Professional athletes are forced to live up to legacies. Retired uniform numbers, highlight films, and statues of icons from past eras remind them of the giant footprints to fill. Or at least in which they must tread. Such was the burden for the Miami Dolphins on December 2, 1985 in a Monday Night Football game against the Chicago Bears. The former had a legacy of perfection to protect—the 1972 Dolphins squad had 17-0 record; the latter compiled a 12-0 record, theretofore.
During the same year that Marty McFly went back to the future, the Bears had an aura of celebrity transcending popular culture. A spat concerning quarterback Jim McMahon wearing an Adidas headband became a matter of national debate—NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle fined McMahon $5,000 for endorsing a product during a game. McMahon responded the following week—during the NFC Championship—by wearing a headband with Rozelle’s name written on it.
William “Refrigerator” Perry transformed from a defensive back into a fullback—but only with the end zone in sight. This tactic may have seemed to be a gimmick because of Perry’s size, but it did result in touchdowns, as well as guaranteed prominence on national and local sportscasts.
Head Coach Mike Ditka had Bears blood running through his veins—he played for the team in the 1960s; Walter Payton’s graceful running garnered cheers from and catharsis for Chicagoans; Buddy Ryan’s 46 Defense alignment protected leads; and Mike Singletary’s single-mindedness set a model for defensive players to be aware of every twitch, movement, and indicator of their opponents.
There was a scent of destiny surrounding these Monsters of the Midway. With each victory came a certain inevitability that the Bears would go to their first Super Bowl. When pre-game shows mentioned Chicago, eyes and ears narrowed their focuses to ingest the latest information about the personalities, performances, and progress of the Bears.
Marching towards perfection, the Bears took the field at the Orange Bowl on December 2nd; a perfect season was a sustainable reality. Miami would not allow that to happen. Tension tighter than a prospector’s clutch on his gold pervaded the stadium. And it pored through television screens tuned to the game, from Puget Sound to Passaic, New Jersey.
Larry Csonka and other members of the ’72 Dolphins stood watch on the sidelines, with arms folded and sober visages. Theirs was a mission of intimidation, steadfastness, and pride—Miami’s perfect season will not be matched. Not tonight. Not tomorrow. Not ever. It was an event made for the moment—ABC’s Monday Night Football was the only national telecast of NFL games; CBS and NBC aired games regionally.
The Dolphins beat the Bears 38-24. Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino had an outstanding game:
- Completed 14 of 27 passes
- Threw for three touchdowns
- Total yards: 270
Chicago Tribune sports columnist Bernie Lincicome tried to put things in perspective.
“So much for immortality,” wrote Lincicome.
“Not to underrate history, but the Bears did not lose a season in the Orange Bowl Monday night, they merely lost a game, and they already have so many.”
The day after, the Bears recorded “The Super Bowl Shuffle”—this rap song became a signature of the Bears’ brashness. When the music video aired, it showed the Bears wearing their jerseys and singing in a studio. If cockiness bled through the song’s lyrics, confidence poured. Perhaps it was the right time for a diversion; the Bears won the remaining games in the schedule, dominated the playoffs, and beat the New England Patriots 46-10 in Super Bowl XX.
A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 25, 2017.