It’s gonna be difficult to watch the Super Bowl on Sunday — 6:30pm ET on FOX, like you don’t already know — without thinking of 1985. At least it will be if you live or used to live in Chicago (full disclosure: I’m a native Chicagoan) and you still have a chip on your shoulder about the Packers beat-down of the Bears from a few weeks ago.
It’s a emotional scar that’s just as real and painful as Jay Cutler’s sprained knee. It would’ve been a nice symmetry if the Bears had managed to return to the Super Bowl 25 years after their historic defeat of the New England “Not the Face!” Patriots. More importantly, it would’ve been a great excuse for some pointless nostalgia. For a moment there, it looked like the 2010-11 Bears would be to the 1984-85 Bears what Ziggy Marley is to Bob Marley. Not exactly the same thing, but hey, remember Legend? But then the Packers took that dream away, and they did it, at least in part, with a defensive lineman called “The Freezer.” Which was pretty much the dictionary definition of adding insult to injury. I mean, come on; a young and beefy athlete with a refrigeration nickname arriving on the scene during the silver jubilee of another beefy and no-longer-as-young athlete with a refrigeration nickname? It just made it abundantly clear that everything we thought was so unique and special about the ‘85 Bears was maybe not so unique and special after all. If Ben Roethlisberger shows up on Sunday wearing a headband, maybe with some kooky or ironic slogan like “No Means No”, I wouldn’t be in the least surprised. But while the NFL heroes and sacred cows of the past may be all-too-easily replaced by a new generation, there is one football icon who won’t be fading into obscurity any time soon.
Mike fucking Ditka.
I know I sound like an old Saturday Night Live sketch. But that doesn’t make me wrong. The Packers’ Mike McCarthy and the Steelers’ Mike Tomlin are decent enough coaches, but have either of them broken a wrist after punching a locker during a halftime tirade? Have they ever thrown a piece of gum so hard at a fan that it resulted in assault charges and the gum being booked as evidence by the local police? Have they starred in a video as cringingly god-awful as “The Grabowski Shuffle” and not only survived the experience but somehow made the entire world forget it ever happened, like an alcoholic after a blackout drinking binge? Not goddamn likely. New York Jets coach Rex Ryan is the only one who even comes close, but his trash-talking antics seems like amateur hour compared to Ditka in his prime. With just a disapproving stare and a twitch of his legendary mustache, Ditka would have Ryan fleeing to the locker-room in tears and wailing, “Why do you have to be so mean?”
I called Ditka in Chicago, in the middle of a snowstorm that, in true Ditka form, he probably didn’t even notice. When I told him I was a lifelong fan, he growled and said, “Of course you are.” Which just made me love him more.
Eric Spitznagel: Let’s start with your Super Bowl prediction. Steelers or Packers, who’s taking home the Lombardi on Sunday?
Mike Ditka: The Packers, definitely. I picked the Packers to go to the Super Bowl during the second week of the season.
Seriously? You were betting against the Bears even back then? Et tu, Ditka? Et tu?
I’m pretty good. And I’m a National Conference guy, so of course I’m going to pick the Packers. I know they’re favored slightly. Not that any of that matters. The Steelers are a great football team. They’re well coached, they’ve got a great defense. And they’ve got a good offense. Roethlisberger is as good as anybody in the game. He bides time, he extends the pocket, he does some things very well.
I’m not sure what you’re telling me. Pretend that my kid’s future college tuition depends on the outcome. Who’s the chalk? Do I put it all on the Packers or the Steelers?
The Packers. I watched the Packers play all year. I just think there’s something special about them. They’ve overcome the loss of eight starters. They’re doing pretty good.
Is this because of BJ “the Freezer” Raji?
He’s part of it, sure.
As somebody who coached William “The Refrigerator” Perry, how can you support somebody with such a derivative nickname?
I think he’s great. I really do. The name doesn’t bother me. I think it’s great for the kid, I think it’s great for the game. When these guys playing in the defensive line become heroes, that’s a good thing.
Like a lot of Chicagoans, I’m still upset that the Bears aren’t in the Super Bowl this year. Is it all Jay Cutler’s fault?
Not at all.
But can we at least use him as a scapegoat?
We can’t blame him, no. I think you have to look at what happened in the game (against the Packers). The Bears defense was flat from the very beginning. Jay’s only one player, and he’s a good player. And he busted his knee.
Are you saying “busted” with ironic air-quotes?
Not at all. Everybody has a different threshold for pain. Some people can handle it better than others. And in his case, he couldn’t handle it. So they made the right move, putting somebody else up there.
Chicago is a town that holds on to sports grudges. Who are we more likely to exonerate first, Cutler or Steve Bartman?
I honestly don’t know. He’s got a big hurdle to overcome right now because of the fans. Fans are fickle. In this town, you’re a hero one minute and you’re a bum the next. But when you’re a bum, you’re a bum for a long time and they don’t forget very easily. It’s just what it is.
You know that from experience?
Oh yeah. I’ve been on both sides. They love you and then they hate you. Next year, when he makes another touchdown pass, they’ll forget it. But for now, he’s got to take his lumps. He had a chance to define his destiny forever by winning a Super Bowl. But he blew it. If you win in this city, they’ll make you a hero. It didn’t work out for him so much. That doesn’t mean he won’t get another chance. But it was a pretty sad ending.
Here’s a hypothetical match-up: The 2011 Bears versus the 1985 Bears. Who wins?