The 1985 Chicago Bears are often looked at as one of the best NFL teams in history. Anchored by a tough and tenacious defense, the Bears rolled to a 15-1 regular season and cruised in the playoffs. The Bears dominated Super Bowl 20, defeating the New England Patriots 46-10. What happened in that one loss that season? Former quarterback Jim McMahon explains what happened and how he angered head coach Mike Ditka during that game.
The 1985 Chicago Bears season
The 1985 NFL season was dominated by the Chicago Bears. The Bears were known for their defense and when they played at home, it was ugly for the opponent. During that season, the Bears allowed 7.4 points per game in 10 games (postseason included) at Soldier Field.
The offense wasn’t too shabby either. Quarterback Jim McMahon was 14-0 as a starter that season. Their running game was led by Walter Payton, who was 31 years old. Despite his age, Payton still managed to rack up 1,551 yards and nine touchdowns. The late Hall-of-Fame running back averaged 4.8 yards per carry.
The Bears turned things up a notch in the postseason. In three postseason games (against the Giants, Rams, and Patriots), the Bears allowed less than 145 yards per game. In the Super Bowl against the Patriots, the Bears held New England to seven rushing yards on 11 attempts. The Bears outscored their playoff opponents 91-10.
Jim McMahon doesn’t start in lone loss of the season
In a Monday Night Football game on Dec. 2, 1985, the Chicago Bears took their 12-0 record to Miami to visit the 8-4 Miami Dolphins. The Bears had already secured a postseason berth so the only meaningful part of the game was to see if they could remain undefeated.
“They had the offense that could exploit our defense,” McMahon said in an interview on Golf Sub Par. “Danny (Marino) got rid of the ball quickly. I was told the night before I wasn’t playing. I missed Wednesday’s practice and I had sprained my ankle the week before. Missed one day of practice and I practiced Thursday, Friday, and Saturday then got on a plane Sunday. We were doing our little walkthrough Sunday and (Ditka) tells me, ‘You’re not playing tomorrow night.’
“So, I’m thinking Miami…hmm, gonna have some fun. OK, cool. Fine. I don’t have to play. I’m not gonna worry about it. So I had a good time. I wasn’t into the game at all. The only thing I was worried about was Walter Payton, who was going for his 10th or 11th 100-yard game in a row which was going to be an NFL record. So I was just trying to keep track of his yards.”
Jim McMahon gets the call to come in late in the game
With the Miami Dolphins leading the Chicago Bears late in the game, Bears coach Mike Ditka turned to quarterback Jim McMahon and told him to get in the game. “About six minutes to go in the game, we’re down 14 points,” McMahon said on Golf Sub Par, “and he decides to put me in.
“He sends me in with a pass play. I figured at the time Walter (Payton) had about 70-75 yards. I come in the huddle and I said, ‘Look, boys. This game doesn’t mean s—. Let’s get this guy the record he deserves. As I’m getting up to the ball, Ditka knows I didn’t call the pass. He’s mf’ing me up and down the sideline. (Payton) busted one up for about 15 yards. I didn’t realize we had one timeout left. He burns the timeout and I gotta go talk to him now. He’s screaming at me up and down.”
McMahon explained that nothing in their offense would get them the yardage they were getting since Miami was dropping everyone in coverage. McMahon told Ditka that Payton only needed about 10 yards. “He had no idea what I was talking about,” McMahon said. “He gives me another pass. I get back in the huddle and said, ‘Boys, the s— is really gonna hit the fan now. We’re gonna run this son of a b—- again. They were all laughing. I look over at Mike again and he throws his clipboard. Now he tries to throw his headset. I gave it to Walter and he busted for another 10 or 15 and then said, ‘OK, now let’s try to win the game.'”
Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.