Although the retirement of Mike Ditka's number 89 is more about his Hall of Fame playing career, his coaching career was truly where he made his legend. The 1985 Bears to this day are the most beloved team in Chicago history. Twenty eight years later books are still being written about the most dominant team in NFL history.
Ditka was hired by the Bears in 1982 after writing a letter to owner George Halas. His 11 seasons coaching the Bears turned the franchise into a pop culture phenomenon. The 1980's era spawned the superfans and made Ditka an international name beyond the NFL world. He had appearances hosting LA Law and Saturday night live. Of course no one can forget the Superbowl Shuffle.
Under Ditka, the Bears became must see TV. The 1985 team was the most eccentric in NFL history. With the offense led by Ditka and the defense led by Buddy Ryan, they captured the heart of Chicago. Every week, fans would tune into to see how the defense would destroy the other team's best offensive players and what Walter Payton, Jim McMahon and the Bears would do on offense. The Shufflin Crew gave Chicago its first major sports championship since the Bears previous title in 1963.
Here is a look at the Bears ten most memorable games in Ditka's era as coach.
After back to back shutouts in the playoffs the Bears Superbowl victory was seen as a foregone conclusion. The excitement began with introductions with Jim McMahon's headband. His headbands became a subject of curiosity during the '85 season. He ran onto the field with JDF (for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation) written on to his headband. He later changed to a POW-MIA and Prater (to honor his friend Dan Prater) headbands later during the game.
The game didn't begin as planned. Walter Payton fumbled on the opening drive and New England recovered. They used to the turnover to get on the board first via a Tony Franklin field goal. Those were the first points of the 1985 postseason the Bears allowed.
The Bears would go into the score the next 44 points. This included rushing touchdowns by Matt Suhey, McMahon and William "the refrigerator" Perry. Ditka has repeatedly mentioned that not getting Payton a superbowl touchdown was one of his biggest career regrets.
The Bears went on to a 46-10 superbowl victory with a Henry Waechter safety closing out the scoring. Most Chicago fans thought it was destiny for the Bears to score 46 points to match the 46 defense.
1984 vs. the Raiders
In one of the hardest hitting games in memory, the Bears defeated the defending Superbowl champion Raiders 17-6. Richard Dent had three sacks, but the game came at a cost. McMahon suffered a lacerated kidney ending his season.
McMahon and backup Steve Fuller through only 16 passes as the Bears ran 47 times for 175 yards. Payton had 111 yards on 27 carries and two first half touchdowns.
Led by Richard Dent's 4.5, the Bears sacked Raider quarterbacks Marc Wilson (McMahon's college teammate) and David Humm nine times. The Raiders gained only 181 total yards and the Bears made their presence known that they were on their way to becoming one of the NFL's best teams.
1984 NFC Divisional Playoff Game
The playoff game of the Ditka era took the Bears on the road against the two time defending NFC champion Washington Redskins. The Redskins 11-5 record was the second best in the NFC in 1984.
After the teams traded a pair of field goals, Payton through a halfback for a touchdown to backup tight end Pat Dunsmore. The Bears took that lead into the locker room. After missing three games of his own earlier in the season, Fuller returned for the playoffs. He hit Willie Gault for a 75 yard touchdown in the third quarter to stretch the Bears lead to 16-3 after a missed extra point.
Fuller added another touchdown pass to Dennis McKinnon in between a pair of John Riggins one yard runs and the Bears took a late safety to close out a surprising 23-19 upset.
1985 Bears 49ers
After getting mauled 23-0 at San Francisco in the 1984 NFC Championship game, this was a statement game for the Bears. They returned to San Francisco with a 5-0 record and dominated the Niners 26-10 to start laying claim to being the best team in the NFL. They held San Francisco to 183 yards of total offense, sacked Joe Montana seven times and kept the NFL's second best offense out of the end zone. Their only score was a Carlton Williamson interception return.
1985 Bears Cowboys
The 10-0 Bears travelled to Dallas for a week 11 showdown with the 7-3 Cowboys. The Bears had outscored their previous five opponents 116-39. They made a statement that day at Texas Stadium.
As they did throughout the 1985 season, it was the defense that led the way. Richard Dent opened the scoring with an interception in the end zone for a touchdown. Mike Richardson added a 36 yard interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter to extend the Bears lead to 17-0. A Steve Fuller one yard rushing touchdown gave the Bears a 24-0 lead entering the locker room.
The Bears added six sacks and held the Cowboys to 171 yards and just 51 rushing.
1985 Bears 33 Vikings 24
After spending two nights during the week at Lake Forest Hospital with back spasms, McMahon came off the bench to the propel the Bears to a 33-24 comeback win. The punky QB threw touchdowns on his first two passes of the game. The first a 70 yard bomb to Willie Gault against the blitz and 25 and 43 yard strikes to Dennis McKinnon. With McMahon in the game, the Bears outscored Minnesota 24-7 in the decisive third quarter. McMahon finished 8-15 for 236 yards with three touchdowns.
1985 NFC Divisional Playoff Game
The first of two dominant defensive playoff performances from a team that had been doing it all year. They opened the scoring with a Shaun Gayle five yard return of a muffed punt by the Giants Sean Landeta. Landeta miss fired on his own punt.
McMahon connected with McKinnon on two touchdown passes and Kevin Butler added a field goal in a 24-0 shutout. It was the Bears third shutout of the season, the fifth time they had held their opponent out of the end zone and 12th time to ten points or under. They also held the Giants to 181 yards in total offense.
1985 NFC Championship
This might have been the game that the term "Bear Weather" was coined. Wilbur Marshall's 52 yard fumble return touchdown in the fourth quarter with the snow beginning to fall sent Soldier Field into a frenzy. It put the Bears ahead of the Rams 24-0 and put the game away. The win sent the Bears to their first Superbowl and first NFL Championship game since 1963.
The defense was even more dominant than they were against the Giants. They allowed only 130 total yards and nine first downs.
1987 Season Opener Against the Giants
In a matchup between the previous seasons superbowl winners, the Bears dominated the Giants on the Monday night football opener. After the Giants returned a block punt for a touchdown in the first quarter, the Bears scored 24 straight points to break the game open. The Bears opened up the lead behind Mike Tomczak's 292 yards passing a pair of long third quarter touchdowns.
After the Giants Terry Kinard returned a Tomczak pass 70 yards for a touchdown, McKinnon raced 94 yards for a punt return touchdown to ice the game. The Bears outgained the 416 to 203 en route to a 34-19 victory.
1988 Divisional Playoff Game Against the Eagles (Fog Bowl)
In one of the strangest games in NFL history the Bears prevailed 20-12 over the Eagles. With the Bears up 17-6 at the two minute warning in the first half, fog rolled into Soldier Field. The Bears had earlier touchdowns on a Tomczak to McKinnon pass and a Neal Anderson run. Two Luis Zendejas field goals and one by Kevin Butler were all the teams could muster after the fog rolled in. Despite almost 800 yards in total offense (the Eagles Randall Cunningham pass for 407 yards) the fog was the biggest story of the game.
The Bears advanced to their third NFC Championship game in five years, but lost 28-3 at home against San Francisco. That was the Bears last conference final appearance under Ditka.
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