By Tolly Taylor
As they had so many times before, players from the 1985 Chicago Bears readied to party. But this time, they celebrated sitting in padded chairs in a movie theater, not standing with drinks at a bar. And the focus was an anniversary, not a victory.
Roughly 15 former players from the Super Bowl championship team came together to see the premiere of ESPN’s newest 30 for 30: “The ’85 Bears.” AMC River East 21 hosted the Wednesday night event, with a packed theater eager to applaud one of the most dominant teams in NFL history.
It was a 30 for 30 at 30 years, and several former players were in the mood to reflect.
“What George Halas put together, let no man put asunder,” said Steve McMichael, the former Bears’ defensive tackle. “The way the Carolina Panthers party on the field is how we partied off the field.”
Executive producer Vince Vaughn, who grew up in Lake Forest, and director Jason Hehir joined former head coach Mike Ditka and former stars Mike Singletary, Jim McMahon and Gary Fencik on the red carpet for photos and interviews prior to the screening. Missing was former defensive coordinator and player favorite Buddy Ryan, who wasn’t up to making the trip because of health issues.
“You know the values that make America great?” McMichael said. “That’s who [Ryan] is.”
At one point in the film, Singletary visits Ryan at his farm in Kentucky, the two reminiscing about the 46 defense while Singletary pushes Ryan around his farm in a wheelchair. When asked about the visit in a panel discussion following the documentary, Singletary echoed McMichael’s thoughts.
“It’s very difficult to put into words, but I mean I love Buddy Ryan,” said Singletary, the former linebacker. “I’ve told him that many, many times.”
Though he butted heads with the quarterback during the ’85 season, Ditka had nothing but great things to say about McMahon three decades later.
“Jim McMahon was a rebel and a maverick and he was a great competitor, maybe as good a competitor as I’ve ever seen,” Ditka said.
Hehir, a self-described Patriots fan, wanted people to understand that the film is about more than just a Super Bowl champion. He said the players were so transcendent that he and his friends would fight to be them on the playground.
“It’s the iconic team of my youth,” Hehir said.
Vaughn said he was a devoted Bears fan growing up, which makes the documentary that much more special to him.
“You get a glimpse into that kind of brotherhood that can only be earned by the price that these guys paid,” Vaughn said. “I think that’s the thing that you take away as a fan most, is an appreciation for the commitment and the joy and the ride.”
The film will air on Thursday, Feb. 4 at 8 p.m. CT on ESPN.