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The Bears' Last Dance Was Their Only One

Of course my memories of the loss are the most vivid. The Bears rolled through the playoffs in the winter of 1985-86 and then really unleashed their dominance in Super Bowl XX. But my clearest recollections of that amazing campaign are of that crushing Monday Night loss in Miami at the start of the regular season's final month.

Except it turns out my memories of that amazing team's single setback actually weren't very accurate (the Bears finished with a combined 18-1 record after winning their first 12 before taking on the Dolphins). I thought I remembered details of that game but then I went back and read a delightfully detailed oral history and realized that sometimes even my favorite recollections are warped by time.

And I am not alone . . . not by a long stretch. And of course there are connections between that game and season and the documentary mega-series The Last Dance that continues to mesmerize Chicago with the seventh and eighth episodes (out of a total of 10) set to air on Sunday.

At this point I need to apologize to the editor of the Beachwood and others who I know have officially read and watched their fill and then some of coverage of the only Chicago team that has ever won a Super Bowl. But any story of Chicago sports fandom that includes the '80s has to have a chapter about this team.

I was a sophomore at Haverford (a small liberal arts college just outside of Philadelphia) as the ultimate Bears season played out and I had a party at the apartment where I lived with my fellow freshman orienteer Hugh (at Haverford we called ourselves "Customs people" because we helped the first-years get accustomed to college) on the night in question.

But by the end of the first half it was a party of one. As Miami scored and scored and scored again my ranting became ever more angry. After I came close to throwing something at the TV that would have had the potential to cave in the screen, I think the last of my guests hit the road. If I recall correctly (and that is a big "if") Hugh, who was not just not a Chicago sports fan but not a sports fan in general, stayed away the whole evening.

Of course the Dolphins led 31-0 at the half and of course the Bears' potential second half comeback was derailed by the ultimate fluke play. Before going back and reading the aforementioned history I would have sworn that the play that led to the Dolphins stretching the lead back out to three touchdowns in the third quarter involved a pass either skipping off the helmet of receiver Nat Moore or being caught by him and taken into the end zone.

But I'm going to trust that Dan Hampton knew whereof he was speaking and how when he described Dan Marino's panicky pass skipping off his helmet, over cornerback Mike Richardson, who was in position for an almost certain interception, to the waiting hands of Dolphins' receiver Mark Clayton. Later the Bears would pull back to within two touchdowns but that was as close as it would get. The final was 38-24.

I also knew that Mike Ditka and Buddy Ryan had come close to blows in the locker room at halftime regarding Ryan's unwillingness to make adjustments to the fact that the Dolphins were consistently creating mismatches for Moore, a slot receiver with all the speed he needed. But I didn't know that Ditka was definitively right, that Ryan should have made adjustments faster because when the Bears would blitz, Marino's escape valve was almost always Moore, who was almost always lined up against linebacker Wilbur Marshall and had no trouble creating immediate separation.

And finally I didn't know at all that goofy Jim McMahon had entered the game in relief of starter Steve Fuller (McMahon showed before the game that he wasn't quite completely recovered from an injury that had sidelined him for the previous couple of weeks and therefore didn't start) in the fourth quarter. And when he did so, McMahon was more worried about extending Walter Payton's 100-yard rushing game streak from seven to eight than he was about winning the game.

Overall, in case you weren't impressed by the story of the Bulls winning their third consecutive title in 1993, perhaps you are impressed in light of the fact that the best-ever Bears team couldn't even repeat, let alone three-peat, twice.

Last weekend's episode of The Last Dance was a great reminder of the fact that the Bulls barely, barely, barely won the 1993 championship. But they won it, and it was their third title in a row! Something only the great Bill Russell and a number of his teammates accomplished previously in the NBA.

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Jim "Coach" Coffman welcomes your comments.

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Posted on Nov 30, 2020