game wasn’t so God darned good.”
The unrest is evident in contract negotiations. Early holdouts are Mike Singletary, Richard Dent, Steve McMichael, Keith Van Horne, Perry, Al Harris and Todd Bell.
“Now is the time to say the present compensation system is a garden full of weeds,” McCaskey says of his hardline approach.
All will sign before the season except Harris and Bell.
Defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan says the Bears wasted a first-round pick on Perry.
JULY 29: Quarterback Jim McMahon shows up for media day looking as if he had gotten lost on his way home from Neo’s. After he botched an attempt at cutting his own hair, receiver Willie Gault stepped in. The result is something like a Mohawk with a tail. “I don’t care what people think,” McMahon says.
AUG. 9: Bears lose exhibition opener 10-3 to host St. Louis. Perry gets a quarterback sack. “William Perry’s going to be a great football player,” St. Louis guard Doug Dawson says.
Although the play doesn’t count because of penalties, McMahon runs for a first down – then he runs out of bounds. “A year ago, I suspect he probably would have turned it up and tried to get away from the guy who was chasing him,” Ditka says of his quarterback, who is fully recovered from last season’s lacerated kidney.
AUG. 17: Bears play whipping boys to Indianapolis, 24-13 at Soldier Field. “We’re far from where we have to be,” Ditka said. “We won last year because we played as a team. All of a sudden, we’re
starting to split up again.”
AUG. 21: Singletary, the last of the holdouts that will sign, reports after the Bears do what they vowed they would not do: sweeten his contract.
AUG. 23-25: Walter Payton says, “This is my 11th year. And nobody takes me seriously. I guess I’ve been the Rodney Dangerfield of running backs.”
Ditka, meanwhile, says the Bears are too selfish and don’t have a big enough chip on their shoulder.
AUG. 26: In a Monday night game full of brawls, the Bears lose their third straight exhibition game, 15-13 to the Cowboys at Irving, Texas, when Rafael Septien kicks a 24-yard field goal with three seconds left.
AUG. 31: In their final exhibition game, the Bears pummel Buffalo 45-14 at Soldier Field. The game marks the return of Dennis McKinnon, who had arthroscopic knee surgery July 5.
SEPT. 2: Without explanation Ditka cuts 10-year veteran kicker Bob Thomas – who set six team records – in favor of rookie Kevin Butler. After Butler was drafted in the fourth round, Ditka said the job was Thomas’ to lose, and in exhibition games and practices they performed about equally.
SEPT. 7: During a team meeting, Ditka campaigns for equal representation from defense, offense and special teams. “Mike stressed that it’s not the defense, and it’s not the offense. It’s the Chicago Bears,” defensive lineman Dan Hampton said.
SEPT. 8: While Pete Rose is tying the record for hits in a career at Wrigley Field, the Bears come
back to beat Tampa Bay 38-28 amid boos in the season opener at steamy Soldier Field.
With the Bears trailing 28-17 early in the second half, Leslie Frazier runs an interception back 29 yards for a touchdown.
McMahon is named NFC player of the week on offense after throwing for 274 yards and two touchdowns and completing 23-of-34 passes. Payton runs for 120 yards.
“We found out we can win when the defense doesn’t shut a team down,” McKinnon said. “We don’t have to pray for them to hold everybody.”
SEPT. 9: McMahon wakes up with a sore neck and attributes it to celebratory head butts with
SEPT. 15: Bears bounce New England 20-7 at Soldier Field, but McMahon has a pinched nerve in his back and spends the night in traction. He blames it on the way he slept and says he thought three
sessions with a chiropractor straightened it out.
Payton plays sporadically with bruised ribs. Perry begins to play in place of Mike Hartenstine in certain situations.
SEPT. 18: Ditka says he’ll start Steve Fuller in place of McMahon, who leaves the Bears locker room in a rage. Ditka says chances are “remote” McMahon will play at all because of muscle spasms in his upper back and a leg infection.
SEPT. 19: “McMagic,” the headline reads. On a Thursday night nationally televised coming-out party for the Bears, McMahon comes off the bench with the Bears trailing 17-9 with 7:32 left to play in the third quarter. He throws touchdown passes on his first two plays in the Bears’ 33-24 victory over the Vikings at Minnesota. In five minutes and 23 seconds McMahon throws touchdown passes of 70 yards to Gault, and 25 and 43 yards to McKinnon to put the Bears ahead 30-17.
“All I could think about was the third game of the 1977 World Series when Reggie Jackson hit three home runs,” tight end Emery Moorehead says. “It was real inspirational.”
SEPT. 20: McMahon goes back in the hospital for two days because of his still infected leg and upper back spasms.
SEPT. 22: Dexter Manley tells the Sun-Times how Washington can beat the Bears Sept. 29: “We’re gonna have to knock Walter Payton out of the game.”
SEPT. 23: Ditka: “Who the heck is Dexter Manley?”
SEPT. 29: Who the heck are the Washington Redskins? The Big Play Bears romp 45-10 at Soldier Field to give the Redskins their worst defeat in 24 years. Although the Bears fall behind 10-0, lose the
battles of possession time and yardage and Payton carries for only six yards, the game is never close after Gault’s 99-yard kickoff return sets off the first of four second-quarter touchdowns. Payton throws a 13-yard touchdown pass to McMahon.
Gary Fencik’s 12 tackles and Mike Richardson’s 90-yard interception return to the Redskins 1 lead the defense. Perry starts on defense for the first time.
SEPT. 30: Dent hints at a walkout and says he will ask to be traded if his contract can’t be renegotiated or revised.
OCT. 2: The weekly pro football writers’ poll votes the Bears the NFL’s No. 1 team. “I think the Bears are the best team in the league right now,” Tampa Bay coach Leeman Bennett says.
OCT. 6: The Bears fall behind 12-0 but win a 27-19 squeaker at Tampa Bay, marking the fourth time in five games they come from behind to win. When the Bears need the ball, they get an interception from Dave Duerson and a fumble recovery from McMichael. Moorehead’s eight catches for 114 yards is the best day of his career. Perry is used on kickoff coverage, where he makes two tackles.
OCT. 10: Perry practices an impromptu goal line drill.
OCT. 13: After hailing the 49ers as the best team in football, the Bears dismantle them 26-10 at San Francisco to avenge last season’s NFC championship game loss.
Perry is the ball carrier on the last two plays. “I just wanted to see if Perry could run with it,” says Ditka, who denies the plays were used to pay back San Francisco for having guard Guy McIntyre play running back in last season’s victory.
Forty-Niner quarterback Joe Montana is sacked a career high seven times – two each by Dent and Wilber Marshall.
“When they beat us last year, they didn’t show much courtesy or dignity,” said Payton, who rushed for 132 yards. “We thought about that all during the pre-season.”
OCT. 14: On his way to his Grayslake home after the Bears’ charter flight lands from San Francisco, Ditka is arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol and other moving violations. Fans bombard State Police with phone calls.
“I just think there are rights and wrongs in life. I’m just a person,” Ditka says.
The Park District announces vendors at Soldier Field will not sell beer after halftime of Monday night games.
OCT. 17: Every Bears game the rest of the year is a sellout.
OCT. 21: A star is born. Or is it a galaxy? With the help of Monday night exposure, the Bears become the nation’s darlings by sitting on Green Bay 23-7.
Perry runs one yard for a touchdown, blocks for two more and levels a return man on the opening kickoff, prompting Sun-Times columnist Ray Sons to call it “the best use of fat since bacon.”
The Soldier Field crowd chants Perry’s name in goal line situations. “I was having fun,” says Perry, who gets the offensive game ball. McMahon leaves the game with 10:29 remaining with a
sprained ankle and bruised buttock. The defense, led by Gary Fencik’s 11 tackles and an interception, has four interceptions and goes through three Green Bay quarterbacks. Payton has 112 yards rushing.
OCT. 22: The phone of Jim Steiner, Perry’s agent, never stops ringing.
OCT. 28: You wouldn’t know it from the locker room gab, but the Bears beat the Vikings 27-9 at Soldier Field. “We’re capable of putting 60 points on somebody and we haven’t done that yet,” says
Payton, who rushes for 118 yards.
A television microphone picks up Ditka screaming the magic word while trying to get a player off the field.
Marshall has two of the Bears’ five interceptions, and Perry gets his first NFL sack.
OCT. 29: The Bears are publicly entertaining thoughts of a 16-0 season.
OCT. 31-NOV. 2: The Bears and Packers send each other media love letters. “It seems like as soon as the game’s over, they can’t wait to get in and run their mouths off to the media,” Hampton says.
NOV. 3: The Bears’ 16-10 victory at Green Bay is the apex of the WP – Walter Payton and William Perry – show.
NFC offensive player of the week Payton has his best day since 1977 with 192 yards on 28 carries. Perry goes in motion at the 4 and catches a touchdown pass. “I don’t want to let it get inside my head and get a big head,” Perry says.
Several plays erupted between fights and late hits. “This was World War III without nuclear weapons,” Ditka says after his team scores nine fourth-quarter points to overcome a 10-7 deficit.
NOV. 4: Perry mania is detracting from Payton admiration. “In a sense it’s a travesty because Payton is the greatest player ever and William’s more or less an oddity,” Hampton says.
NOV. 6: Hampton signs a four-year, $2.7 million contract. McMahon, who has a sprained shoulder and is sore all over, misses practice all week.
NOV. 8: Ditka pleads not guilty but is found guilty of driving under the influence of alchohol in Schaumburg Circuit Court, and is sentenced to a year of court supervision and fined $300.
NOV. 10: The Bears’ “other” fullback, Matt Suhey, runs for 102 yards and Payton gets 107 as the Bears maul the Lions 24-3 at Soldier Field. Fuller starts in place of McMahon, but a 21-m.p.h. wind (“Bear weather,” it is called.) favors the ground game, and the Bears run on their first 21 plays.
NOV. 11: “Bears’ Goliath survives David,” the headline reads. On NBC-TV’s Late Night with David Letterman, Perry tells the host he eats just one meal a day, he wouldn’t mind returning a kickoff and he throws like Roger Staubach.
NOV. 14: Tickets worth $19 for the Bears-Cowboys game are selling for $250 in Dallas.
NOV. 17: Bears 44, Dallas 0 at Irving, Texas.
“I don’t think I could have dreamed it any better,” Singletary says of the Bears’ division clincher and Ditka’s first victory over the Cowboys, a team he played for and coached for 13 years.
The stars are so many that every player receives a game ball. Payton gets 132 yards rushing. Hampton deflects a pass on the one and Dent intercepts and scores. Wilson has five tackles and two sacks, and knocks Cowboys quarterback Danny White out of the game twice, the last time for good.
When the offense struggles early, Ditka approaches starter Fuller and, “He put his arm around me, comforted me and said, `Just play, kid,’” says Fuller, who goes nine-of-24 for 164 yards.
The Refrigerator tries to carry Payton into the end zone and is called for a 10-yard penalty for illegal use of hands. “Next week,” says Ditka, “we’re going to put him on his shoulders.”
Wilson and Duerson start “barking like junkyard dogs,” at the Cowboys, Wilson says. “It got us so fired up, we kept it up.”
NOV. 20: “The perfect game will be when everybody grades out at 100 percent or at least 95 percent,” Singletary says. “I think we’re close.”
NOV. 23: The deadline for signing players passes with Harris and Bell on the outside. “We made them an offer we felt was competitive and reasonable and within our structure,” Vainisi says. “When they didn’t accept it by the time the season started, in our opinion, the price went down.”
NOV. 24: “They must have felt like it was Sherman’s army marching through them,” Ditka says of the Bears’ 36-0 crushing of Atlanta at Soldier Field. The defense has allowed just three touchdowns in seven games.
Payton rushes for more than 100 yards – 102 – for the seventh straight game to tie the record for consecutive 100-yard games. “Gentlemen, as callous as I am, I’m just as determined to get him his
eighth and ninth,” Ditka says. “When his name is written down, it ought to be all by itself – above all the others.”
McMahon doesn’t play again and Fuller throws for 151 yards.
The Fridge does a high jump to score his third TD of the season.
NOV. 26: A feud is developing between ABC’s Monday night commentators and the Bears. O.J. Simpson has said Ditka’s offense wasn’t imaginative and Payton wasn’t a very “instinctive runner.”
NOV. 27: McMahon passes without pain for the first time in three weeks. Wilson is named NFC defensive player of the month.
NOV. 30: “This is a bunch of looney tunes,” receiver Ken Margerum says. “It’s a bunch of selfish players who all got together and decided to be selfish for the team first.”
Says McCaskey: “Football ought to be a place where eccentricity can flourish. Like Max McGee once said, `When it’s third-and-14, you can take the milk drinkers and I’ll take the whisky drinkers all the time.’”
DEC. 2: Trying to become the first undefeated team since the 1972 Dolphins, the Bears fall 38-24 at the Orange Bowl. The Dolphins score one more point in the first half than the Bears defense allowed in the last seven games.
“Nobody’s invincible. Nobody’s perfect. We’re going to bounce back. It will be good for us,” Ditka says.
With 44 seconds to spare, Payton breaks the 100-yard barrier to shatter Simpson’s record in front of Simpson and the largest TV audience in the history of Monday Night Football.
Fuller starts, but McMahon – not McMagic – steps in when Fuller sprains his ankle with 12:24 left to play.
DEC. 3: The national media deluge is over. “The bubble burst,” Ditka said. “This is what it should be.”
DEC. 5: The Art Institute’s bronze lions don Bears helmets. Within one week vandals attempt twice to steal the helmets and succeed once.
Ditka says an indoor practice facility is the Bears’ No. 1 priority. During inclement weather, the Bears are practicing indoors at Morton East High School, an hour from Lake Forest.
DEC. 7: Question: Are all the endorsements and appearances distracting the Bears?
Perry is on a Bob Hope show and McDonald’s commercials. The offensive linemen pose in a poster for Chevy dealers called “The Black and Blues Brothers.” Fencik is a Sun-Times columnist.
DEC. 8: The Bears are booed for the second time this season while struggling past Indianapolis 17-10 in a yawn of a game at Soldier Field. “I would have been booing too,” center Jay Hilgenberg says.
Punter Maury Buford, who was acquired in the pre-season from the San Diego Chargers, gets a game ball because of two punts to the Colts’ 4 that helped set up Bear touchdowns. McMahon is back, Payton gets 111 yards, and Perry gets into a scuffle with left tackle Chris Hinton.
“It’s hard to keep playing these games like there’s a lot riding on them,” Hampton says.
DEC. 10: Ryan can’t wait for Pro Bowl voting to be over with. “Then we’ll go back to playing disciplined defense instead of everybody trying to be a hero,” he says.
DEC. 11: Gault, Michael Richardson, Wilson, Dent, Payton, Fencik, McMahon, Singletary, Fuller, Perry and assorted other Bears come out with a funky record and video called “Super Bowl Shuffle.”
DEC. 15: Bears impress on the road by beating the Jets 19-6. The score was 13-6 before Butler’s third and fourth field goals in the last four minutes. Butler has 28 field goals for the season – a Bears record.
Dent gets two sacks and two forced fumbles. The Fridge rumbles seven yards with a fumble recovery.
Payton’s record string of nine consecutive 100-yard games ends as he rushes 28 times for 53 yards.
DEC. 18: Eight Bears will play in the Pro Bowl – Payton, Hilgenberg, Dent, Jimbo Covert and Singletary will start, and Duerson, Wilson and Hampton will come off the bench.
DEC. 22: “We couldn’t have beaten a playoff team today,” Ditka says after the Bears shake off host Detroit 37-17 in the regular-season finale. “We’d have been eliminated. We played very poorly. Terrible.”
Perry shakes Detroit by waddling 59 yards with a fumble recovery. Dent has two sacks and two forced fumbles.
Ditka lightens up some the next day, apparently with his mission accomplished. Witness Suhey: “A lot of guys are scared to death we’re going to lose in the playoffs and that’s a good sign.”