February 21, 2018

Book Review: The ’85 Bears: We Were the Greatest

When word broke last week about a new book that cast Walter Payton unfavorably, Mike Ditka didn’t mince words about the author. “I’d spit on him. I have no respect for him. Pathetic. Despicable. It serves no purpose,” the former Chicago Bears coach said.

No wonder. Ditka called Payton the best ever. “He was a complete football player. He knew everything… You could do things with him that you couldn’t with other backs,” Ditka said in “The ’85 Bears: We Were the Greatest.” Ditka has plenty more to say with Rick Telander, starting with the Bears’ Super Bowl celebration. Then he takes you back to training camp where the journey began. It’s Ditka, so you know it can’t be dull.

Read this book because:

1. Whether the game was a romp or seized from the jaws of defeat, you’ll feel like you are re-living the ’85 season from preseason through the big game.

Two weeks after a close call in the season opener against Tampa Bay, the Bears again were desperate for help against Minnesota. Jim McMahon had just spent two nights in traction and was fighting a leg infection, but he would not let up on the sideline. “He was driving me crazy!” Ditka said. “Get away from me! I’m thinking. But he’s right there like a mosquito, just pestering me to death,” Ditka said. (82, ’85) McMahon got in and threw three touchdowns to rally the Bears and win an important game against a division rival.

Week 6 was what the Bears had been waiting for. San Francisco humiliated Chicago 23-0 in the 1984 NFC Championship Game. We’ll be back, they said. Sure enough, they returned to sack Joe Montana seven times, and the Fridge went on the offensive for the first of several times that season. In fact, it was the Fridge and not Payton who scored in the Super Bowl. Payton’s scoreless game was one of the coach’s few regrets.

2. Players share their memories of the championship campaign.

“It amazes me that we didn’t win four [Super Bowls.] We lost 11 games in four years and only won one Super Bowl,” McMahon said. (24)

Steve McMichael was a Texan with a lot of heart, Ditka said. The future wrestler hunted rattlesnakes and said of the team’s ’85 season, “Listen, baby, we were vicious.” (156)

Kevin Butler’s future wife worried he was vicious in more than one way. Butler recalled, “The first mini-camp, I go up there after I’m drafted. I’m engaged to be married January 25. I walk out of that meeting, I get on the phone to Cathy, and I say, ‘Hey, we’ve got to change our wedding.’ She’s like, ‘My God, you’ve been up there four hours and you’ve already met somebody.’ I’m like, ‘No, I’m going to make the team and we’re going to the Super Bowl.’” (236)

You can’t forget the Fridge: I let them talk about [my weight]. I was happy then. I’m happy now. (100)

3. And then there’s ‘Da Coach to keep you reading from cover to cover.

“I was in a coat and tie and shades, and it was colder than frozen snot,” Ditka recalled about the championship parade. “All those people, and it was really, really cold. It would have been impressive if it was 80 degrees out, but 25 below? It showed what our team meant to the city of Chicago. To all the Grabowskis.

“See, Grabowski is the name I came up with for the players on our team, and it fit Chicago. It just symbolized that we were hard-hat guys. The other guys ride in limos. We ride in trucks.” (18)

By the end of the book, you’ll be doing the “Super Bowl Shuffle!”

Sam Miller is a graduate of the University of Illinois where he worked with various teams in sports information and received the Freedom Forum – NCAA Sports Journalism Scholarship for his achievements. At the University of Illinois, Miller regularly wrote feature stories about the football team. He has also served as communications intern for the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate. Prior to that, he worked as a communications intern for USA Basketball and as an associate reporter for MLB.com.