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1985 Bears Coverage: Bears’ McMichael is always on top of his game

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’ McMichael is always on top of his game

Ray Sons

Originally published Nov. 17, 1985

“Just another game,” Steve McMichael told me. I didn’t believe him, because “Mongo” McMichael is as much Texas as chili and beans, the Alamo and oil wells. Then he explained why Bears vs. Dallas
was no different:

“I look at all of them like it’s my last game. I could get hurt, and it would be my last game, and I’d look back on it and say I didn’t get my mind right before the game and didn’t play up to par in the last game I ever played in my life, and I’d be letting myself down.”

Then you must be up for every game?

“I am.”

McMichael, 260 pounds of defensive tackle, is playing in the shadow of a refrigerator right now. But he and his fellows of the Bear defensive team who are smaller than William Perry will be recognized, as they draw closer to the Super Bowl, as the most colorful collection of personalities in pro football.

“I don’t really give a stink about all this media coverage,” he insisted the other day in Lake Forest, after Irv Cross and a CBS crew had finished taping an interview to hype today’s game which most of the country will see. “That’s not what I play football for. I play for myself, for how it makes me feel inside.”

How’s that?

“Every barstool quarterback can relate to this,” he said, his broad face breaking into a grin. “It’s like going into a pool hall, putting your quarters up, sinking the eight-ball and winnin’ a beer. Goddam!”

Yeah, and every guy on a barstool would give one of his physical appendages to be you out there.

“Yeah,” he agreed. “That’s one of the feelings it gives you, knowing you’re one of the few in the world that can do what you can do.”

McMichael came to the Bears from Freer, Texas, midway between Corpus Christi and Laredo, by way of the University of Texas, where he was all-America, and the New England Patriots, who didn’t appreciate him.

Does this son of Texas have any special feeling about the Cowboys?

“I’ve never liked Dallas, because my father didn’t like Dallas. Every time he bet on them they lost.” That father, an oilfield land manager, “was at every game I played until the day he died.”

In Texas, football runs a close fourth behind God, country and family in the competition for a man’s attention. But other members of the Bear defense don’t have to be from Texas to be up for this game. Buddy Ryan, the Oklahoman who thinks up their game plans and sends them into battle, says: “They like to prove they’re the best. To prove you’re best, you beat the best.”

The statistics that count most say the Bears have the best defense in the National Football League, since they are unbeaten and have allowed the fewest points. Dallas is tied with the Bears for No. 2 in offensive yardage, averaging 370.8 a game.

McMichael is the best man to ask about the effectiveness of defensive coordinator Ryan’s recent reshuffling of the defensive line, since he plays left tackle, with 308-pound rookie “Refrigerator” Perry on his right and his best buddy, Dan Hampton, on his left. Hampton moved to end two games ago, when Perry was moved into the starting lineup at right tackle. Richard Dent remained at right end but Mike Hartenstine, 32, and 11 seasons a Bear, had to accept the consequences of aging and take a back seat.

“It helps our run defense but takes away from our pass rush right now,” McMichael says. “William’s a big cement post in there. You’re not going to move the guy, not be able to run on him. But he’s
learning the pass rush, still learning to recognize when they’re going to pass and when run.”

So you don’t get as much inside rush?

“Exactly. Of course, you take Hampton out and put anybody in there, it’s going to take away from the inside rush.”

Ryan knew that when he did it. “I like Hampton inside tackle. He gets up in the passer’s face quicker, because it’s a shorter distance. Plus, he can go from sideline to sideline and make plays. I think he’s the best tackle in football.” Hampton, 6-5 with the wingspan of a 747, also is tough to throw over.

Then why move him to end?

“We didn’t have any choice.”

Meaning maybe head coach Mike Ditka ordered that Perry be a starter?

“I made the decision, nobody else,” Ryan emphasized. “We had to move Dan because 76 can’t play end, and neither can 72. The rest of the guys weren’t doing the job.” To understand Ryan, you have to realize he calls every living thing but his wife by a jersey number, a post position (he also raises thoroughbred horses) or a nickname that often has a cussword attached. McMichael is “76,” Perry “72.” The “rest of the guys” who “weren’t doing the job” means 6-7 Tyrone Keys, whom Buddy calls “Too Tall,” and Hartenstine, of whom Buddy speaks with fond respect: “Mikey’s just gettin’ old. He’s still an important guy.”

Ryan thinks the new arrangement shows promise. He hedges his bet by playing a lot of his famous “46″ defense, in which Hampton still plays inside.

McMichael wonders how Dallas quarterback Danny White will react to Hampton at end, with the Refrigerator in the middle. “It’s going to be interesting to see if he is going to step up in the pocket or drop back and hope Dan’s knees are too slow to get there.” Hampton’s knees creak and complain a lot more than they did when he was drafted out of Arkansas, seven seasons ago.

Ryan’s Cowboy concerns go beyond White. “It’s more important to contain Dorsett, Hill and the tight end,” he says. “Those are their big-play people.” Tony Dorsett, Tony Hill and Doug Cosbie make things happen for Dallas.

Though Ryan is a big fan of Jim McMahon, he isn’t ready to throw in the towel in this game or any game McMahon can’t play. “We’ve won a helluva lot of games with a super defense and Walter Payton,” he says with merited pride.

Defense is something you can count on every Sunday. If the Bears win today, they will do it with defense. And barstool quarterbacks in pool halls across the land will raise a glass toward the screen and McMichael and say with proper respect: “You guys sank the eight-ball, Mongo.”