Gut check time for an entire city arrives at 5:25 tomorrow night. I have this gut feeling that the Bears are gonna take the field with something to prove and lay some wood to the Colts. It has nothing to do with disrespect from the media, or playing the underdog card, and everything with just wanting to be a champion. All it took for me to truly believe was looking at the photo of Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy posing with the Lombardi Trophy yesterday. Dungy was all smiles and "It's a blessing to be here", while the look on Lovie's face was all business. It was the look of a shark that smells blood in the water and is waiting for the right moment to go for the kill.
All I've heard this week from both fans and front runners is, "Daaaaaaaaa Bears", and if I didn't know otherwise, I would have thought the guy sitting next to me on the train on Tuesday morning went to trade school straight out of high school, and wasn't an MBA. But that phrase - "Daaaaaaaaa Bears" - and everything associated with it is ill-fitting for this particular squad. This team seems more likely to trick its way to victory than outright pummel its opponents. it's not a work ethic in line with what we're accustomed to as fans of the Chicago Bears. It's almost as though some of us are waiting for the letdown, so we can run back to the form-fitting bosom of the 1985 squad, and nuzzle away the heartbreak that might not even come.
We fans of Chicago sports teams live in the past, there's no doubt. We have the memories of elephants. I might not be able to tell you my sister's birthday, but I know what play the Bears ran for Walter Payton to break Jim Brown's all-time rushing mark. Cubs fans can still remember with clarity the '69, '84, and '03 teams that fell just short, but added to the "lovable loser" aura. We were blessed with seeing two versions of Michael Jordan's greatness: the gravity-defying alpha male bravely clearing trees in the paint en route to three NBA titles, and the wiser floor general with the wicked fade away jumper who knew when to let Scottie, Dennis, and Toni cut loose, and a second three peat. The 2K5 White Sox will be forever known as the team that came out of nowhere to forever claim diamond bragging rights in the ongoing sectarian cultural struggle for the south side. Most of all, the '85 Bears will be forever known as one of the most dominating football teams ever. Those memories are the most vivid of all, as though they were washed in a delicate cycle with all temperature Cheer, hand formed, lightly pressed, and left for special occasions.
They were the flash in the pan that should have been so much more, and that's the main reason why I can't stand them. I'm not alone in that rationale. They had the talent to win three, maybe four, Super Bowls in a row. But once they finally climbed the mountain, they lost the desire. Or, as Mel Brooks succinctly put it, "It's good to be the king." It sure is, until you're dethroned. Don't believe it? Then consider that the '86 Bears defense, under Vince Tobin's guidance, surrendered less points than the crew that terrorized New Orleans during Super Bowl XX. Or that they went 14-2 in the post-title campaign, only to have Washington hand their collective ass to them in the playoffs.
It's starts at the top. Which means it starts with Ditka. "Da Coach", who insists that he doesn't live in the past, sure as shit doesn't mind cashing in on it in the present. By the time Jostens had the Bears' Super Bowl rings cooling, Iron Mike opened his first steakhouse across from Ed Debevic's. He also lived by the rule, "Do as I say, not as I do", chastising his players for focusing too much on commercial endorsements, even as his status as a pitchman grew larger. It's like getting a lecture from your parents on the hazards of drugs while you're sharing a one-hitter with them. Today he's still got the steakhouse, as well as endorsements for sauces, wines, cigars, clothing, and medicine guaranteed to put the tiger back in your tank, all emblazoned with his signature Eddie Munster widow's peak, which still looks as severe and healthy as it did twenty-one years ago.
Then there's Jim McMahon, whose aloof, near-antisocial behavior in the twenty-one years since Super Bowl XX has been more "prick" than "Punky QB." We were reminded of that this week, as he made the media rounds in Miami, vainly claiming that he has no rooting interest in tomorrow's game. Asked how he could think this, especially considering that the franchise with which he's most associated with is one of the participants, McMahon said, "I could give a shit about the Bears. They traded me in '88." What McMahon fails to mention is that the reasons he was traded was because he couldn't stay healthy enough to remain the starting quarterback, and had no desire to groom another quarterback for the position. Ask Doug Flutie about Jim McMahon sometime. Furthermore, the kid gloves with which Ditka handled McMahon stood in stark contrast to his insistence on grooming Neal Anderson for the starting tailback position, while Walter Payton was on the team, still capable of doing the job.
Those two led a trickle-down effect that permeated the entire team. Steve McMichael and William Perry tried their hands at wrestling. Gary Fencik opened up a nightclub/beaver poaching cabin in River North with Garry Meier across the street from Rich Melman's and Steve Dahl's "Hat Dance" restaurant (today known as Nacional 27). Everybody drove a Chevy because that's what "Danimal" drove. And we still bought all the tchotchkes they pimped: the buttons from Walgreen's that played the fight song, the jerseys, the headbands, Dave Duerson hot dogs, McDonald's "McDLT" sandwich, which kept the hot side hot, the cool side cool, and made us kids run screaming back to our quarter pounders.
They still played at a high level, but the killer instinct was long gone. The swan song, the closing of the book, the Waterloo of the '85 Bears, didn't happen in New Orleans. It happened in Chicago, in the 1989 NFC Championship game, when the San Francisco 49'ers and Joe Montana came to a frigid Soldier Field and embarrassed the Bears, in "Bear weather", no less.
Comparing the '85 Bears to this squad is the proverbial apples and oranges. The economics, salaries and corporate nature of sports in the 21st century dictates that players with championship aspirations tone down their personalities in deference to the team concept. They don't need to seek endorsements as readily these days. Sure, players like Terrell Owens make it to the big game, but they're also the first people to remind us that, while there's no "i" in "team, you can't spell the word without "me." These Bears, while far from underdogs, have the same drive to be remembered as the team whose accomplishment they hope to match tomorrow. But if they truly wish to differentiate themselves from the team that we can't stop talking about, they'll not only win tomorrow.
They'll win a second one before their window of opportunity closes.