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Friday, October 7, 2011
1985 Chicago Bears still buzzworthy

By Melissa Isaacson
ESPNChicago.com

WASHINGTON -- Twenty-five years later, there was no mistaking the sight of a 52-year-old Jim McMahon sitting behind the president of the United States on the South Lawn of the White House in a suit, tie, white headband and tennis shoes.

For all those pinheads who wish the 1985 Chicago Bears would go away already, there they were again Friday, honored for their contribution as Super Bowl champions, getting overdue attention from Washington for, the nerve of them, being one of the greatest teams in NFL history.

Also reminding us, and maybe still informing those too young or too thick to realize, just how big a part of popular culture they were and, as such, always will be.

You can't wish them away. And frankly, it's even more ridiculous to try at this point unless there is another professional football team from Chicago that somehow has been cheated out of an invite to the White House.

Even some of the '85ers themselves either have been shamed into or subscribe themselves to the aforementioned pinhead mentality (see: Dan Hampton). Others are simply a little sheepish.

"It does amaze me," said the team's former PR man Ken Valdiserri, looking up at the phalanx of cameras aimed at the receiving stand where the Bears and President Barack Obama were about to appear, while a band struck up "Bear Down, Chicago Bears."

"This has to be it," he said. "It's got to be the icing on the cake. People are somewhat tired of the '85 Bears. But until they win another Super Bowl, this team's existence will live until perpetuity because they are such characters."

 President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama honored members of the 1985 Chicago Bears at the White House on Friday, including quarterback Jim McMahon and defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan.

Well, yes, that is surely one reason they gained such an unprecedented level of fame, as the president ticked off some examples:

"When is the last time you saw a poster of the offensive line?" Obama cracked of the Black and Blues Brothers.

And of McMahon: "A rock 'n' roll quarterback who was on the cover of Rolling Stone. He had kids wearing headbands and shades to school because of [him]."

And, of course, of "The Super Bowl Shuffle": "I think it's safe to say this is the only team in NFL history with a gold record and a Grammy nomination."

"This team ruled the city. It riveted the country. They were everywhere. They were like the Beatles. And this was before [everyone watched] 'SportsCenter' and before 24/7 sports news had really taken off. But they just captured the country's imagination," Obama said.

Yet, too often overlooked by those who choose to focus on excessive appearances or "annoying" reunions by the '85ers is just how good they truly were. And that did not require any rhetoric from the president, just facts.

"These guys wreaked havoc," Obama said. "It was like they were competing with each other to see who could get to the quarterback first. There was one game that season in which the other team's offense had the ball in Bears territory a total of 21 seconds."

It's always fun to see the team regroup now, imagining the potential awkwardness of those who used to get on each other's nerves or worse. But there again were Mike Ditka and Buddy Ryan, having hugged it out a year ago. There was Richard Dent, once among the most bitter of Bears during contract squabbles, telling Michael McCaskey just how much it meant to him that McCaskey's mother, Virginia, presented him with his Hall of Fame ring. And all were grateful for the generosity of the Bears organization, which brought a traveling party of more than 100 to Washington on a charter flight that cost the club $120,000, according a source, who also said the NFL chipped in $20,000. You kind of wish their detractors were just as mature.

"It's not like we're out there pushing to be reunited or in headlines," Valdiserri said. "It's the continued popularity of the players."

You've seen it with the overwrought defense of Walter Payton in the wake of published excerpts from the new biography, "Sweetness." But irrational or not, it speaks to the loyalty of Bears fans, most of whom will smile when they see highlights of the old gang all spruced up Friday in Washington.

Sure, McMahon looked like a bit of a goof in his headband, but at least he has a sense of humor. Sometimes embarrassing, sometimes a pain in the behind, but usually fun. And, oh yeah -- a winner. You prefer Jay Cutler right now?

Players who were there Friday spoke all week of what a thrill it would be.

"It wasn't the biggest thing that we didn't get to go to the White House then," Gary Fencik said, "but my initial reaction 26 years later is that I'm going to appreciate it a lot more now. Now I realize the gravity of it all, what impact our team has had, and I think we're all a lot more mature in recognizing what a unique opportunity it is."

"The older you get, the wiser you get," said Otis Wilson, "and I certainly, truly appreciate it because the fans of Chicago remind us of it every day. ... A little guy who grew up in Brooklyn, New York ... and then ending up at the White House? You don't squander opportunities like that."

And if you're smart, you don't knock them for it.

"It's never enough," Wilson said. "We did something very special for the city of Chicago, not only on the field but off the field, and people appreciated that."

"You can't tell people to stop the love," said Dent. "And we appreciate the love."

So what's so wrong with that?

"Chicago has always been a die-hard football town," Obama said, "but this team did something to our city that we've never gotten over."

One way or the other, he couldn't be more right.

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.