The Last and Only Dance: Bears Rout Patriots 46-10

Gene Chamberlain

In a way, it was their own last dance. 

That's because it was their only dance.

NBC Sports Chicago has been playing the Chicago White Sox 2005 World Series run and the Blackhawks' three Stanley Cup runs and of course the Bulls' 1998 title run in conjunction with  ESPN's landmark series on the Last Dance.

On Sunday, June 7 at 2 p.m. the regular NBC network will fill time created by the COVID-19 freeze on sports by replaying the most dominant title of them all for Chicago, the 1985 Chicago Bears' 46-10 victory in Super Bowl XX over the New England Patriots.

Considering it was 35 years ago now, there are plenty of potential viewers who've never seen that team and how it devastated opponents. If they watch this game they'll not see vintage Walter Payton.

The Patriots had played the Bears earlier in the year and they had a very good idea of how to stop Payton because they held him to 39 yards on 11 carries in that first one and the Bears still rushed for 160 yards and won it 20-7. The Bears had a 20-0 lead then before they let up a late score, sort of like the Super Bowl without as many points.

The Bears took the ball from New England four times in that first one at Soldier Field in Week 2 of the regular season, and in the Super Bowl the Bears' defense took it away six times.

The Patriots held Payton to 61 yards rushing on 22 carries in Super Bowl XX but the real crime was Payton didn't score a touchdown in a Super Bowl, so most blame has gone on coach Mike Ditka for this. They were a yard or 2 away three times and they had William "The Refrigerator" Perry do the honors once and Jim McMahon sneak it in twice.

Payton did seem miffed by this at game's end but in postgame interviews tried shrugging it off.

Years later I collaborated on a weekly column with both Ditka and then Payton for a newspaper chain and Ditka said he did regret not giving Payton the shot at scoring, while Payton tried to downplay its importance. But it was very obvious it still bothered him.

In Ditka's defense, he did say he was so involved with trying to get points to win the title that he didn't really concern himself with it until the game was well out of hand. The problem with his explanation was Perry's touchdown came in the third quarter and by then the Bears were already up 30-3.

The dominance of that 1985 defense came forth with their last performance under defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan, as they made four fumble recoveries, two interceptions, seven sacks, held the Patriots to 7 rushing yards, scored nine defensive points on a Reggie Phillips touchdown return and Henry Waechter safety, and Richard Dent was chosen Super Bowl MVP.

The way this team played at another level than opponents is difficult to explain but some numbers do it. They not only had the best defense, the best scoring defense

What happened after that, why it was their only dance and they couldn't repeat, is always a subject for debate.

Some blame Ditka, some blamed Michael McCaskey for breaking up the team, others pointed out the defense was still dominant but not quite the same after Ryan left. Of course quarterback Jim McMahon's chain of injuries had a big role in explaining it. And Walter Payton retired in 1987, the final year for both Wilber Marshall and Willie Gault in Chicago.

Ryan's 46 defense was replaced by Vince Tobin's scheme and offensive coordinators had answers for these and all defenses which overloaded the box to stop the run. They started throwing short routs to wide receivers, hot routes.

Times changed, rules changed, football looks much different now.

A year ago this weekend many of those 1985 Bears took part in the Bears 100th anniversary season celebration and many pointed out how much different the game is now and how their game compared.

Center Jay Hilgenberg said he thought their ground game would be every bit as devastating today but is much different than the one offenses run now.

Defensive players were just as proud and positive of how their effort stands the test of time, although Gary Fencik pointed out the way offenses try to build mismatches for receivers now was a great deal like how Miami handed the Bears their only loss of the year. That loss came in a Monday night road game after the Bears had already clinched home field edge through the NFC playoffs.

The dominance of teams of other eras, even other seasons, can't really be measured against each other. 

Analytics experts will try but those numbers ring hollow. They can never really tell what would happen when actual humans of other years or eras go against each other on a field. 

What is certain is no team had as much fun or gave any city as good of a time while rolling to a title, and no one can dispute the dominance that one Bears team had over the competition they faced in their particular dream season—their last and only dance

Twitter: BearDigest@BearsOnMaven

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