“Gods & Monsters:” Recalling ’85 Bears Catalyst McMahon

16 Jul

It has been called the greatest team in the modern NFL era.

Some will prefer a broader definition of greatest, one incorporating a sustained success or dynasty in today’s sport vernacular. For them, one of the following title teams would likely fill-the-bill:

1960s Green Bay Packers;
1960s Houston Oilers, San Diego Chargers & Buffalo Bills (AFL);
1970s Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins & Pittsburgh Steelers;
1980 – 90s San Francisco 49ers;
Joe Gibbs Redskins (1980s – 90s);
1990s Dallas Cowboys & Denver Broncos;
2000 – 10s New England Patriots & New York Giants.

......McMahon-F16B.wc.5.1.88.D.Sutherland.crop

But the greatest compilation of players to ever lace ‘em up and dish it out over course of a single NFL season is without much serious doubt the 1985 Chicago Bears, a run culminating with what had been the most lopsided victory in Super Bowl history (until SB24 (’90)), a 46-10 drubbing of AFC champion New England in SB20.

When the Bears (Decatur Staleys) commence their 95th summer training camp on July 29th at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, just north of Kankakee, hope will spring eternal (if Fox tightens that D), and it will mark the 30-year anniversary (UW-Platteville (‘85)) of the first leg in an 6-month journey that would culminate in the best football showing in NFL history.

Detractors mutter dictum along this line: ‘Those ‘85 Bears were a flash in the pan, one-hit ‘Monster Mash’ wonder.’ Fair enough, but WHAT a hit they were. Pow!

While it’s true those 80s Monsters of Midway were no dynasty, losing four of five straight playoff runs, three in a row at Soldier Field (‘87-89), for one spectacular season they were nonpareil, unmatched in might & means, before or since.

What comes to mind immediately with those Bears is defense. The particular image associated with that word can vary, depending on your particular taste.

Some start at the top with Cantonized player and Bears head coach, Mike Ditka (‘82-92) and his no-nonsense approach, while others dig deeper and tag the purported mastermind of Chicago’s D-scheme, player favorite, long time NFL guru and father of NFL coaches Rex and Rob, Mr. Buddy Ryan.

Still others vest their vision of greatness in the workhorses, men on the field who made it all happen. Hall of Famers like Mr. Intensity, defensive captain Mike Singletary and linemen Dan Hampton and Richard Dent, along with a half-dozen All Pros who would prove integral, i.e., Marshall, McMichael, Gayle, Wilson, Duerson & Fencik.

.....Bears.wordmark.sportslogos.thb.wc.74

Move to the numbers and it comes crystal clear, these Bears were special.

The W-L gets your attention (15-1), the defensive rankings will win you over.

Team-averages on yards allowed per game (258.4) and points (12.4) were both League toppers in ‘85 but a stinginess on scoring not unseen before or since.

In 2000 both Tennessee (238.9 / 11.9) and Super champ Baltimore (247.9 / 10.3) bested Bears marks, only to be topped again in ’02 by Gruden‘s titlist Buccaneers (252.8 / 12.2). The 1972 “No Name Defense” Dolphins, the only undefeated championship campaign in modern era (‘07 Pats (16-0) lost SB42 to NYG, 17-14), set the standard with miserly marks of 235.5 (yapg) and 12.2 (papg).

But then both those Bucs and Ravens succumbed to opponents a total of four times respectively in the regular season (12-4), Brian Billick‘s men suffering a 3-game skid at mid-point before righting the ship, while Miami ran a gauntlet of slightly shorter version at 14-0. Every game matters, in more ways than one.

That toggles a key word in the debate on GTE (greatest team ever): dominance.

All four of those championship defenses, Bucs, Bears, Dolphins and Ravens, where shut-down variety, to be sure, but nothing shows greatness like dominance and nothing shows dominance like post-season play. Built for pressure and proving it against the best.

In their respective playoff runs, these are the opponent’s point totals:
Buccaneers (‘03): 6-10-21 (SB (OAK));
Ravens (’01): 3-10-3-7 (SB (NYG));
Dolphins (‘72): 14, 17, 7 (WA);
Bears (’86): 0-0-10 (SB (NE)).

.....Ryan,B.wc.P.Souza.thb.10.7.11.WH

While Ravens, Dolphins & Bucs matched da’ Bears in defensive prowess, it was Chicago who best displayed the balance of greatness by way of a notable offensive output as well, a side of their game that’s gone largely ignored by pigskin historians.

The ‘85 Monsters ranked top-10 in yards gained (364.8 (7)) and points scored on average (28.5 (2)), with the later tally coming in just behind the record-setting Air Coryell (Fouts) Chargers (29.2), whilst the Bucs and Ravens were fair-to-middling in matriculation, Tampa Bay as low as #24 in yards (312.6), #18 in points per (21.6), the Ravens slightly better at 313.4 yards (#16) and 20.8 (#14).

That Namesake Miami offense that included notables like QB Earl Morrall (9-0), Griese (5-0), Csonka, Morris, Warfield, Yepremian and All Pro lineman Langer, Little, Evans and Kuechenberg, together make a strong case for perfect balance, leading NFL in both ypg (359.7) and ppg (27.5). The totals, however, do fall just below Bears key scoring averages in ‘85. Phew! “That was close (Encounters).”

Every once in a blue moon the scoring side is subject of an ‘85 Bears roundtable and one name quickly comes to mind. Not Ditka nor OC Ed Hughes (d.2000), but Mr. Walter Payton (d.1999), aka, “Sweetness.” No surprise there, as Walter had a dozen seasons that’d make a career for most backs and 1985 was no exception.

In his 11th season (13) he rushed for his 4th highest yardage total (1551) and posted 2nd best career marks in reception yards (483) and run average (4.8). Teamed with fullback Matt Suhey (471 / 4.1) they together made a very formidable backfield tandem.

Helping making that all possible was Chicago’s cohesive and highly-regarded offensive line of Covert, Bortz, Hilgenberg, Thayer and Van Horne. Formidable.

.....Singletary.wc.12.17.00.MLTaylor.USAF.thb

But if you thought it was high-steppin’ Walter, “Iron” Mike, Singletary or Ryan who was key to this team’s success, a standard for greatness by which all other single-season team performances are still measured, you’d be mistaken.

The real catalyst to the ‘85 Bears, a man most often overlooked by corporate historians, was Chicago’s wild & wooly signal caller, James Robert McMahon, Junior.

I can hear the cackles: ‘You mean that cocky, gum-chewing, oft-injured, headband rebel (“Rozelle”) who introduced the helmet-howdy-do and led what may’ve been the most painful-to-watch music video all-time (“Super Bowl Shuffle“)? Him?’

‘Yeah, him.’

In those heady, bygone days, Jim could put people off when his confidence would turn, as it sometimes did, into boyish arrogance.

So, how pray tell did I arrive at this choice? It was one big performance which left an indelible memory.

The date: September 19, 1985;
The time: 8:00pm (EST);
The place: The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

It was a rare Thursday night (?) telecast, the network, I don‘t recall. Assume it was ABC, birthplace of off-night Monday Night Football, which had been a national happening with “Dandy” Don Meredith’s colorful cowboy quips and Howard Cosell’s hearty halftime review of Sunday’s action. But by 1985 only Frank Gifford remained of the original trio and the former ratings topper was starting to tank. It’s never fully recovered.

But they had a humdinger in store this night.

...Ditka.wc.8.31.06.JJPerry.thb

What happened in 2nd half would give Bears’ confidence a jolt of adrenaline that would carry through all the way to Super Bowl 20 where it swelled to gargantitude.

Chicago entered the game 2-0, home wins by combined score of 58-35. Impressive, but not the frighteningly good football that would blitzkrieg the NFL in weeks to come.

With Vikes up 17-9 midway through the 3rd quarter on heels of a Tommy Kramer TD toss to all-purpose Anthony Carter, McMahon, who’d taken the two earlier wins but had sat this start (injury?), came in to relieve a capable but uninspired Steve Fuller. What happened next would set the wheels of destiny in motion.

Within seconds, Jim hooked up with deep threat speedster Willie Gault for a 70-yard TD strike: Score, 17-16.

Next Bears possession, McMahon matriculates to Minnesota’s 25 and hits sure-handed Dennis McKinnon for a second TD pass in just over five minutes. Visitors take the lead. The score, Bears 23-17.

Minutes later the former BYU field general throws third TD strike to his man McKinnon covering 45 yards. Bears up 30-17, a contest but the befuddled Vikes don’t know what hit ‘em and the Monsters of Midway have found their momentum-maker in McMahon.

Vikings would add another TD in the 4th but sure-footed Kevin Butler ice’d it and Chicago exited the Metrodome with a 33-24 divisional road win and a mojo that was bursting at the seams just looking for another opponent to turn into mash.

Talk about turning points.

Some men feed on pressure. Mobile pocket-passer Jim McMahon (early career) was just such a cool customer. Stan “The Man” Musial understood the type.

...McMahon.93.wc.Diz28.thb

In discussing some of the toughest moundsmen he faced in his long & storied career, the Cardinals’ legend identified the great relievers Elroy Face and Clem Labine: “Both of them also had that extra something…they loved to come into the game in a tight situation, thrived on pressure and challenge. The tighter the spot, the better they loved it (The Complete Handbook of Baseball (‘76 ed., Z.Hollander)).”

Men like Jim, Favre, Ray Lewis, Chancellor, Mannings, Doug Williams, Montana, Lilly, Brady, Stabler, Joe Greene, Steve Garvey, Bob Gibson, Jon Toews, LeBron and Curry, all grasp the leadership talisman and beckon their cohorts to follow.

And to that one, lone blemish on Bears record in taking a loss at Miami (24-38, W13)? It should be noted that Fuller started the game which was officiated at a time before the NFL began to seriously monitor crowd noise shenanigans to help keep the playing field level. Unlevel, Mr. Shula (See; Deflategate cmts).

McMahon would only start parts of three more seasons for Chicago after the memorable ride of ‘85. Injuries, more than Jim’s sometimes awkward confidence, defined his career as he bounced around the League, playing for five other teams which, ironically (See; C.Martin ‘86 (GB)), included Bears rival Green Bay, picking-up another ring in the process as a clip-board man in SB31 win over Bill Parcell’s Patriots (35-21).

But for one, glorious season, Jim McMahon and the rest of the Bears were the best that’s ever been. Of course (gum smack).

......macroecono.lamcasinoroyal.wc.2011

Steven Keys
Macro Sport
Photo credits: J.McMahon, F16B, wc.cca, 5.1.88, D.Sutherland; J.McMahon, crop, wc, D.Sutherland, 88; Chicago-Bears, wordmark, sportslogos, wc, 1974; B.Ryan, wc, P.Souza, WH, 10.7.11; M.Singletary, wc, 12.17.00, wc, M.Taylor, USAF; M.Ditka, wc, J.Perry, 8.31.6; McMahon, wc, 93, Diz28; macroecono, lamcasinoroyal, wc, 2011.
Title Reference: Bride of Frankenstein (‘35);
Posted: 7.15.15 @ 9:22pm EST
Copyright © 2015

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: