Well, while we wait for the start of baseball’s free agent signing period, here’s something for Bears fans:
The Rise and Self-Destruction of the Greatest Football Team in History by John Mullin
If you read the title in the line above, and didn’t automatically think “1985 Chicago Bears” this book probably isn’t for you. But if you were a football fan in Chicago during the 1980’s, you’ll probably enjoy it a lot. It begins with a summary of how the major players for the team were assembled prior to 1985. It’s almost sick how well the Bears drafted in those years, as the 1983 draft alone yielded the following players: Jim Covert, Willie Gault, Mike Richardson, Dave Duerson, Tom Thayer, Mark Bortz and Richard Dent. We also get some interesting back stories on the players; Dent, for example, slipped into the 8th round of the draft that year because he had bad teeth. He weighed 227 pounds on draft day, but once the Bears paid to fix the nerve damage in his mouth that made eating painful, Dent put on 40 pounds and became a pass rushing force to be reckoned with. After taking a brief look at some of the Bears growing pains in 1983 and ’84, Mullin jumps to the 1985 season. Summaries are provided for each game, along with side stories, most chronicling the jealousy that divided the offensive and defensive squads, as well as the individual players. In fact, the ’85 Bears appear to be the poster boys for enormous talent overcoming a lack of team chemistry. The only thing that the team seemed to be united in was their total distaste for club president Michael McCaskey.
Of course, a large part of Rise’s story is devoted to Head Coach Mike Ditka. The case is made that Ditka’s strong personality and hatred of losing spurred the team to its Super Bowl win, but also burned the players out, possibly costing them multiple championships. While giving lip service to the concept of treating all the players the same, Ditka hardly put this philosophy into practice. He let Jim McMahon do what he wanted, while his constant harping drove 3rd string QB Mike Tomzack into therapy. Ditka had Doug Flutie over to his house for Thanksgiving dinner, but he constantly disrespected one of his best defensive players, referring to Dent as “Robert” in the press. However, for some reason, Mullin doesn’t really go into detail on the Ditka’s main conflict that season, his rivalry with defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan.
I do have a few other complaints about Rise. First, it seems to give short shrift to the best player on the team, Walter Payton. Possibly because Payton was overshadowed by the more outgoing personalities on the team, along with the fact that his untimely death meant Mullin could do no interviews with him. Alsoy, there is an entire chapter devoted to the “Super Fans” skit on Saturday Night Live. While the purpose of this chapter is to show the lasting cultural impact that the team had, it really seems to be tacked on to the rest of the narrative. Finally, the book really does require you to have some previous knowledge of the team and players to fully appreciate it.
In conclusion, if you remember and love the 1985 Bears, I recommend this book to you. Otherwise, you’ll probably want to pass.