Super Bowl XX at 30: Remembering the Bears’ greatest day
CHICAGO – Cold January days come and go, year after year, decade after decade.
Mostly it’s a time to hibernate and dream of the spring that is still a few months away. These days often start and finish without much distinction or remembrance.
But one of these days, late in the first month of the year, still lives on with the glow of the mid-summer. Its memories are vibrant even though it happened not years, but rather decades, ago.
That’s Jan. 26, 1986.
This was no ordinary January day.
It was on this day 30 years ago when the Chicago Bears claimed their first, and so far only, Super Bowl championship. Businesses in the city and suburbs closed early before the "46" defense shut down the New England Patriots at the Louisiana Superdome.
"We had great players on both sides of the ball," remembered 1985 Bears fullback Matt Suhey when talking about the 30th Anniversary on CLTV's "Sports Feed" on Monday. "But that defense was phenomenal. The way our offense controlled the ball made them even better."
That combination led the Bears to the franchise's first Super Bowl relatively easily. After a few close games early in the season, the Bears dominated a majority of their opponents on their way to a 15-1 record.
When they got to the playoffs, they were even more dominant, crushing the Giants and Rams by a combined score of 45-0 and allowing just 301 yards of total offense to win the NFC title.
After two weeks of anticipation, the game arrived in New Orleans with a Bears-heavy crowd in the Superdome and a then-record 90 million people tuned in for the game on NBC.
NOT A DOMINATING START
Was this a day when the Bears dominated from start to finish? Not exactly.
On the second play of the game, running back Walter Payton uncharacteristically fumbled the football and the Patriots recovered. Tony Eason, the quarterback for New England, had Stanley Morgan open for a touchdown on their first series, but he dropped an easy score.
Tony Franklin converted a 36-yard field goal to give the Patriots the early lead.
On the next series the Bears were driving, but a bad pass by Jim McMahon bounced off the chest of New England defender Don Blackmon. Had he caught it, there was little in the way to stop him from a touchdown. Instead the Bears tied the game at three on a Kevin Butler field goal.
But that was the first and only time that the Super Bowl felt like a close contest.
THE "46" RISES
Late in the first quarter, the Bears defense started to make its move, and it didn't stop until the end of the game.
On the second play of their third drive, defensive end Richard Dent got to Eason for the team's second sack of the game and forced a fumble. Dan Hampton recovered and the Bears turned it into a field goal to grab the lead for good.
New England's next offensive play had the same result, except this time it was running back Craig James who was stripped of the football by Dent and Mike Singletary made the recovery. Suhey scored on a sweep two plays later to make it 13-3.
With New England sputtering on offense -- even when Eason was replaced by Steve Grogan after going 0-for-6 passing -- the Bears own unit, led by McMahon, started to widen the gap. The quarterback completed a 59-yard drive with a touchdown dive from two yards out to make it 20-3, and he led another 72-yard drive to set up Butler for his third field goal of the day.
It was 23-3 at the break, and the rout really hadn't even started just yet.
SO LONG, PATRIOTS
Patriots head coach Raymond Berry had led his team on an improbable run through the 1985 NFL playoffs. As the fifth and last seed in the AFC, New England won three consecutive road games --including one over the Dolphins in Miami -- to reach the team's first Super Bowl.
Hope would seem easy for that team to keep even if they were down by 20 at halftime. But the Bears crushed that spirit quickly.
After the defense sacked Grogan twice on their opening series of the second half, McMahon made his first big play through the air as he hit Willie Gault with a 60-yard pass out of his own endzone to get the Chicago drive going. The "Punky QB" finished what he started with his second rushing touchdown of the day to make it 30-3.
Known for their ability to score themselves, Reggie Phillips got the Bears defense on the board the following series as he took the deflected pass 48 yards untouched for another Bears score. The lead was now 34, and it appeared the man wearing that number would get his own chance to shine as the Bears marched down the field again.
THE FRIDGE ENTERS SUPER BOWL LORE
Set up by another Bears interception of Grogan, McMahon hit Dennis Gentry with a 27-yard pass to get to the New England one-yard line.
Instead of Payton getting the carry, however, it was William "The Refrigerator" Perry that saw the handoff come right at him. Already that season, the rookie from Clemson had scored on goal line situations, rushing in one score and throwing for another.
Perry didn't disappoint with his second carry of the day as he bowled through the Patriots' line for a touchdown, which he finished off with a giant spike. The score made it 44-3, but did spark some controversy since many felt that Payton should have gotten the chance so close to the goal line for the touchdown, considering his many contributions to the team's success.
Ditka would go on record later on to say that not getting Payton, who finished with 61 yards on 22 carries, score in the game was one of his biggest regrets as a head coach.
GIVE AND TAKE TO FINISH IT OFF
Disappointment came a bit to perfectionist Bears fans in the fourth quarter as the Patriots finally reached the end zone. Grogan finally put together a 76-yard drive that was finished off with an eight-yard strike to Irving Fryar for New England's first and only touchdown of the day.
The Bears wouldn't let that get away unpunished. Later in the quarter, the defense finished off the scoring when Henry Waechter sacked Grogan in the end zone for the safety to make it 46-10.
For the day the Bears finished with seven sacks, six turnovers and allowed just 123 total yards. For his efforts, Dent was named the game's MVP -- though the honor could have been shared by the eleven men on the field for 60 minutes that day.
CARRIED OFF INTO GLORY
They were not the best of friends even if their combination produced some of the best football in Bears history.
Defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan was up for the head coaching job of the team in 1982 when Ditka was given the job. There was tension despite success between the two from there on out.
Maybe that was shown when the final gun sounded. Ditka was carried off by a few players and not far away Ryan was hoisted onto shoulders as well.
Friends or not, the pair deserved the honor. They orchestrated what at that point was the biggest margin of victory in Super Bowl history and delivered the Bears their first NFL championship since 1963.
30 YEARS LATER, THE SIGNIFICANCE HASN'T CHANGED
When memories of the 1985 Bears and their crowning achievement come up, sometimes it's met with the good and the bad.
Sure, it's a happy memory because the charismatic team finished off their season in style. But it's also a subtle reminder that those teams never once reached a Super Bowl again as a dynasty was snuffed out in the NFC playoffs the next three years.
Since then the Bears have returned to the Super Bowl only once, when they lost to the Colts in 2007.
In some ways fans are forced to live in the past to find their team's greatest glory. There is no day better than today as No. 20 turns 30.
That cold January day 30 years ago can still warm a Bears' fans heart, even in the harshest of winters.