Most films in ESPN’s 30 for 30 series don’t have the luxury of saying exactly what they’re about in the title. But director Jason Hehir and the team behind “The ’85 Bears,” the latest ’30 for 30′ installment, didn’t really have a choice.
Because when you’re talking about the greatest team in NFL history, there’s no point in getting cute.
Forget including what century it was or what city they’re from. Say those three words – “The ’85 Bears” – and any self-respecting fan of professional sports will know the team you’re talking about.
And now, sports fans outside of Chicago know just how damn good that team was.
Even today, Bears fans probably talk about the 1985 Chicago Bears a little too much. They’re mythical superstars to the eyes of Chicagoans.
And until the franchise wins their second Super Bowl, that won’t change. Hell, that probably won’t ever change regardless of a second Super Bowl.
Because they’re not just the one Super Bowl champion in Chicago Bears history. They’re widely regarded as the single greatest team of 50 different Super Bowl champions.
Granted, any biased meathead Chicagoan exclaiming “it’s not even close!” must be taken with a grain of salt – but the numbers speak for themselves.
They still hold 10 individual or team Super Bowl records, and after Carolina’s loss Sunday they’re still one of just two teams to win 18 games and a Super Bowl (49ers in ’84, who smoked the Bears in the NFC title game).
As “The ’85 Bears” documentary astutely reminded us, they’re definitely the only NFL team to ever carry two coaches off the field after winning it all. And vice versa, this is the first time a film in the ’30 for 30′ series has been directly based on one season of an NFL team.
The documentary’s goal wasn’t to compare the ’85 Bears to anyone, but rather to highlight just how revolutionary one team can be.
Hehir’s version being able to stick out among plenty of previously released ’85 Bears pieces only reaffirms that. Moreover, it did so in primetime a mere three nights away from Super Bowl 50 – when the entire country is sick of two weeks of pregame talk and just wants to watch football.
Sure, you can always grab the NFL Films ’85 Bears documentary On Demand.
But the Thursday-Night-Primetime-ESPN treatment is a completely different thing. I mean come on, Vince Vaughn (a student at Lake Forest High in ’85) narrated and executive produced the goddamn thing
It’s what the story deserves, an ultimate and final reminder to sports fans young and old that the fall of 1985 was one of the most significant chapters in modern professional sports.
More than anything, the 30 for 30 angle on the ’85 Bears highlighted how beautiful (and rare) it was for one team with so much raw talent and that many personalities – plus a couple of coaching egos and the country’s third-largest media market – to all be on the same page.
It was a perfect storm; the best-case scenario of skill, bravado, and discipline working in ultimate harmony to be the most dominant football team anyone had ever seen.
From the loaded roster to their genius defensive coordinator, things rarely “come together at the right time” like they did for the ’85 Bears.
Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton, two-way tight end Emery Moorehead and All-Pro free safety Gary Fencik (one of the better voices in the documentary) were all 31 and nearing the end of their primes. Every other starter was somewhere between 23 and 28, a ridiculously good core of young talent that included eight Pro Bowlers in 1985.
And, as Hehir demonstrated marvelously in the most powerful part of his version of the famous team, it’s a mini-miracle that defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan was even there.
Early on, while the documentary was building the backstory to the ’85 Bears, we hear the story of the defensive starters writing a letter to George Halas in 1981 asking him to not fire Ryan.
It worked, and Ryan stuck around to invent a defense that put up sack numbers usually seen in video games. He and Mike Ditka tolerated each other long enough to create a historical juggernaut before Buddy’s inevitable fate to coach his own team came calling.
Not the most outwardly emotional man, Ryan expressed his true appreciation of those defensive starters to them twice: In a speech the night before Super Bowl XX and in a handwritten response letter as a part of the documentary.
Both ended with the same seven words that say it all:
“You guys will always be my heroes.”
— ESPN Films 30 for 30 (@30for30) February 5, 2016
Thirty years later and worn from multiple bouts with cancer, it’s crystal clear to Ryan just how special that one season was.
It was special enough to have two different coaches carried off the field; and special enough to have its own ESPN documentary 30 years after Buddy Ryan’s heroes lifted him up one last time.
After all, not every memory is worth sharing with the world.