Even though it was the 1985 Chicago Bears who won Super Bowl XX, they actually won the game 30 years ago this week. I can remember it like it was yesterday.
I wasn’t a huge football fan before then. I am not ashamed to admit I totally jumped on that bandwagon that year. Not since my early childhood days of sandlot tackle football did I even care about “Da Bears.” I’m talking about the late George Halas/Abe Gibron/Jim Dooley era of losing seasons by a team with heart, in the shadows of Brian Piccolo and Gale Sayers.
I delivered groceries and did odd jobs around the neighborhood at 10 years of age just so I could save up the $27 to buy an “official” Dick Butkus jersey and authentic helmet set. It even came with shoulder pads! AND it came in a small! Being a little guy, THAT was a huge deal … I just had to have it!
It took a long time that summer to save up that huge amount of money, because most of what I earned came in the form of silver and copper. But I kept my eye on the prize, and slowly approached my financial end zone.
Butkus was my favorite player and I couldn’t wait to one day play like he did, and also grow that black mustache he had (It was years from that happening, but I eventually did sport a hairy upper lip when I graduated high school!).
My size made it virtually impossible to be a linebacker like Butkus, but that didn’t stop me from “calling” it when my bigger-than-me friends and I played two-hand tag in the alley behind my house. I don’t think I ever actually tackled anyone, but boy do I remember going down hard on that Chicago concrete a bunch of times! I really could have used that Bears helmet from Sears I was working toward!
My dad was a custom tailor, and he made clothes for a lot of “big shots.” One of his major customers was a close friend of my favorite Bear great, and this customer wanted to give Butkus some custom-made shirts as a gift. I’ll never forget that one Sunday in the summer of 1972 when that customer of my dad’s brought Butkus to visit the tailor shop. I would frequently spend Sundays with my dad as he built shelves or finished a suit while listening to the Bears (or Cubs) games, and I was there that day!
Butkus is a towering mass of a human, as much of a superhero in person as he was on the black-and-white, 12-inch television in my dad’s shop. I remember him smiling a lot, with his lower lip wetting that ‘stache. I timidly told him about my dream of wearing a big No. 51 on my back, and that I was close to buying a uniform kit.
“How close are you?” he asked. “I am about $5 away,” I whispered (remember, five bucks at that time was a bunch of money!) He then reached into his pocket, handed me a $5 bill and said, “Here’s a fin, go get the jersey.” I became a Butkus “lifer” on that day, and proudly wore a No. 51 on my back every time I played football with my friends the rest of my professional sandlot career!
But as the seasons flew by and puberty set in, my attention was drawn to other interests. The Bears remained in a slump, but my dad never stopped following them. Nevertheless, I became less and less interested.
Fast forward 15 years later. Almost out of nowhere came this team that was like a bunch of cartoon characters! They were fun, they were everywhere, all over the television, and THEY WERE WINNING! So yeah, I became a “loyal” fan.
The best part of watching that team was the in-home tailgating we did, either with a double-slab of Carson’s ribs, a large meat and veggie Giordano’s deep dish pizza, or a couple dozen Grand and Pulaski Jimmy’s dogs (no ketchup, of course). Add some onion dip and Jays potato chips, Oke Doke cheese popcorn and some Boston’s Chili and THAT was how to watch a game!
That was the year I got into silk-screen printing. The Bears kept winning, and Chicago’s Johnny-come-lately fans clamored for anything with a Bears logo on it. Shirts, aprons, Frisbees — I printed on them all. I was always enterprising and it was the 1985 Bears that first put me into business. I opened a sporting goods store with my brother, and we printed on everything.
And come on, look at that roster! What a team of personalities. We had probably the best player ever to play the game: super-humble Walter “Sweetness” Payton; a “punky,” Blues Brothers’ sunglasses-wearing quarterback Jim McMahon; “Mama’s Boy” Otis Wilson, Steve “Mongo” McMichael, William “The Fridge” Perry, Dan “Danimal” Hampton, Richard “so bad he didn’t need a nickname” Dent, Mike “Crazy Eyes” Singletary and many other unique dudes. Not to mention one of the most colorful characters ever to emerge from the game, our head coach with ten middle fingers, Mike Ditka.
What a season they gave us! A 15-1 record, a 46-10 Super Bowl victory over New England, a Grammy Award-nominated “Super Bowl Shuffle” video and a lifetime of memories. How can we forget when “the Fridge,” as a defensive lineman, actually ran for a one-yard touchdown in the Big Game? Did you know that he has the record for the largest Super Bowl ring in history? A regular size is a 10/12, his was a 25!
I have been fortunate enough to become close to Hampton, Wilson and McMichael as they have a band called “The Chicago Six.” The band first began in 1987 as a charitable endeavor with Bears’ Hampton, Payton and Dave Duerson, and three members of the Chicago Blackhawks. Now it’s just Hamp, Mongo and Otis, three super guys with three other local, top musicians. The band has played The Arcada and other events for me. They are actually awesome, playing everything from classic rock to Motown! And three nicer guys you will not find (well, maybe you can find someone a bit nicer than “Mongo” McMichael!).
So here is a super punch-bowl toast to the guys in the navy blue and orange on the 1985 squad. No other team in all of sports could ever give its fans what you gave to us in Chicago that year.
It truly was a “dream team” of larger-than-life cartoon characters/superheroes that epitomized greatness, and showed us how to win, how to “buck” the system, and have a blast doing it.