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1985 Bears Coverage: Win today could show they are NFL’s 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.

Win today could show they are NFL’s best

Kevin Lamb

Originally published Nov. 17, 1985

It hasn’t seemed to dawn on the Bears that they’re the best team in the NFL.

They’ve heard it. They don’t argue. They just can’t forget two years ago their record was 3-7, not 10-0.

“That cockiness is not here that you’d expect on a 10-0 team,” cornerback Leslie Frazier says. “I think we all realize how fleeting that fame can be if we don’t keep winning.”

So the Bears have kept their up-from-hungry mindset, like a guy who keeps riding the subway after striking oil. They feel they have to struggle through a 16-0 season and a Super Bowl championship to prove they’re no longer doormats.

When they talked about playing at Dallas today, they talked about the “opportunity.” Never mind that Dallas is 7-3 and the Bears are 10-0. Dallas has been part of the NFL’s elite. The Bears may be there now, but this is their opportunity to show they belong there.

“If you played nobody and you won, everybody would give you no credit,” coach Mike Ditka said. “If you play a good team and you win, then I think you ought to get some credit.”

The Bears are curious, too. This view from the top is new to them. They know they’re good, but they’re not sure how good.

Higher standards

“We’re an unhappy 10-0 team,” Gary Fencik says. “I think that’s good. It means our standards are higher.”

Their passing game, which carried them through the early weeks, has wobbled for a month. Their defense and running game have picked up the slack, but the defense still is smarting from its troubles in September.

“We don’t have anything to be cocky about,” defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan says. “We’re still trying to prove this is a good defensive team.”

They’re not where they want to be on the calendar, either. It’s November, not January. They’re 10-0, not 16-0 or even 14-2. They’re playing to clinch the division crown today, not a Super Bowl trip.

Last year’s bonus

Last year, they set their sights on winning the NFC Central. They didn’t quit after doing that, but they thought of everything extra as an unexpected bonus.

When they reached the NFC championship game at San Francisco, they were as surprised as anyone. My, isn’t this nice. One game away from the Super Bowl. Imagine that.

“Last year, we kind of stumbled into it,” guard Mark Bortz says. “We didn’t realize exactly where we were. By the time we got to San Francisco, it was too late to see how close we were to really
accomplishing something. Nobody wants to take a chance that we’ll throw it away if we get there again.”

This year, the Bears think of the Super Bowl as part of the season. They’ll feel deprived without it.

“It’s like the guys know they have a mission, and it’s not just to go 16-0,” Frazier says. “Whatever you do in the regular season, it’s not important unless you win the Super Bowl.”

The playoff experience last year was good for the Bears, says Cowboy coach Tom Landry. “They proved they can play with anybody,” he says. “Maturity comes with winning and gaining confidence. When you start doing that, you start taking games as you need to take them all the way.”

The confidence wasn’t obvious to former Charger Cliff Thrift when he joined the Bears in training camp. “Apprehensive” is how he describes the Bears of summer.

“We had a lot of holdouts then, so that was in the back of everybody’s mind,” Thrift says. “But once we started preparing for games and winning them, everybody got more relaxed and confident in
what we were doing.”

With each win, there is a more obvious blend of cockiness that comes from winning and insecurity that comes from knowing it hasn’t been enough. The roster makeup, with most players starting at least three seasons but playing no more than seven, breeds experienced confidence and youthful hunger.

“I think a certain amount of confidence and cockiness is not bad,” Ditka says. “You don’t want to get to the point where you say, `We’ll roll our helmets out next week and they’ll be scared to death of it,’ but I think being assured and feeling good about it is not a bad thing.”

The Bears have felt good enough about themselves to say flatly they were better than several opponents. They said enough to fill clipboards in Minnesota, Tampa and Green Bay.

They’re beating people and offending them, too. “We weren’t so offensive a couple years ago when we were 3-6,” Ditka said.

It wasn’t much fun to be the harmless butts of jokes. They remember. Earlier this season, Gary Fencik kept talking about all the IOUs the Bears had to call back, starting with San Francisco for last year’s championship game and working back.

What appears as cockiness is more a pent-up anger. After swallowing pride for so long, the Bears are ready to spit venom. “Let ‘em get ticked off,” linebacker Otis Wilson says. “We can get ticked off, too. The way we get ticked off is with our helmets. We shut down a team’s offense.”

Praise from Landry

Every victory may not have been suitable for framing, but even that’s not all bad. As Landry says, “I think Chicago’s a good enough team to win when they’re not playing quite as good as they’d like, and that is the mark of a team that has a chance to go to the Super Bowl.”

The Cowboys were never 10-0. Neither were the Raiders. Nor the Steelers.

“I really think the players understand the essence of winning and losing now,” Dan Hampton says. “We were a .500 team for years and years, but now the thing that really matters to these guys is making the plays and making sure we get a win each and every week.

“We don’t necessarily play the best wire to wire, but the bottom line is, we find a way to win. For many years, Minnesota was so undermanned but they always found a way to win. Dallas was the same way. They’d flop around for three quarters and beat you in the fourth quarter.

Ahead at whistle

“I think this team has taken the same challenge. We’ll rassle with you for three quarters, and when it comes down to the final whistle, we’ll be ahead.”

Can they keep doing it? That’s the question the Bears hear most. In a 16-game season, isn’t it normal for a team’s performance to dip once or twice?

“I hope not,” Ditka says. “I don’t think you can afford to do that in the National Football League. We talked early in the year about every game’s going to be a dogfight, and it’s kind of caught on.”

Dallas has IOUs dating back to 1971, the last time the Bears beat the Cowboys. Atlanta next week? The Falcons are 1-9. Yes, but they beat the Bears two years ago. Even the Colts, the other losing team on the schedule, beat the Bears last August.

“You can’t convince me we have to lose,” Hampton says. “We talked about losing for a lot of years. Now we talk about winning.”

They talk about it desperately – not as if they have six games to kill before the playoffs, but as if they have a six-game deadline to play a satisfactory game.

“I think we’re going to peak at the right time,” Frazier says.

“We just want to be the best,” Mike Singletary says.

When people remember the Bears of 1985, Singletary says he doesn’t want them saying, “Well, they were a pretty good team.” Nope. He wants them saying, “They were the best. Not just of 1985. The best of all-time.”