As stated earlier, the Chicago Bears were unable to achieve their knack of winning championships after the inauguration of the Super Bowl system, that is, until 1985. The Bears got to the NFC Championship game in 1984, just to lose to the eventual Super Bowl winning San Francisco 49ers. They came into the 1985 season with high expectations for themselves, and they met them immediately. The first five games of the season resulted in wins, but in the sixth game they would face the defending champion 49ers. The Bears won easily, 26-10, dropping the 49ers to three wins and three losses (Carroll 1777). That is hardly the 15-1 record they accumulated in 1984. The Bears continued winning, and stunned the Dallas Cowboys 44-0 to rack up their eleventh victory, and clinch the NFC Central Division title (Pierson 4). After shutting out the Atlanta Falcons in the next game, the Bears had a game against the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football. The Dolphins would deal the Bears their first (and only) loss of the season, by a score of 38-24. The Bears had allowed only 29 points in their previous six games (Downey 1). The game was full of bad luck for the Bears, a missed fumble recovery, six sacks of their quarterbacks, and a fluke pass caught for a touchdown off of one of the Bears' defensive players' helmet. Several hours after the game, ten of the Bears players taped the music video for "The Super Bowl Shuffle" (Santella 212). The rap song featured different players saying rhymes about themselves and hinting at a future Super Bowl victory. "I figured we better win the Super Bowl now or were gonna look like jerks," center Jay Hilgenberg commented after the filming (Santella 212). Before the Bears got to the Super Bowl, they had to go through the playoffs first. The playoffs are supposed to be a challenge, yet the Bears aptly shut out their first two opponents, the New York Giants and the Los Angeles Rams. They were now set to play the AFC Champion New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. There were several distractions going on aside from the game. Bears defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan announced that he would be leaving the team, and quarterback Jim McMahon supposedly did a radio interview where he called the women of New Orleans 'sluts' (Santella 214). The Bears began the game by fumbling and the Patriots scored a field goal. The Patriots day would go downhill, they lost the game 46-10. The Bears had a team that could have become a dynasty, unfortunately, they were unable to win another Super Bowl.
The Bears had many memorable players in 1985, some of the greatest to ever play the game. They had a stifling defense, capable offense, and a hard-nosed coach, Mike Ditka. The defense was their claim to fame, and credit is surely due. Although only one player from the defensive squad is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Mike Singletary, there is another coming in and there are many more to come. Five defensive players made All-Pro honors following the 1985 season, an almost unprecedented accomplishment (Carroll 424). Running back Walter Payton won the Associated Press Offensive Player of the Year, as linebacker Mike Singletary won the Defensive Player of the Year. Mike Ditka won Coach of the Year to claim another postseason award for the team. The offense rarely receives any credit, but it was good enough to score enough points to win a game. They were led by controversial quarterback Jim McMahon, and Payton was the star in the backfield. The only real threat at receiver was speedy Willie Gault, but Payton had a great offensive line to block for him.
The biggest threat to the statement that the 1985 Chicago Bears are the best football team ever is the 1972 Miami Dolphins. They are the only team in NFL history to finish a season with no losses, which means not only an undefeated regular-season record, but also no losses in the playoffs and a league title. The Dolphins were led by journeyman quarterback Earl Morrall, who replaced starting quarterback Bob Griese when he got injured early in the season. Morrall would win the AFC Player of the Year and Comeback Player of the Year following the 1972 campaign (Carroll 388, 340). Running the ball was the method the Dolphins employed for the most part, with 1000-yard rushers Larry Csonka and Eugene "Mercury" Morris (Carroll 719, 1116). They, too, had an excellent offensive line, which has two members in the Hall of Fame to date. The Dolphins had a dominating "No-Name Defense," named so for the lack of star power. However, they sent six defensive starters to the Pro Bowl game, and have one in the Hall of Fame, Nick Buoniconti (Carroll 415). They were coached by Don Shula, who is also enshrined in the Hall of Fame (Carroll 386).
On a head-to-head basis, it is a very close call when it comes to determining which players were better. Different people have differing opinions on player abilities, and no one can make a call that everyone agrees with. On offense, the Dolphins win, hands down. Their conservative pass attack yielded few interceptions, and their two 1000-yard rushers is an almost unprecedented accomplishment. Both teams had great offensive lines, yet the Dolphins hold the edge in that they have two members in the Hall of Fame, and the Bears have none, and will likely only get one member in. However, on defense, the Bears hold the advantage. Both defensive lines had three members achieving All-Pro status, but no Dolphins players are in the Hall of Fame and one Bears player is already in. Moreover there will likely be another two getting in at a later date from the Bears team. The Bears linebackers had more All-Pro selections, and their secondary had many more interceptions. In the area of overall Hall of Fame inductions, the Dolphins hold a clear advantage with eight to the Bears' four, yet in the sixteen years since the 1985 season ended, the Bears have one more induction than sixteen years after the Dolphins' 1972 season (see Appendix A).
Even more powerful an argument than the players is the records that were broken. The Bears had the most dominating defense of all time, and they set the record for fewest points allowed in a 16-game season, recently broken by the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. They allowed only 198 points, a stingy 12.375 points allowed per game (Carroll 1692). Payton was second in the NFC with 1551 rushing yards, and McMahon was second in pass efficiency rating (Carroll 1692). Pass efficiency rating is a statistic used to rate a quarterbacks passing ability by using a complicated formula which includes yards per attempt, touchdowns per attempt, interceptions per attempt, and completion percentage. Kicker Kevin Butler led in scoring with 144 points, which was first in the National Football League (NFL) that year, and is good for eleventh all time (Carroll 1721). They compiled a regular season record of 15-1, plus three more wins in the playoffs. This ties for the second best record ever, trailing obviously the 1972 Miami Dolphins at 17-0.
The Dolphins had their share of records also. Fullback (strong running back who also blocks) Larry Csonka was second in the AFC with 1117 rushing yards, and quarterback Earl Morrall was led the conference in pass efficiency rating. Kicker Garo Yepremian also placed third in scoring. The Dolphin defense actually allowed less points and even though they played two less games, their average per game was less than .2 points less than the Bears. Unfortunately, there are no players with any statistics remotely near single-season records for the Dolphins in 1972.
The biggest strike against the 1972 Miami Dolphins is their strength of schedule. Although their defense was statistically slightly stronger than the Bears, it is clear that it would be different if the Dolphins opponents were as difficult as the Bears opponents in 1985. The combined record of the Dolphins' opponents in 1972 was 43-80, a dismal .349 winning percentage, while the Bears' opponents had a combined record of 97-95 in 1985 (Carroll 124, 150). The Dolphins played exactly one team who finished with a winning record in the regular season, as the Bears played six (Carroll 1678, 1692). It is clear that the Dolphins probably had the easiest schedule of all time that year, as it is far-fetched to think that a team would ever play no teams that would have a winning record. Most football historians will admit that the perfect season was significantly aided by their lack of quality opponents during the regular season. Once the playoffs came around, the Dolphins struggled. In the first playoff game, they beat the Cleveland Browns by six points, and in the AFC Championship they beat the Pittsburgh Steelers by four points (Carroll 201). In the Super Bowl they scored only 14 points en route to defeating the Washington Redskins 14-7. In contrast to the Bears trip through the playoffs, it is clear who was the better team. The Bears shut out their first two opponents, 21-0, and 24-0. They then dominated the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl 46-10 (Carroll 1692). The point spread between the two teams is huge. The Dolphins won their three games by a combined 17 points, as the Bears won every game by at least that margin, totaling a staggering 76 point advantage over their opponents. It is obvious that both teams were great, but when set head-to-head, it is clear that the Chicago Bears hold the advantage.
It would be hard to win a Super Bowl without a winning attitude. This is exactly what the 1985 Chicago Bears perfected. Mike Ditka had been on the 1963 NFL Championship-winning Bears team (Carroll 1669) under the late George Halas. Coach Ditka brought the winning attitude to Chicago when he began his tenure in 1982. Safety Gary Fencik says about Ditka, "he said our goal is not only to win the NFC Central Division; our goal is not only to win the NFC; our goal is not only to get to the Super Bowlit's to win the Super Bowl" (Santella 204). The team Ditka inherited was not anything special, a cellar team with a 6-10 record, but in only three years his attitude caught on and they lost only one game en route to a World Title (Carroll 1688).
The Miami Dolphins head coach in 1972, Don Shula, also had a knack for winning. He was named Coach of the Year after their Super Bowl victory (Carroll 391). Shula coached the Dolphins from 1970 to 1995, compiling record of 256 wins, 133 losses, and two ties (Carroll 1739). That places him in the hierarchy of great NFL coaches, and unlike Ditka, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame for his coaching ability alone, as his 21 career interceptions as a player are fairly unspectacular (Carroll 1271). Ditka was inducted as a player soon after his Super Bowl victory, and one could only speculate whether he would have made it as a coach if he was not an excellent player in the past. To be short, there are not many coaches that could be compared with Don Shula, therefore it is clear that the Dolphins had a slightly better coach. That is not to say that Ditka was not, but again, Shula is probably one of the two or three best coaches to ever stand on the sidelines.
The 1985 Chicago Bears were defined by their stingy defense and hard-nosed head coach. They finished with the greatest season ever, and the statistics back it up. Besides statistics, the players were more memorable, and they had the right attitude to win Super Bowl XX. There are other opponents besides the 1972 Miami Dolphins, but they are generally considered the front-runner for the position, and once their claims are put to rest, it is even more difficult for other teams to stake their claims. Set them head to head with any other team, 'da Bears will come out on top.