Welcome to what will hopefully be the first of many pieces of original reporting here at WCG. For my first official assignment as your very own Bears reporter, I pulled an ace: a chance to cover the "Glory Days" 25th reunion party of the greatest team to ever set foot on a football field, the 1985 Super Bowl Champion Chicago Bears. Follow me below the fold for a word with Willie Gault, business insights from Tim Wrightman, and more Ditka pics than your cell phone can handle...
The event was billed as Chicago's last, best chance to see the '85 Bears all in one place and more than lived up to the bill. Champagne and beer flowed freely for the players, coaches, and VIP guests at the pre-event party, which was the only part of the event open to the media. Reporters battled it out with signature-seeking fans for a bit of time with the '85 alumni. While I followed the instructions of the event supervisor to stay in what could only be described as the "reporters' pen" during the start of the event, after seeing a few enterprising journalists ducking under the rope and sneaking into the crowd I took the plunge myself with my camera in hand. I was greeted by some familiar faces, Dennis McKinnon and Da Coach himself among them:
I spent the first couple of minutes mingling around the party, and the general vibe from the players, fans, and even journalists was how happy everyone was that Da '85 Bears were back together again. While I confess that my age was measured in months and not years during the '85 season, I've seen enough games on replay to know this was a team that loved the game and had fun every time they took the field. And judging by the party atmosphere of the event, they still know how to have a good time. It's like Jim MacMahon said later in the night, "We weren't just a good team, we were a team of characters." As you can see, he still fits the bill.
I considered myself pretty well-versed in the '85 roster, but the 25 years gone by have made it a bit harder to pick out some of faces from the crowd. While I could find the biggest names by looking for the largest crowds of fans, the swarms of paying customers and the coordinator's earlier warning for me to stay behind the ropes made me a bit hesitant to try and push my way towards what would have been the two biggest catches of the night, Jimmy Mac and Ditka. But hiding near the back of the crowd was one player who doesn't look a day older or slower than he was back then, Willie Gault.
Gault said that the biggest challenge the team faced on their way to the Super Bowl was the Miami game, but that "the team rededicated ourselves after the game." He also said that he was "using the bathroom" during the infamous fight between Ditka and Ryan during that game's halftime. And while Jim MacMahon said that he "motivated the cats" in the "Super Bowl Shuffle," it turns out that it was actually Gault who had to motivate the team to record the song after the loss. Speaking of the "Shuffle," while I was doing my best to be as professional as possible, I couldn't help but ask for Willie's autograph...
I also heard some very good insights from someone who knows a bit about the business side of the game, Tim Wrightman.
A TE in the mold of Da Coach himself, he consistently made those tough catches down the seam that a certain Bears TE might do well in studying. He is perhaps best known, however, for being the first ever NFL draft pick to move to the ill-fated USFL. He said that "players today are each like their own corporation" but was also quick to note that players a generation before him probably would have said the same thing about players of his day. For him, the biggest difference between the NFL of '85 and today is the rise of free agency, which makes it much harder to build the kind of team that the Bears had back then: ask Thomas Jones for details. His advice for today's Bears? "Get a better O-line."
As the time got closer for the actual event to start, the MC gathered up all the players and coaches together for a big group photo. I parked myself right in front of the scrum of reporters building around the stage, but was lured away when MacMahon and a certain coach headed over to the media area. While I did my best to compete with the FOX crew, I was only able to overhear their Q and A, not have my own.
The two best takeaways from their interviews were Ditka noting that, "The Bulls won all those championships, the White Sox won a World Series, and the Blackhawks just won a Stanley Cup, but this event shows that it's still a Bears town" and MacMahon saying in response to the all-too-obvious question about the new rules designed to protect players, "If you're afraid to get hit, don't play."
While I missed out on the group photos, I raced out to the front entrance and was able to get lots of good shots of the team as they paraded past the assembled fans.
Before all the players left the party to walk the red carpet, Mike McCaskey showed up with a bag full of gifts. While MacMahon announced that he was hoping for a Bears-themed Speedo, he ended up getting a slightly less revealing jersey. Ditka and Ryan recieved - what else? - sweater vests. As the players and coaches left the stage to get ready for the event, Jimmy Mac had to get one last joke in for the crowd, shouting "Back to the bar!" as he sauntered off in that general direction. And if the Bears manage to let the Vikings get back into the division picture this Sunday , he won't be the only Chicagoan heading there.
"Glory Days" will be broadcast as a one-hour special on NBC5 Chicago on 12/4, 12/19, and 1/8. There will also be a thirty minute behind-the-scenes show broadcast on 12/12, 12/18, and 12/25.
I'd like to thank Dane and everyone here at WCG for the chance to be your Bears reporter. And I really mean that part about "your." I want to ask your questions, report on events you are interested in, and otherwise act as the eyes and ears of WCG.