I love reading old articles, and reading old articles about football history is a particular passion of mine. This is the second installment of a new feature at Football Perspective: reviews of historical articles. Today’s content is four articles in one, all published in the Chicago Tribune on December 3rd, 1985. Hours earlier, the 12-0 Bears lost as 2-point favorites in Miami to the 8-4 Dolphins, 38-24, ending Chicago’s perfect season. You can read all four articles here: I recommend you read them before going on.
The four articles are “Bears squeezed in Miami vise” by Don Pierson, “Only thing Bears lost was hint of immortality” by Bernie Lincicome, “No McMiracle in late show” by Bob Verdi, and “Dolphins roll out anti-blitz offense” by Ed Sherman.
Bears squeezed in Miami vise (Pierson)
The Bears convinced the National Football League they are perfectly human Monday night when the Miami Dolphins ruined their perfect season and preserved history for themselves with a 38-24 victory.
The Bears’ 12-game winning streak and dreams of an undefeated season turned to a nightmare with a 31-point onslaught by quarterback Dan Marino and the Dolphins in the first half.
The noisy Orange Bowl crowd of 75,594 counted down the seconds and hailed the 1972 Dolphins as the last unbeaten (17-0) team.
Walter Payton got his record-breaking eighth 100-yard game in a row only because the Bears called time out three times in the final minute when the Dolphins had the ball. Payton finished with 121 yards in 23 carries and curiously carried only 10 times in the first half.
“Walter Payton is the greatest football player to ever play the game. Other people who call themselves running backs can’t carry his jersey,” said Ditka.
Good news football fans: you can watch the full game on Youtube. And it is pretty weird if you watch the end of the game. In a move that would be ridiculed today, the Bears called timeouts on defense to force the Dolphins to punt in order to let Chicago hand off to Walter Payton a few more times. Payton had rushed for 100 yards in 7 straight games, tied with Earl Campbell and O.J. Simpson for an NFL record. With a minute left, Payton had 21 carries for 98 yards, but after Chicago got the ball back, he went ahead and broke the record … with the Bears trailing by 14 in the final seconds (and with, of all people, Simpson in the booth calling the game). A minute later, you can hear the loud crowd chant down the final few seconds.
The other interesting notes from Pierson’s article was the way Miami schemed against this historic defense, and the reaction of the Bears players after the game. Some of these quotes only come in this version of the article, so this may have represented an updated version.
With William “the Refrigerator” Perry facing All-Pro center Dwight Stephenson in the “46” defense, the Bears had trouble pressuring Marino up the middle. When he rolled right, he broke containment and killed the coverage.“They must have studied the film of last year’s NFC title game when (49er quarterback Joe) Montana hurt us by getting out of the pocket,” said safety Dave Duerson. The Dolphins also isolated wide receivers on linebacker Wilber Marshall, and Marino’s strong arm and quick release found targets on quick slanting and crossing patterns.
“There’s no question we helped them on their way,” said center Jay Hilgenberg. “But the only thing that matters is the last game of the year.” “They were a better team than us,” said tackle Jimbo Covert. “Tonight. It ain’t the end of the world. On this day in history, they were better. Five or six weeks down the road, we might be better than them.”
“I don’t think it affects the achievements of the 1985 Bears,” said safety Gary Fencik. “We have to take it as a positive. We’re not infallible.”
Only Thing Bears Lost Was Hint Of Immortality (Lincicome)
MIAMI — So much for immortality.
Not to underrate history, but the Bears did not lose a season in the Orange Bowl Monday night, they merely lost a game, and they already have so many.
“Hey, we’re human,” said linebacker Otis Wilson.
And the Bears had worked so hard to make the world think otherwise.
“The interesting thing,” said coach Mike Ditka, “will be to see how we bounce back from this. Things have been going pretty good for us. We haven’t been in this situation.”
“This is not a catastrophe,” said linebacker Mike Singletary.
“If it had to happen,” said tackle Steve McMichael, “I’m glad it happened now.”
“You never get anything good out of losing,” said center Jay Hilgenberg.
“We’ll still be in the Super Bowl,” Wilson said. “And we’ll win that.”
“I set some goals before the season,” Ditka said. “And we’ve accomplished most of them. I thought being undefeated was not unrealistic.
The ’85 Bears have a reputation for being cocky, and it’s easy to see why with quotes like this. But this was a supremely talented team that deserved to be confident, and hey — they never lost another game. One of the joys in reading old articles is just understanding the aura around a team like the ’85 Bears at that time. Chicago was 12-0 entering this game, and while Miami was only a 2-point underdog, that didn’t reflect the hype surrounding the ’85 Bears.
A pal of mine who reviews the Dolphins for a living had told me was making a list of all the reasons he thought Miami would beat the Bears.
He pulled out a note pad about the size of a matchbook.
“I can’t even fill this,” he said glumly.
The Bears do that to people. Even to people who had not yet seen the Bears in full rage. The reputation of the Bears runs far ahead of their hat size these days, the way lightning precedes thunder.
What was remembered was San Francisco and Dallas and other horrible accidents caused by Team Ditka. Not forgotten was the uncomfortable coincidence of two teams beaten by the Bears having subsequently whipped the Dolphins.
A local journal invited Dolphin constituents to advise Don Shula on how best to beat the Bears, as if the collective will of a community could do what no other team had been able to do. The responses bordered on hysterical surrender.
One suggested the Dolphins hijack the Bears’ bus and play a high school team instead. Another believed the best method was to sacrifice Miami’s quarterbacks, offering them from third string to first string so that when Dan Marino entered the game, the Bears would be too tired to hurt him.
A local psychic was consulted to find out if the stars, at least, favored Miami.
She sadly reported that the moon was in Leo and the sun was in Sagittarius, which was bad news–and not for the Bears.
Anti-Refrigerator songs cluttered AM radio, and television ads promised a thorough defrosting.
This is the kind of blather that usually precedes championship games but has greeted the Bears wherever they go.
But you know what — Chicago did live up to the hype. You can sense that Lincicome thought the hype was too much, which is perhaps easy to say the day after the team lost its first game.
Still, so much insanity seemed a little severe.
It is just that the Bears had become very huge, very fast. They may even one day deserve their immense celebrity.
The Bears had that ominous aura about them. They had become the foremost intimidators in football. They were expected to leave invalids and possibly a widow or two behind.
It may not be a pleasant image for poets or china salesmen, but it suited the Bears just fine. They have three regular-season games left to restore the myth.
The Bears certainly restored that myth and their immense celebrity remains to this day: if not the most popular or celebrated team in history, Chicago at least produced the most popular and celebrated single season team of the decade.
No McMiracle in late show (Verdi) (No digital link available)
This article serves as a reminder of how Jim McMahon was third in the pecking order on the ’85 Bears, behind the defense and Payton. Up to this point, Chicago had gone 4-0 under Steve Fuller (though McMahon had a come-from-behind win off the bench against the Vikings) and 8-0 under McMahon, but reading these articles, you don’t get the sense that Miami got a “cheap win” by facing Fuller instead of McMahon (who, oh by the way, was in the middle of a personal 22-0 stretch as a starter). Fuller had not played well statistically, but he had started the three previous games which were Bears blowouts by the scores of 24-3, 44-0, and 36-0! In other words, the injured starting quarterback wasn’t really a story.
In this article, McMahon notes that he could have started, but wanted to be smart and healthy for the playoffs (he ended up entering the game after Fuller was injured early in the 4th quarter). The most fun tidbits in Verdi’s piece come after the fold: it’s worth your time to read McMahon’s comments on the Chicago media, his thoughts on a comparison to the ’84 Cubs (who lost the NLCS 3-2 after being up 2-0), and hearing him speak about the cold relationship with his head coach.
Dolphins Roll Out Anti-blitz Offense (Sherman)
Thanks to Duper and his teammates, the 1972 Dolphins–the only team to go through a season undefeated–can rest easy again. The 1985 version preserved the alumni’s record for another year.
“I’m very pleased,” said Dolphins’ coach Don Shula. “It doesn’t mean as much to these guys, but it means a lot to the older guys. It’s important to us. We’d like to see that stay in the record books for a while.”
Why yes, the ’72 Dolphins were even annoying back then. But the other gem in this article is the schematic stuff:
The Dolphins knew they would be shocked if they couldn’t protect Marino. As Marino goes, so go the Dolphins. So Shula designed an attack which had the quarterback rolling out more than usual. The coach also had fullback Woody Bennett watching for blitzing Bears’ linebackers.
“Bennett was a big factor in our blocking scheme,” Shula said. “He picked up Otis Wilson.”
Marino had the time and consequently had the time of his life in the first half. The Dolphins scored on all five possessions to take a 31-10 halftime lead.
Marino completed 14 of 27 passes for 270 yards and 3 touchdowns, and was sacked only 3 times. The biggest stat, though, was the Dolphins’ third-down conversions: five successes in six chances in the first half. Twice they faced third down and 18 yards to go, and twice Marino struck for big plays to continue a scoring drive.
“They have a great defensive team,” Marino said. “They put some pressure on me, but we were able to buy some time rolling out. We were able to get some big plays, and that got us going.”
Finally, one bonus article: you should read the recap of Chicago’s week 2 victory that year. Why’s that? That game helps put things in perspective: the Bears defense played poorly in week 1 after a dominant 1984 season, and began planting the seeds that would become “the ’85 Bears” in this game. The other reason? Their opponent was the Patriots, the team Chicago would beat in the Super Bowl.
Thanks for reading, and again, you can read all four articles here. Please leave your thoughts in the comments.