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'85 Bears honored at White House

By Larry Mayer /, Oct 7, 2011

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Flanked by Mike Ditka and Buddy Ryan, President Barack Obama enthusiastically welcomed the 1985 Bears to the White House Friday to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their Super Bowl XX championship.

Standing in front of nearly 40 players from the famed team, the Bears’ First Fan said: “This is as much fun as I will have as president of the United States. This is one of the perks of the job.”

President Obama then declared the ’85 Bears the greatest team in NFL history, adding “I know that may get me into some trouble in some cities that I visit, but I believe it is the truth. Welcome to the White House for this well-deserved and long-overdue recognition.”

The 1985 Bears never got the opportunity to visit the White House because the space shuttle Challenger blew up two days after Super Bowl XX, killing all seven aboard and plunging the nation into mourning.

With a Bears fan in the White House, it seemed like the perfect time to extend an invitation.

“I think it’s a great gesture on behalf of this administration to do it,” Ditka said. “There are a lot of other administrations that had an opportunity to do it and chose not to do it. I think this was done for the right reason—to honor a great football team and a great group of guys.”

The Bears chartered a plane from Chicago for the day trip, transporting not only players and coaches but staff members from the 1985 team. Players joked and reminisced on the plane, with Richard Dent, Jim McMahon, Steve McMichael and dozens of others sharing stories and laughs.

After the entire group took a tour of the White House, players and coaches met privately with President Obama before heading outside onto a stage in front of the oval office for a 30-minute ceremony.

President Obama, who has lived in Chicago for most of his adult life, reflected on how the ’85 Bears dominated their opponents and enthralled the nation with a fun-loving group of characters.

“None of us had ever seen what happened that fall,” the President said. “Nobody had ever seen anything like it. The city was invigorated and brought together by this team. This team ruled the city and riveted the country. They were everywhere. They were like the Beatles. We loved this team.

“What made this team so captivating wasn’t just that they won, wasn’t just that they dominated. It was the way they did it. Yes, they were punishing. Yes, they were dominant. But they also had a lot of fun. You could tell they enjoyed playing together.”

After the ceremony, the 1985 Bears joined some special guests at a reception, where pizza and Italian beef sandwiches were served.

“It’s truly awesome to be able to still enjoy a championship 26 years later,” said former kicker Kevin Butler. “We’ll always have a closeness with this team. A very tragic accident kept us away [in 1986], but I’m just very thankful to President Obama for bringing us here. Unfortunately, we just don’t get together as much as we’d like to, so it’s great to catch up with everybody.”

In addition to Dent, McMahon, McMichael and Butler, other players who visited the White House included Brad Anderson, Tom Andrews, Brian Baschnagel, Brian Cabral, Jimbo Covert, Pat Dunsmore, Gary Fencik, Jeff Fisher, Andy Frederick, Steve Fuller, Willie Gault, Shaun Gayle, Dennis Gentry, Mike Hartenstine, Jay Hilgenberg, Stefan Humphries, Tyrone Keys, Mitch Krenk, Ken Margerum, Dennis McKinnon, Emery Moorehead, Jim Morrissey, Reggie Phillips, Dan Rains, Thomas Sanders, Matt Suhey, Ken Taylor, Tom Thayer, Calvin Thomas, Cliff Thrift, Keith Van Horne, Henry Waechter, Otis Wilson and Tim Wrightman.

“I’m glad it happened and I’m proud for these guys because I can say every one of them really enjoyed the experience of being here and people making a fuss over them again,” Ditka said.

Two members of the 1985 team who have passed away, Walter Payton and Dave Duerson, were represented by widow Connie Payton and ex-wife Alicia Duerson, respectively.

“I’m glad this team finally got recognized as being one of the best teams ever,” McMahon said. “It’s unfortunate we’ve had some teammates pass, but this has been a good experience for our guys.

“We’re not [kids anymore]. That’s why I’m glad we finally got here. It’s taken us forever. This team needed to be recognized. Everybody talks about this being one of the best teams in history and yet we’re one of the few teams that hadn’t been here. So I’m glad it finally happened.”

The Bears were represented by team president and CEO Ted Phillips as well as several members of the McCaskey family, including chairman of the board George McCaskey.

“From talking to the players, the coaches and the staff that are here today, I think they appreciate it even more that the time has passed and they can really appreciate what it means,” Phillips said.

“The White House staff has been unbelievable. [They’ve been] courteous [and conducted] a great tour. [We got] a chance to meet the President. He shook everyone’s hand. It’s been a really amazing day.”