Get your Chicago Bears blankets and towels
Bears defensive tackle William "Refrigerator" Perry celebrates his third-quarter touchdown run.
The Hungry Bears
January 26, 1986
When the great teams in Super Bowl history are recalled, the Chicago Bears of Super Bowl XX certainly will be given a lofty spot on the list.
Rarely has any Super Bowl champion played with such intensity, power and emotion. And seldom has any Super Bowl winner had so much fun doing what comes naturally.
Even before the Bears had demolished the outclassed New England Patriots, 46-10, before an awed sellout crowd at the Louisiana Super-dome in New Orleans, their defense already was being compared to some of the National Football League's all-time best. By the end of the game, the question became: What other defense has been better, especially in the last 20 years or so?
But for all the Bears' marvelous on-field talents, their off-field antics proved even more captivating. In an age of sports in which individuality seems outdated or unwanted, the Chicago players proved to be the freest of free spirits.
Imagine, for example, Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers being so bold as to record something called "The Super Bowl Shuffle" weeks before they even qualified for the game. The Bears did just that, and this music video became a best-seller even outside Chicago.
And what about those wonderful nicknames and all those folk-hero figures, such as William (The Refrigerator) Perry, Walter (Sweetness) Payton, defensive tackle Dan Hampton and quarterback Jim McMahon, the closest the NFL has to a true punk rocker? The Bears always had a mystique, even in their inept days. This team, though, rekindled the old Monsters of the Midway image, growing more bold off the field and stronger on the field every week, until the Bears made a shambles of the NFL playoffs.
And, with one mighty Super Bowl victory, all the pent-up emotion of both a driven team and a snake-bitten city was uncorked. This was the climax of a five-month athletic high for a city that had known little but athletic heartbreak for so long. No one could blame the fans for dancing down Michigan Avenue, not after all the disappointment they had endured over the years at the hands of the Cubs and White Sox and Blackhawks and Bulls. The Bears, bless 'em, didn't let Chicagoans down this time. They mended all those broken hearts with an afternoon of glory and fury.
Nothing about the Bears seemed normal. Their coach, Mike Ditka, wore a tie on the sidelines so he would curb a temper that once provoked him to break his hand punching a blackboard. Their defensive coach, Buddy Ryan, almost matter-of-factly predicted what his vaunted "46" defense would do to opposing offenses -- and then usually was shockingly accurate. The Chicago players thought nothing of bragging about their talents, and Ditka warned them only "to back up what you say by playing right on the field." He need not have worried.
Never were the Bears bolder or more bizarre than in the days preceding Super Bowl XX. Want to see a Bear? Try Bourbon Street after dark. "I know I was getting back to the hotel at 2 or 3 in the morning," guard Tom Thayer said. Want to know what the Bears were going to do to New England in the title game? Just ask linebacker Otis Wilson, who saw that there had never been a shutout in Super Bowl history, so he predicted one for his club.
In the midst of all this outrageousness stood quarterback McMahon. Probably not since the Super Bowl III presence of another outrageous personality, Joe Namath, has one man so dominated the NFL's premier event. McMahon came into the week riding a high, anyway, following a playoff controversy with, of all people, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle. It seems McMahon likes to wear head bands under his helmet, which is permitted under league rules. But McMahon added his own touch when his head band was dominated by the word, "Adidas." Can't do that, said the NFL. So McMahon was fined, and he answered back by wearing a head band saying, "Rozelle." Even the commissioner had to laugh.
McMahon then showed up in New Orleans with a sore rear end, courtesy of a hard hit in the NFC championship game against the Los Angeles Rams. He wanted an acupuncturist, Hiroshi Shiriashi, to give him treatments. The Bears refused, saying the team's medical staff could handle it. But by midweek, when McMahon hadn't responded to treatments and wasn't practicing, the Chicago hierarchy got the point and relented. Shiriashi went to work with his magic fingers and McMahon showed miraculous progress.
But there's more. One day at practice, McMahon mooned a helicopter flying overhead. Then a New Orleans sportscaster reported falsely that McMahon had made highly disparaging remarks about New Orleans women to a Chicago radio station and that he had insulted the city's men as well. Before everything was straightened out -- McMahon had said no such things and the TV reporter had never verified anything -- the Bears' hotel was being picketed by upset New Orleans residents. Even McMahon, whose social behavior had been unconventional since he began drinking beer in public while attending no-alcohol-allowed Brigham Young University, couldn't believe the whole episode.
"I know that some of the Patriots took offense at what we were saying," safety Gary Fencik said after the game. "They thought we felt superior to them. I guess now they know why we had reason to believe that."
The best the Patriots could come up with, headline-wise, was a small outbreak of the flu, which especially affected quarterback Tony Eason. Eason hardly practiced the last few days before the game, although he wound up starting. As it turned out, staying ill might have been a better idea than facing the mighty Bears.
Still, New England was puzzled by all the publicity surrounding the Bears. "I don't understand it," Patriots guard Ron Wooten said. "We're America's team, the Patriots, red, white and blue. They are the Russian mascot, the Bear. Who do you think President Reagan will be rooting for?"
The President's rooting interests aside, it's hard to conceive of any team dominating an opponent more than the Bears dominated New England. The then-largest television audience in history -- for any event, sports or otherwise -- witnessed one of those rare, magical moments when a truly gifted team peaks at just the right time.
New England couldn't match the Bears' ability, but the Patriots hardly were swiss cheese, either. Qualifying for the playoffs as a wild-card team, they had made NFL history by carving out three straight road playoff victories to get to the Super Bowl. They had found a winning formula: a low-risk, high-powered offense, an opportunistic defense and some great special-teams play. All the elements had been molded by Coach Raymond Berry, whose low-key style seemed just the correct approach for a team that over the years had repeatedly failed to live up to its potential.
"We got tired of always being branded as the great underachievers in the league," cornerback Raymond Clayborn said. "It's great to actually live up to expectations, or even exceed them for a change."
Whatever expectations the Patriots had in Super Bowl XX were doused by the end of the first quarter. What could they do against a Bear team primed and ready for a superb performance?
Besides, New England didn't even know what had happened the night before the game. The Chicago defense had its usual meeting, and Ryan got up to talk. It had been reported that he probably would become coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, and now he gave what the players interpreted as a farewell address. He told them, win or lose, "you'll always be my heroes." He was near tears when he finished, and there weren't many dry eyes in the house. After Ryan left the room, tackle Steve McMichael picked up a chair and threw it against the blackboard. If only Eason had known.
Eason wound up making history in Super Bowl XX, but it certainly wasn't anything he wants to remember. By the time he was replaced in the second quarter by veteran Steve Grogan, Eason had been all but driven back to Foxboro, Mass., by Chicago's unrelenting defense. He tried six passes and completed none. No previous starting Super Bowl quarterback had failed to complete a pass.
Whatever chance the Patriots had revolved around Eason, a third-year player from Illinois who began the season as a starter, then got
hurt and lost his job to Grogan, only to regain it when Grogan in turn was injured. Eason had been a pivotal part of New England's run to the Super Bowl, not throwing an interception in the first three playoff games. But he also had been asked to attempt just 42 passes; Berry wisely had based his offense on a lot of runs and a few well-timed passes.
But now the opponent was Chicago, not Miami or the Los Angeles Raiders. You don't run on the Bears, something Berry recognized in his game plan. In beating both the New York Giants and the Los Angeles Rams in the playoffs, the Bears had allowed just 118 yards rushing and no points. The Rams' Eric Dickerson, who had picked up 248 yards against the Dallas Cowboys the previous week, squeezed out 46 yards rushing against the Bears. But, of course, few offenses had done much to Chicago all season. Ditka's team led the league in both total and rushing defense and was third in passing defense. And 13 of the Bears' 18 opponents had scored 10 or fewer points.
"If we play our defense right, no one can run on us," said Wilson, reflecting on the "46" alignment that presented extraordinary one-on-one blocking problems for the opposition. "No bragging intended. I'm telling it like it is."
Berry must have been listening. "I wanted to come out throwing," Berry said. "I wanted to get their attention." Berry also knew that Miami, the only team to defeat Chicago all season, had carved out its triumph by passing. Of course, the Dolphins had Dan Marino and a pass-oriented offense; the Patriots had to change their entire offensive personality to conform to Berry's thinking.
"I'm not saying it's right or wrong, but they went away from what got them here and that is difficult to do this late in the year," Bears linebacker Mike Singletary said. Added Fencik: "They aren't the great passing team and they showed why in this game."
Maybe, just maybe, things might have been different for both Eason and his team if his first two passes had produced better endings. His first attempt came after Chicago had made a major blunder. On the game's second play, McMahon called the wrong play in the huddle and sent Payton over the weak side instead of the strong side. Payton, without proper blocking, was smacked by linebacker Don Blackmon. The ball came loose and linebacker Larry McGrew recovered at the Chicago 19.
Eason immediately dropped back after giving two play-action fakes. He lofted a pass toward tight end Lin Dawson, who was open. But Dawson tore a ligament as he was running and couldn't catch up to the ball. He was out of the game and the Patriots faced second down.
Eason again passed, this time toward wide receiver Stanley Morgan, who had cut across the middle at the goal line. Just as the ball reached Morgan, Singletary reached out and grazed the pass. "I didn't know if it was enough to deflect it or not," he said. Morgan still should have caught it, but he couldn't hang on, costing New England a sure touchdown. The Patriots finally had to settle for a 36-yard field goal by Tony Franklin and a 3-0 lead 79 seconds into in the game.
New England's last golden chance came minutes later, when McMahon's first-down pass from his 31 hit Blackmon in the chest. "I turned and didn't react quick enough to catch it," said Blackmon, who was covering tight end Emery Moorehead. If Blackmon had held on, he had a clear path to the Chicago end zone.
It could have been a 14-point New England lead. Instead, it was the Patriots' last gasp -- and the game wasn't even old enough for the players to have worked up a sweat.
After the Blackmon drop, McMahon again passed, this time toward a streaking Willie Gault, who beat cornerback Ronnie Lippett for a 43-yard gain to the New England 23. The drive bogged down, but Chicago tied the score on a 28-yard field goal by Kevin Butler with 9:20 left in the first quarter.
"The Patriot defensive backs were a bunch of lookers," Gault said. "We noticed they always tried to cheat a little and look into the backfield to see what was going on. We wanted to take advantage of that as much as we could."
From that moment on, the game became an ordeal for New England. "It was embarrassing," Clayborn said. "I thought we would play better."
Just consider the Patriots' next three possessions: two incomplete passes, a 10-yard sack and a punt; a Craig James rush for no gain, Eason being sacked by Richard Dent and Wilber Marshall and then fumbling, with the Bears recovering at the New England 13; James getting hit by Dent and losing the ball, with Hampton recovering at the Patriots' 13.
That meant New England had tried nine plays, lost 22 yards, given up two sacks and lost two fumbles. And it got worse for the Patriots.
Chicago had punted on its second possession. But after Eason's fumble, the Bears took the lead for good. An eight-yard pass to Moorehead moved the ball to the Patriots' 5. Then, on a second-and-goal play from the 3, Ditka sent in Perry, the 305-pound-plus Refrigerator who had captivated the country with his size, athletic ability and genial manner. This overweight rookie had become an offensive star thanks to his goal-line heroics during the season, but had been restricted to defense during the playoffs. But now Ditka put in a new wrinkle. Perry started on a sweep around right end, then pulled up and thought about passing. He couldn't find anyone open and finally was buried for a one-yard loss.
Chicago wound up with a 24-yard field goal and a 6-3 lead, and the Bears' offense had given notice that it wasn't going to be conservative in this one.
"I played it too close to the vest sometimes," said Ditka, referring to his offensive play-calling during the regular season. With two weeks to prepare for the Super Bowl, he changed his habits. He wound up throwing all types of reverses and misdirection plays at the Patriots, and even had McMahon run a veer option at the goal line.
"We had a great game plan," Chicago center Jay Hilgenberg said. "We especially kept them off balance with our play-action stuff. We showed we could run early and then that set up the passing."
The Bears' offense was the reason this game became a rout. It was a given that the Chicago defense would be dominant, but on this afternoon Ditka's offensive unit was just as impressive. No wonder McMahon was yelling at halftime about scoring 60 points.
To make matters worse for New England, the Patriots couldn't even get a break on turnovers. In the playoffs, they had forced 16 enemy errors, a major reason they had gotten this far. But Chicago beat New England at its own game, creating six takeaways while losing the ball just twice. The Bear defense even scored twice, on a 28-yard interception return by Reggie Phillips and a safety by Henry Waechter.
New England's second turnover, caused by Dent's hit on James, set up the Bears' first touchdown. "It should never have happened," Patriots tackle Brian Holloway said of the bobble. "We should have called an audible and gotten out of the play." Eason wondered about that statement. "We never made plans to call an audible in that situation," he said.
With Payton acting as a very high-priced decoy, Matt Suhey rushed twice, the second time cutting around right end and past the overpursuing Patriot defense to score from 11 yards out. New England, which had minus 21 total yards at that point, trailed by a 13-3 score after Butler added the conversion kick.
McMahon, who finished the day with 256 yards passing on 12 completions in 20 attempts, was just warming up. He survived a vicious hit by Lippett in the first quarter to give a Most Valuable Player-type performance, even if Dent won that award on a vote of writers and broadcasters. McMahon drove Chicago 59 yards for its second touchdown, completing the march with that veer-option run from the 2. He had a 24-yard completion to Suhey in the same possession, then a 29-yarder to receiver Ken Margerum to set up a 24-yard Butler field goal as time ran out in the half.
Butler's late kick shouldn't have counted. With 21 seconds left in the second quarter, McMahon had scrambled to the New England 3. With the clock running out, Hilgenberg snapped the ball before referee Red Cashion had put it back into play. While the Bears were penalized for delay of game, NFL rules dictate that such a deliberate clock-stopping attempt in the final 2 minutes calls for a 10-second runoff from the clock. That would have left Chicago with no time to kick the field goal.
But ultimately, the botched-up play didn't affect the game's outcome. McMahon took care of that by driving the Bears 96 yards in nine plays the first time they had the ball in the third quarter. He burned New England with a 60-yard first-down pass to Gault from his end zone.
"He (McMahon) came into the huddle and said if we ran the play right, it was a touchdown," Gault said. "I got behind (safety) Fred Marion but I had to wait for the ball." McMahon had used a play fake to throw his opponents off stride.
"McMahon put a lot of critics to rest," said Ditka, who hadn't always been a McMahon fan himself. "He's our trigger man and I love him."
If nothing else, McMahon set a Super Bowl record for number of head bands worn during a game. Each one had a different lettering, and most reflected charitable causes. But New England's Clayborn wasn't impressed.
"I don't think he has any class at all," Clayborn said. "He needs to mature and grow up a little."
No matter, McMahon became quite a player in the postseason. He may have butted helmets with his offensive linemen and behaved like a punk rocker, but he also was interception-free in postseason play and wound up either running or passing for six of the Bears' eight offensive playoff touchdowns.
By the time McMahon and his friends were done, the shocked Patriots were left to assess the damage. It wasn't a pretty sight.
"It was a nightmare," Patriots fullback Mosi Tatupu said. New England, which averaged 279 yards in the first three playoff games, finished the first half of this game with minus 19 yards, one first down, two pass completions and three points. The Patriots established Super Bowl records in three categories for first-half offensive ineptness: rushing yards (minus five), passing yards (minus 14) and total offense.
Even after Eason went to the bench-"I was slightly shocked, I couldn't understand it," he said-and Grogan came in, things didn't get much better. The Patriots ended with 123 total yards, second worst in Super Bowl history, and a mere seven rushing yards, a record low. No previous Super Bowl loser had ever been beaten by as many points (36), nor had any team surrendered as many points as the Pats yielded.
"We would have liked to have hit them in the chops a few times," Wooten said of New England's offensive line and its usual spirited play. "We got here by being physical, but I think the Bears showed all year they couldn't be beaten by anyone who tried to get physical with them. We saw how Miami beat them, but I don't think we are ready yet to execute that type of offense. We let the first few blitzes and sacks demoralize us."
The Bears intended to go right after Eason, trying to shake him up. To reduce his chances of scrambling, they blitzed from the outside, pinching him in. The Patriots countered by trying to block the Bears' Wilson with a running back. It didn't work.
"You could see it in his (Eason's) eyes very early," Singletary said. "It was a look that said, 'Oh my, here we go again.'" Singletary said he saw the same look in September, when Chicago beat New England, 20-7, and Eason threw three interceptions.
Amid all the happiness among the Bears, the only twinge of sadness belonged to the great Payton, who long had waited to play in the NFL's showcase game but failed to score and rushed for only 61 yards, a small portion of Chicago's 408 total yards. "It didn't matter," the 11-year veteran said of his lack of production, although the look on his face said it did.
Still, this was the Bears' triumph -- and Ditka's. "We are molded in his image," Suhey said. "We win by being physical and tough and driven, but we also play with intelligence. That's him."
For the veteran Bears, who had lived through so many horrible seasons, this Super Bowl victory was hard to believe.
"We've worked so long toward a goal and to have it come true really is emotional," Fencik said. "No one can say it is a fluke."
Nearby, Payton was standing next to Suhey. He handed Suhey a lighter, so he could fire up a cigar. Payton took a puff and then coughed.
"First cigar you've smoked?" someone asked.
"Yes," Payton said. "And it will be the last. Until next year."