Chapter 3: The Mike and Buddy Show
Booing is as old as professional football itself. Every player on the team had been the recipient of it, maybe even as far back as Pop Warner. But the 1985 Bears were getting booed already ... at halftime ... of their regular-season opener ... at home? This was how they were starting their alleged run to the Super Bowl? By rolling over and playing dead for the pedestrian Tampa Bay Buccaneers?
No one could blame it on McMahon's being sidelined. With his lacerated kidney fully healed, he was making smart reads and putting the ball in tight spaces. And no one could blame it on the overall offense, which had already scored 17 points in two quarters. This time it was the heralded Chicago defense that seemed to have its collective head up its rear.
As early as the first quarter, the CBS announcers wondered aloud how much the Bears would miss Todd Bell and Al Harris. In fact, the entire defense seemed confused as Tampa Bay's receivers kept getting wide open and halfback James Wilder kept running through massive holes. By halftime, Wilder had gained 105 yards, quarterback Steve DeBerg had thrown three touchdown passes, and the NFL's top- ranked defense the last two seasons had already allowed 28 points.
Thus the Bears were booed, at home, as they went to their locker room losing 28–17.
It was Sunday, September 8, a sweltering fall afternoon at Soldier Field, where the artificial turf still registered 133 degrees at halftime. But rather than wilt in the heat, the defense came charging back after spending the intermission mostly insulting itself.
"At halftime a lot of the players were saying we stunk," Hampton said later.
"We were embarrassed," said Singletary. "What we want to do and what we want to be was not exemplified by that first half."
"We could lift our dress up like a girl or go out like a man," said Dent.
Tampa Bay didn't score a point in the second half. The biggest play of the game and arguably the whole season was made by cornerback Leslie Frazier. Two plays into the third quarter, Dent tipped a sideline pass into Frazier's hands, and he ran 29 yards for a touchdown. But Frazier made such a great break on the ball, he would have intercepted it even if Dent never touched it.
"From that point on, man, it was an avalanche. We just crushed them," says Frazier.
Outscoring Tampa Bay 21–0 in the second half, Chicago won 38–24. It was the most the Bears had scored in a season opener since 1948, when they beat the hated Packers 45–7.
Not everyone on the Bears' offense played well. Early in the second quarter, a CBS camera isolated on Gault as the graphic on the screen showed his stats from 1984 – only 34 receptions, ranking him 83rd in the NFL. The announcer said Gault still "feels somewhat demeaned" and "not fully accepted as a football player," a reference to the fact that he had been a track star at Tennessee. As the ball was snapped on that very play, Gault sprinted by the defense, and McMahon threw him a perfect pass in the end zone; Gault dropped it, however, without being touched by a defender. After he dropped another pass in the third quarter—this one over the middle, where the top NFL receivers have to make plays—Ditka pulled Gault out for the rest of the game.
Still, Payton ran for 120 yards, and McMahon completed 23 passes for 274 yards and two touchdowns. McMahon's 23 completions broke his personal NFL record of 20. When he starred in college at pass-happy BYU, McMahon would often have 20 completions by halftime. But maybe times were changing in Chicago. Hadn't the offense just bailed out the defense as the Bears began their season 1–0?
Though the defense would receive most of the glory, the '85 Bears were loaded on both sides of the ball. They were also the youngest team in the NFL – average age 25.1 – which promised a dominant future if they could hold things together. These were their starting lineups for the opener against Tampa Bay as well as their second game against New England:
They were talented, they were young, and to a degree, the players on offense and defense were divided. This wasn't anything new for the Chicago Bears. In 1963, when the Bears won the championship with Ditka playing tight end, defensive end Ed O'Bradovich would berate his offensive teammates as they reached the sidelines after another feeble possession. In 1970, when a reporter asked middle linebacker Dick Butkus if he thought the Bears could beat the Vikings that week, Butkus said, "Yeah, the defense can beat them. I don't know if the offense can score any points." In 1982, when Ditka became head coach and made a public plea for team unity, safety Doug Plank replied, "This year I'm going to learn the names of all the guys who play on offense. This year we might even cheer each other."
"I think it was really bad up to that point because the defense had carried their ass for the past ten years," says McMahon. "When I got there in '82, I noticed a lot of it, and I said, ‘We're on the same team. You guys can't do $#!% without us, and we can't do anything without you guys. Once we figure that out, we'll be a lot better.'"
In 1985 the primary instigator was Buddy Ryan, who believed so religiously in "us against them" that it didn't matter if them happened to wear the same uniform as us. It also didn't matter if the person in charge of the offense was Mike Ditka, who on paper was Ryan's boss.
"In Richard Dent's rookie year in 1983, it was a cold game at Soldier Field," remembers safety Jeff Fisher. "I had broken my leg and was helping Buddy on the sidelines with defensive substitutions. Mike walked up and saw Richard and said, ‘Why aren't you on the field?' Richard gave him this blank stare. Buddy said, ‘He's a pussy, he's cold, and he's not playing.' Mike said, ‘Get in there.' Buddy said, ‘No, stay.' Now Richard's kind of moving back and forth. Buddy said, ‘No, he's not playing.' Mike said, ‘This is my #$%&ing football team, and I said, get his ass in here.' Buddy said, ‘This is my #$%&ing defense and he's staying right here.'
"So Singletary is out there just jumping up and down because he's waiting for the call. Buddy finally gets the call in and the guy playing for Dent, Tyrone Keys, has a sack. Buddy says, ‘Here, hold this,' and he takes off his headphones and gives them to me. He walks up to Mike and pulls him on the shoulder and turns him around, and he said it again, ‘This is my #$%&ing defense.' Mike said, ‘This is my #$%&ing football team, and your ass is gone tomorrow.' Then it was over. Buddy was still around, and they were still Mike and Buddy."
Buddy Ryan was born on February 17, 1934, in Frederick, Oklahoma. He grew up poor on his family's small farm, his parents and their six children crammed into a four-room house with no indoor plumbing. Buddy's job every morning was milking the cows.
Linebacker Cliff Thrift was a fellow Oklahoman who signed with the Bears in 1985. Thrift says Ryan liked him because of their common background and because Thrift was willing to play through pain. In his eight NFL seasons, he says, he had two torn rotator cuffs, two torn biceps, three separated shoulders, seven surgeries, at least seven concussions, and thirteen broken bones. Says Bear punter Maury Buford, who hails from Texas, "Ryan admired Thrift because they were both old-school. And because they were both tough sons of bitches."
"Buddy was a product of where he came from," says Thrift. "One time I was shaving in the locker room, and I turned the water on and used my razor, and then I turned the water immediately back off. Well, some of our other guys just left the water running the whole time. Buddy came over and said, ‘You grew up on a farm. Probably had well water.' I said, ‘Yeah, that's right, Buddy.' He said, ‘Me too. You learn early on you don't leave that water running because you might run the well dry. Then you gotta go and reprime the pump.' So it was just little things, but I could see early on that his upbringing on a farm had shaped the person he was. Buddy was like a good farmer. Not real showy and not real loud. But very confident. And dumb like a fox."
Ryan played football in high school and then fought in Korea, arriving there on Christmas Day 1951. Ryan was 17 but he was farm-boy strong and had a presence. The army promoted him from private to master sergeant, Ryan has said, "because the old guy we had there before me was getting a little scared." After playing on the Fourth Army championship football team in Japan, he came home and played guard at Oklahoma State from 1952 to 1955. He began his coaching career as head coach at Granville High School in Texas, his last head coaching position for the next 25 years. He moved up to the college game as defensive coordinator at the University of Buffalo. Ryan got married there to his fiancée, Joanie, and they ended up having three sons, one of them named Rex, who would someday become head coach of the New York Jets.
Two more college jobs followed before Buddy broke through to the pros, joining the Jets as their defensive line coach in 1968. That year Ryan won his first Super Bowl, which everyone would remember for Joe Namath's bold guarantee that the AFL's Jets would upset the NFL's Colts. But it was Ryan's defensive linemen who helped shut down Baltimore in New York's 16–7 victory.
Ryan spent seven more years as an assistant with the Jets under Weeb Ewbank, then two years under Bud Grant as a line coach for the Vikings' Purple People Eaters. Ryan had already been to a second Super Bowl – this one a defeat, with Minnesota – when George Halas hired him in 1978 to be Chicago's defensive coordinator. Ryan was 47 and this was the first pro defense that was all his.
Halas also brought in Neill Armstrong as Chicago's new head coach that season. From 1978 to 1981, the Bears went 7–9, 10–6, 7–9, and 6–10. In 1982 Armstrong lost his job with one year left on his contract. Then Halas surprised the entire NFL by replacing Armstrong with Ditka, a special teams coach with the Cowboys who had never been a head coach or a coordinator at any level.
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Excerpted from Da Bears! by Steve Delsohn. Copyright © 2010 by Steve Delsohn. Excerpted by permission of Crown Archetype, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
From the Magazine: "Da Bears!" Excerpt
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