The Chicago Bears’ 1985 Super Bowl shuttle deposited them in New Orleans for a showdown with the New England Patriots, though the outcome of the big game — XX, for the record, played on Jan. 26, 1986 — appeared to be a foregone conclusion, at least for the Bears.
“Those guys were so sure they were going to beat New England that a lot of them treated it as a vacation,” said Jason Hehir, director of “30 for 30: The ’85 Bears,” an anniversary documentary scheduled to air at 8 p.m. Thursday on ESPN. “They came down there to have fun. There was no curfew until Thursday, so from Sunday until Thursday, they were going to (have fun). I think (defensive tackle) Steve McMichael told me, ‘Someone should’ve told me they put Everclear in those hurricanes,’ ” speaking, of course, of one of New Orleans’ more potent signature cocktails.
“When it was time to take care of business, obviously they did,” Hehir added.
Indeed. The final Super Bowl XX score was 46-10, a typically dominating performance by that edition of the Mike Ditka-coached Bears, 15-1 in the regular season by outscoring opponents by a better than 2-1 margin (456 points to 198). Punky QB Jim McMahon, future Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton and loveable oddity William “Refrigerator” Perry were the marquee names on the Bears’ offense, though the defense, led by linebacker Mike Singletary and coached by Buddy Ryan, is why there’s an ESPN documentary 31 years later.
Ryan, now in poor health, and Singletary provide some of the film’s most moving sequences, as the player visits the coach at his horse farm to rekindle memories of ’85 (and a few weeks of ’86).
But it’s the Bears’ legendary reputation as hell-raisers on and off the field that fills most of the film’s running time. Ryan’s 46 defense throttled opposing offenses, but neither Ditka nor Ryan — hardly allies in any cause — could stem their players’ high spirits. Or wanted to. The team’s outrageous-for-the-era “Super Bowl Shuffle” rap video was filmed the day after the Bears’ only 1985 loss, and many weeks before landing in New Orleans.
Actor Vince Vaughn, who narrates the documentary and served as one of its executive producers, was a teenager growing up in the Chicago suburbs when Bearmania hit.
“The Bears hadn’t been good for a long time,” Vaughn said. “Ditka, who was a guy that played there, had come home. So the table was set.
“It wasn’t just that the team dominated. There felt like a real friendship and something you don’t see with today’s teams, given the climate that they live in. These guys would say what was on their mind to the media.
“The city fell in love with them. They felt very Chicago. They felt very authentic. And people, myself included, didn’t just love the winning and what they did (on the field). They loved the dynamic and the personalities and the friendships that were very apparent there with that season.”
All remembered in loving detail in the film.
As is Super Bowl week in New Orleans, the lowlight of which was the hoax that put McMahon in locals’ crosshairs — literally, he feared.
“Jim enjoyed Bourbon Street,” Hehir said. “He enjoyed New Orleans. He was a public figure. He was out there every night until 3 or 4 in the morning.”
So he’d had very little sleep one morning when his hotel-room phone began to ring with death threats. Elsewhere in the team hotel later, Ditka lit into him for whatever he’d done.
According to Buddy Diliberto, who reported it just this way on a WDSU newscast, McMahon had called local women “sluts” and local men “stupid” on a Chicago radio talk show originating via remote from New Orleans.
He hadn’t, and Diliberto and WDSU later retracted the story. McMahon nonetheless practiced thereafter wearing a different number on his jersey to confound snipers.
“Nobody wanted to stand next to him,” Hehir said.
The non-scandal dovetails into a segment in which McMahon’s behavior that week is explained as calculated to relieve his teammates from media glare.
“I think Jim was crazy like a fox,” Hehir said. “I think he knew he could take these things on. Obviously, he didn’t foresee this incident, but he was happy to say crazy things and wear outlandish things so he could take the attention away from teammates who didn’t want that attention.
“Don Pierson, a veteran Chicago sportswriter, voted for him to be MVP that year because he felt he did more for his team off the field than he did on the field, in taking all that heat.”