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Remember The '85 Bears? Actually, No You Don't

Presuming the NFL stumbles into actually playing football this year without infecting all the players, fans, coaches, and officials, Chicago will celebrate an anniversary.

This is one of those physical events that seems closer in the rear-view mirror than it really is.

It's been 35 years since the Super Bowl that Chicagoans revere.

Not so long ago, right?

Wrong. A really long time ago, even though it doesn't seem so.

That means by the time the Super Bowl is played on Feb. 7 - if it does get played - 12,327 days will have elapsed, counting leap years, since the Bears last won a game that everyone seems to remember so clearly.

But here's the psychic skin abrasion. Most current Bears fans could not have seen it either live or contemporaneously on television any more than most Cubs fan saw Babe Ruth "Call His Shot."

They know "about" the game, but that is not memory.

I know this seems impossible to be true.

But the culprit is obvious.

It's age, my brothers and sisters, my friends, and comrades. Time is a predator creeping up on your aging bones and even more decrepit mental faculties.

This analysis is inspired by, a national though New York-based marketing data and demographic analysis company. They slice the NFL's facts and sell them to vendors who need to know the customers.

The several thousand facts they know about the Bears market focus on one relevant insight - the average Bears fan currently is a male between 35 and 44 years old. They constitute the biggest demographic population watching the team now.

Nearly half of all NFL fans are women (47 percent) and almost one in three NFL fans fall between the ages of 18 and 34 years of age.


That means much of Chicago's current herd of active fandom had just been born or was no older than 9 for that Super Bowl. Female fans constitute a rising tide. How many 10-year-old females watched the NFL in 1985 as fans of the game?

Everyone who empirically now can prove they remember precise details of the 1985 Super Bowl is old. They are a fast-receding slice of the herd.

* * * * *

What do you most remember? Super cool, punkish, quarterback dude Jim McMahon, of course. He turns 62 next year. He's eligible for Social Security. He's old, too. An old, but cool punk.

Anyone have enough nerve to tell coach Mike Ditka he'll be 82?

The '85 Bears have become candidates for assisted living accommodations. Walter Payton would have been 67 had he survived.

If McMahon was a chronological peer of yours in 1985, you're old, too. Collegian in 1985? You are 55 or so now. Ask your son or daughter. Is that old? Yes, mom and dad, they will answer. You are old.

You might be a grandparent now.

Sorry, but 55 is the new . . . 55. Run all the 5Ks you want.

That Super Bowl year was closer to the year Eisenhower decided to build a national highway system than 2021 will be to that game. The CD was invented in 1985. The Internet had its first address.

But this is not some idle exercise in ageism. What it reflects is how seldom the Chicago Bears have been good since then. Their most-recent great-remembered season was in the previous century.

The corollary is that this historic lack of recent success makes that game seem far more significant than had the team been regular playoff participants. Chicago remains fascinated and obsessed with it, even the stiff, staged, and creaky "Super Bowl Shuffle."

Tell the truth. Does the Shuffle still seem cool when you watch replays?

"We are the Bears' shufflin' crew
"Shufflin' on down, doin' it for you
"We're so bad, we know we're good
"Blowin' your mind like we knew we would."

Not quaintly dated at all, right? Odd what we thought was cool in 1985.

The years have only added and reinforced what then-childhood fans believe they remember. But such evidence can be tricky. We can remember the lingering puff of smoke, but not the fire.

Biologists now believe that adults might remember many things from their early childhood, though the memories are not accessible.

You believe you should remember something, but you don't really. Everybody else seems to remember and tells you so. Don't worry. They are unlikely to remember, either.

There is even a dividing at age 10 when linguistic skills are flowering, and young childhood memories are fading.

Memories, it seems, are not data stored in data computers except in the mistaken consciousness of many Bears fans.

It's called Infantile Amnesia, the apt clinical name that coincidentally applies for Bears fans and their perceptions.

It's a cerebral cortex illusion.

Plus, the memory of Jim McMahon, and the Super Bowl Shuffle, even the Super Bowl itself, is a product being sold for profit by Chicago media and the Bears media arm, too. This shared past is a valuable piece of the franchise. Advertising dollars sustain the resurrection.

But it's an illusion.

You only think you remember specifics from a televised football game from when you were 10, or 6 or 4. Actually, it's a deja vu trick of brain chemistry recollection.

So it's been 35 years since that event, though you'd think it almost was yesterday based on the sanctified, intensified, artificial memory.

What most people actually remember are highlights and other people's restated recollections played perpetually on Chicago television. People telling you about their memories, with video.

If you were 45 then - not an outlandish number - you are 80 now. What do you actually remember clearly at 80, even about who you were as a child?

These era leaps also depend on which era it is. Some eras power perception more intensely. The gap between 1985 and now might seem in our emotional recollections to be brief. But it's the same gap between the Civil War and the 20th Century - 1865 to 1900.

Being sure we remember what we might not recall is a way of refreshing our affections about an event we treasure for its rarity.

But it's not actually a retrieved memory at all. It's a reconstructed, reflected image in the rear-view mirror.

The older you get, the more dedicated you are to your treasure chest of memories. And the more likely you are tricking yourself.

Bears fans should be more capable of remembering the totally forgettable 2007 Super Bowl against the Colts. No one expected the Rex Grossman-led Bears would win, and they didn't. The game lived down to its low expectations and leaves no lasting imprint on Chicago fans and their devotion.

It was just another game the Bears didn't win.

But everything about 1985 was different. McMahon holds a unique spot in this memory, as though 1985 marked the natural Shakespearean end to his career saga. I bid thee farewell. So long Jim, and thanks for your career.

He was the property of the Bears for seven years between 1982 and 1988. But he played thereafter for six other teams and nine years.

Those years seem invisible to memory. You can almost hear the TV narrator say: "Oh, by the way . . . "

• San Diego Chargers (1989)
• Philadelphia Eagles (1990 - 1992)
• Minnesota Vikings (1993)
• Arizona Cardinals (1994)
• Cleveland Browns (1995) Practice squad)
• Green Bay Packers (1995 - 1996)

He retired from the Packers - the actual freaking Green Bay Packers. That exit followed the 1996 season, which finished with Green Bay's Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots in New Orleans.

Oh, by the way, it was 11 years to the day of the Bears' Super Bowl victory over the Patriots in the same venue.

McMahon showed up at the White House for the traditional Super Bowl champs' celebration. He wore his Bears jersey.

But who remembers that?


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David Rutter is the former publisher/editor of the Lake County News-Sun, and more importantly, the former author of the Beachwood's late, great "The Week In WTF" column. You can also check him out at his Theeditor50's blog. He welcomes your comments.

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