The Impact of the 1985 Chicago Bears 30 Years Later

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 30 years since the 1985 Chicago Bears captivated and dominated the football world en route to a Super Bowl championship and a reputation as one of the NFL’s best teams of all time.

But you wouldn’t know that speaking to Bears fans like myself.

Thirty years and 29 Super Bowls later the impact of the ’85 Bears is still felt. They captivated the football world in a way that hadn’t been seen before and hasn’t been seen since.

With the team’s 30 year anniversary, ESPN is unveiling a new 30-for-30 documentary, “The ’85 Bears,” which premieres this Thursday, highlighting the events of that magical season and its forever-lasting impact on football and its fans.

The ’85 Bears were a team of destiny. The Bears had the most dominant defense in the NFL’s history, as well as arguably the best running back of all time in Walter Payton. They were near perfect (minus that single loss to the Miami Dolphins) and continued that show of dominance in the postseason with back-to-back shutouts of the New York Giants (21-0) and Los Angeles Rams (24-0) before destroying the New England Patriots 46-10 in Super Bowl XX.

That season remains a significant part of my life, and I wasn’t even alive during that time. But I still know every player, every game, and every significant moment that colored that special season. Names like Walter Payton, Mike Singletary, Mike Ditka, Buddy Ryan, Jim McMahon, and Richard Dent remain regular words in my vocabulary. Everything that they and the rest of the time achieved 30 years ago remains fresh in my mind.

 
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When my father and I reminisce about that remarkable season — and we do often — he tells me how truly amazing it was to behold; how incredible it was to be a fan that year. He says that I would’ve been in football heaven. That’s one of my biggest regrets — never having the privilege of watching them during that season. What a time to be alive that had to have been.

To this day the ’85 Bears remain the heroes of Chicago. It says a lot about what that team means to the city, and just how special that year was. But it also goes to show how the Bears have struggled to get back to the top in the 30 years since. Since the Bears’ Super Bowl XX appearance, the Bears have only made it to one other Super Bowl — a 29-17 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLI in 2006. Once again that team was highlighted by a dominating defense and a consistent offense. But there’s no denying that since that ’85 team that the Bears have been stuck in mediocrity.

The heart of that ’85 squad was none other than Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton, who at 30 years old was running like a kid fresh out of college. He didn’t miss a step. And he was pure magic to watch. Simply put, he’s the greatest to ever play the game.

The highlight of this ’85 team was the defense, who not only dominated but obliterated opposing offenses and quarterbacks. There was a three-game stretch in the month of November where the Bears defense outscored opposing offenses. And in the playoffs, the Bears recorded back-to-back shutouts before a dominating victory over the Patriots in Super Bowl XX.

One of the questions that has lingered to this day is what would’ve happened if Buddy Ryan hadn’t left his defensive coordinator position for the head coaching job in Philadelphia? Ryan had put together the best defense of all time, but it’s a shame that we only got to see it for one season.

The thing that people seem to forget is that the 1986 Bears defense was a dominant unit, as well. Without Ryan they still had that versatile group of talent that played fast, played hard, and played with a passion. And yet they never lived up to the ’85 squad. But that’s because of what Ryan brought to the table. Sure, it had to do with Ryan’s scheme and the classic 46 defense that left opposing offenses square on their backs. But Ryan was more than a coach to this defensive group. He was their heart. It’s why it hurt so much when he told them the night before that he was leaving at the end of the season.

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Who knows what could’ve been if Ryan had stayed? Who knows what this group of guys could have accomplished in another one, two, three seasons? What if?

But that’s what made this team so special. For one moment they shone brighter than any star in the galaxy. And then that light was gone. But that team’s impact has never faded.

For the ’85 Bears it’s not about what could’ve been, it’s about what has been accomplished. And, boy, did the ’85 Bears leave their mark.