Though their reign atop the NFL lasted just one year, the 1985 Chicago Bears have maintained an aura that endures to this day. With an offense led by iconic running back Walter Payton and iconoclastic quarterback Jim McMahon, and a hard-hitting defense that intimidated opponents like no other in modern history, the Bears were flat-out dominant on their way to a 46--10 victory in Super Bowl XX. Chicago was a team for the ages, and 20 years later its mystique remains.
In anticipation of the 20th anniversary of their championship, every living member of the squad--from McMahon to defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan--has joined forces again to form a corporation as unique as the team's place in NFL annals. Working with Bears management, the Super Bowl alumni formed the 1985 World Champions XX Inc. to capitalize on the business opportunities generated by the anniversary.
The new company is already selling memorabilia on its website (www.85worldchamps.com), with a portion of the profits to be set aside to benefit Chicago-area charities. It has also begun coordinating public appearances. Last month 30 alumni from the '85 team attended the annual Bears Fan Convention, the largest team reunion since Payton's funeral in '99. "My phone hasn't stopped ringing," says Shaun Gayle, the former safety who spearheaded the effort. "The 15- and 20-year-olds who were at our parade after the Super Bowl are the company executives who are really into this thing today."
The group's potential profits have been estimated at upward of $20 million dollars this year. "The '85 Bears still evoke a sense of nostalgia here," says Marc Ganis, the president of Chicago-based Sportscorp, a sports business consulting firm. "As a purely regional endeavor I think they have an excellent chance of being very profitable."
To get to this point, Gayle had to overcome the wariness of current Bears execs and his fellow alums. While allowing the '85 group to use part of the Bears logo, the team didn't want its trademarks employed in promotions that competed with its business relationships; as part of the agreement, the alums will not plunk their logo on any rival to an official Bears sponsor. As for the players, more than a few still harbored animosities toward the organization over issues ranging from Super Bowl XX ticket dispersal to personnel moves. At one point former All-Pro safety Gary Fencik compared the negotiations to "opening up old wounds."
One of the keys to the agreement came when the Bears asked for no financial stake in the new company, only proper respect for team trademarks. "We told them we wanted to honor the '85 team this season," says Bears spokesman Scott Hagel, "and we wanted to ensure that if we scheduled something, we could get appropriate participation."
The unanimity came as a bit of a surprise in the City of Big Shoulders. "They've done really well, because even negotiating the Super Bowl Shuffle [a video of the '85 team's theme song] was a last-minute thing," says agent Steve Zucker, who has represented several members of the '85 group, including McMahon and defensive end Richard Dent. "Payton and McMahon had to be superimposed onto the music video because they came to it late. They didn't like the way the deal was done at first."
Dent, the Super Bowl MVP, still lives in Chicago. As the president and CEO of RLD Resources, an energy and communications consulting firm, he's a man who would seem to have little free time for store openings and memorabilia conventions. Not so, he says. "I'll always have time for my brothers."
One Who Missed Out
FORMER BEARS LINEBACKER Al Harris is still accorded the respect due to a stalwart of the 46 defense. But his memories are bittersweet. Along with safety Todd Bell, who died of a heart attack earlier this year, Harris held out for the entire 1985 season and so has never shared in the glory of the Super Bowl XX winners. "I'd feel funny celebrating with them," he says. "I sweated and bled with those guys for so many years before that."
Harris had been a starter in '84 but chafed when the Bears signed Wilber Marshall from the USFL. "They were offering me half of what they were paying Wilber," says Harris. "My thought was that I'd played well, and they would reward me. I forgot about leverage. They had it with Wilber."
Harris returned to the Bears in '86 and finished his career with Buddy Ryan in Philadelphia four years later. He says he has moved beyond regrets about missing out on the Super Bowl. "I'm happy for them," he says of the '85 group. "I was naive then. Athletes only have a certain number of years to play. They shouldn't ever miss a year. It doesn't matter whether a Super Bowl's at stake or not."
BILL SMITH (Inset)
Gayle (inset) and the other champs could divvy up $20 million this year.
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