If a professional sports team ever reflected the character of its city, it was the 1985 Bears and Chicago.
They represented at the once the city’s best and worst qualities: Disciplined but ruthless. Industrious but arrogant. Their approach dogmatic, its effect swift and brutal.
All of which is captured in ESPN’s 30 for 30: The ‘85 Bears, which comes 30 years after the Bears’ legendary 1985 championship run and premiered last week right in the middle of all the pigskin-related hubbub.
All in, the doc stands as a testament to the coaches and characters that made the NFL a living hell for a few seasons. Below, five factoids every Bears fan can take away.
1. Buddy Ryan gets his proper due
Ditka may have gotten the spoils, but Defensive Coordinator Buddy Ryan emerged as the true catalyst behind the team’s supremacy. Revealed: a little-known letter penned in 1981 by the Bears’ defense to George Halas in hopes to save Buddy Ryan’s job. It worked. Head coach Neill Armstrong was fired and replaced by Ditka. The doc’s main interweaving storyline is the rivalry between Ditka and Ryan, from their first meeting to the day Ryan left to coach the Philadelphia Eagles — just two days after Super Bowl XX.
The 46 DefenseAn old-school NFL clip explaining the dominance of Buddy Ryan's 46 Defense.6:19
2. The 46 Defense was the greatest of all time because of ...
The personnel. The scheme designed by Buddy Ryan is considered one of the most dominant of all time. But it’s rarely used used in the NFL today. Its main purpose: attack and get to the QB. It essentially evolved and adapted to the talent of the group, which included more weapons than the Arsenal at Harpers Ferry.
3. The team partied, and they partied hard
Our favorite part of the doc: no mention of the Super Bowl shuffle. But it did mention many an extra-curricular activity, particularly, how the team partied all Super Bowl week in New Orleans and still crushed the Patriots 46-10. Even rookie kicker Kevin Bulter was getting some.
4. Why Payton didn’t score at Super Bowl XX
As legend has it, Payton threw a fit in locker room after the Bears Super Bowl XX victory. The reason: not scoring a touchdown. The decision to let William “the Refrigerator” Perry barrel into the end zone (also changing sports betting forever) instead of Payton remains Ditka's only regrets. In the film, Jim McMahon argues Payton was a decoy for most of the game, and the goal-line play was a read-option that ended up in Perry’s hands. Ditka argues he just didn’t think about it.
5. Reconfirmed: Playing football in the ‘80s was a death wish
If there’s one takeaway from watching ‘80s Bears clips, it’s that you’d be foolish to hit the field with them. Goes without saying but, all those slobber-knocking hits? Illegal by today’s standards. But it’s more than just rules. It was the era of anything-goes and cheap shots. And the ‘85 Bears bred a culture of brutality. They were scrappy. And a lot crazy.
6. And the lasting effects are real
Perhaps the most nuanced segment of The ‘85 Bears is the ugliest part of the team’s legacy: the aftermath of playing football, cemented by the 2011 suicide of safety Dave Duerson, who struggled with concussion-induced brain trauma. In its eventuality, the film strikes a balance that celebrates the Bears golden years while acknowledging its contribution to long-term controversies that plague the game to this day.