In the the early '80s, the NFL was at a crossroads. The 1982 strike was still fresh in fans' minds; viewership was nowhere near what it is today, and Commissioner Pete Rozelle was clamoring for players with the type of personalities that could transcend the sport.
Enter the The '85 Bears, with a fiery head coach who barely spoke with his monomaniacal defensive coordinator, an unpredictable renegade at quarterback, a living legend at running back, a defense as ripe with characters as they were with talent, and a 325-pound cherry on top who would soon become the most recognizable athlete in the country. But the '85 Bears were much more just characters. Aside from a Monday Night misstep in Miami, they were unbeatable, with a swagger to match. As hip-hop was first entering the mainstream, they cut hit rap record boasting of their inevitable Super Bowl appearance -- eight weeks BEFORE the game was played. (They remain the only Grammy nominated world champs in sports history.)
Their story began long before 1985 and continues to this very day. It was a privilege for our crew to chronicle the rise, the fall and the aftermath of the most culturally significant team of our lifetime. I hope viewers enjoy watching this doc as much as we enjoyed making it.
About The '85 Bears
It started with a letter. The glory of the 1985 Chicago Bears really began with a 1981 missive to 86-year-old owner George Halas that was written by defensive captains Gary Fencik and Alan Page and signed by the members of their unit. Sensing that head coach Neil Armstrong was about to be fired, they implored Halas to keep their defensive coordinator, Buddy Ryan. Upon receiving the letter, the patriarch said he had never been more proud of his players.
Unbeknownst to the team, Halas had another letter on his mind. This one had been sent to him by the special teams coach of the Dallas Cowboys, a former Bears tight end who had once crossed Halas. He not only asked Papa Bear for forgiveness, but he also asked to be considered for a head coaching job should a vacancy arise. It was signed, "Mike Ditka."
The rest was, quite literally, history. ESPN's 30 for 30 will explore the famous and infamous Super Bowl XX champions on the 30th anniversary of that title with "The '85 Bears", directed by Emmy Award winner Jason Hehir ("The Fab Five"). Halas, Ryan and Ditka are only three of the legends Hehir revives in this extraordinary film about a group of misfits who became the toast of football.
There's the beer-drinking quarterback from Brigham Young, Jim McMahon, and the hugely versatile William "The Refrigerator" Perry. Viewers will again experience the greatness of running back Walter Payton and the fierce intelligence of linebacker Mike Singletary. They will relive that epic season-the birth of the 46 Defense, the sweet-revenge victory over the 49ers, the loss to the Dolphins that ruined their perfect season, the "Super Bowl Shuffle" that was filmed the day after.
But more importantly, Hehir shows how this team was forged by men with differences who came together for a common cause at just the right time. The only real shame of that season was that Halas wasn't around to see his Bears become champions once again.
It was a letter that started it all, and it's a letter that ends this extraordinary chronicle. This one, a thank-you note written by Buddy Ryan, is read aloud by the men he coached: "I told you a long time ago, and it's true. You'll always be my heroes."
What's Everyone Saying?
Jason Hehir is a six-time Emmy Award-winning director and producer. His 2011 ESPN film "The Fab Five" debuted as the highest-rated documentary in the network's history. In 2013, he directed his second 30 For 30 "Bernie And Ernie", chronicling the unlikely lifelong friendship of Bernard King and Ernie Grunfeld. Hehir developed HBO's acclaimed "24/7" series, producing its first two installments (De La Hoya/Mayweather and Mayweather/Hatton). Hehir also helmed the Emmy-nominated "Jose Canseco: Last Shot" for A&E. His 2012 short film "The Brink: Kid Chocolate" chronicling the rise of middleweight world champion Peter "Kid Chocolate" Quillin, can be found on Grantland.com.
Hehir is the founder and president of JMH Films. A Boston native and graduate of Williams College, he currently resides in New York City.
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