Buddy Ryan emerges as the star in ’85 Bears documentary

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In The ’85 Bears, the new 30 for 30 documentary about the team that won Super Bowl XX, one man above all others emerges as the heart and soul of that great team. And it’s not Walter Payton, Mike Ditka, Jim McMahon or Refrigerator Perry.

The real star of The ’85 Bears, which premieres on ESPN on February 4, is Buddy Ryan, the team’s defensive coordinator and mastermind of the 46 defense. The film opens with recent footage of the 81-year-old Ryan undergoing physical therapy and looking frail and weak, but those scenes are contrasted with footage of the energetic Ryan on the practice field, and with interviews from his former players, who can’t stop gushing about how much they loved to play for him.

Ryan was hired as the Bears’ defensive coordinator in 1978, and his players loved him so much that they pleaded with George Halas to keep Ryan in charge of the defense when Halas hired Ditka as the head coach in 1982. They got their wish, and Chicago got what may have been the greatest defense in NFL history.

The documentary follows the familiar 30 for 30 format of combining old highlights with new interviews and narration (by Vince Vaughn, also one of its producers), and is reminiscent of The U, which chronicled the 1980s Miami Hurricanes football team and is probably the most popular installment in ESPN’s documentary series. At its best, The ’85 Bears captures just how fun a team those Bears were, with their brash personalities, their “Super Bowl Shuffle” and the way they enjoyed absolutely destroying opponents, beating teams by scores including 45-10, 44-0, 36-0, 21-0 and 24-0 on the way to Super Bowl XX, which they won 46-10. That team was a sight to behold.

The documentary does have its flaws, however, dragging at times and also failing to capture what made Payton such a beloved figure in Chicago: The movie focuses so much on Payton’s disappointment with not scoring a touchdown in the Super Bowl that it makes him look selfish, when in reality Payton was always a good soldier while he toiled for years on bad Chicago teams before the Bears finally became winners late in his career.

That focus on Payton late in the documentary has the potential to turn an otherwise strong film into a downer, but the ending returns us to Ryan, and there it becomes uplifting, as his players become visibly moved as they read a letter from their old coach.

At a screening of The ’85 Bears in Chicago on Wednesday night, Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary addressed the crowd afterward and became choked up as he tried to describe how much Ryan meant to him. To hear the players tell it, the real star of that team was Ryan. And he’s certainly the star of this show.

27 responses to “Buddy Ryan emerges as the star in ’85 Bears documentary

  1. The Bears defense did beg them to keep Ryan. But it wasn’t the players you said did. Dent and Singletary were still in college then. It was fencik and Plank and Hampton and mike hartenstein and even Alan Page. Just setting the record straight.

  2. If your old enough to have watched them, and I am, you understand that is one of the greatest teams of all times and that is the Gold Standard for defenses. If your not old enough then you probably cling to the 2000 Ravens and you’re wrong.

  3. Also the unsung hero of that team was Jim Finks. He drafted just about everyone of those players. His 83 draft was the best one in bears history. But him and Jerry Vainisi were forced out by mike Mccaskey and Bill Tobin. Tobin replaced Ryan with Vince Tobin his own brother and they were never the same. Bill Tobin sucked!!!

  4. nfl4dummies says:
    Jan 28, 2016 7:27 PM
    If your old enough to have watched them, and I am, you understand that is one of the greatest teams of all times and that is the Gold Standard for defenses. If your not old enough then you probably cling to the 2000 Ravens and you’re wrong.

    0 0
    _______________________
    That QB was terrible.

  5. Buddy was a successful coordinator and middling head coach. Although to be fair middling was a heck of an improvement for Philly at the time. As a HC he never won a playoff game but carried the day against every microphone he encountered…
    Other than a few playoff wins Rex is a chip off the old block

  6. nfl4dummies says:
    Jan 28, 2016 7:27 PM
    If your old enough to have watched them, and I am, you understand that is one of the greatest teams of all times and that is the Gold Standard for defenses.
    ————————–

    Giants fan that saw more of them than I wanted to, lol, as in getting shut out by them in the playoffs. That was one of the greatest defenses of all time without question. As to greatest overall team they look better in hindsight. It’s easy to forget that offense wasn’t all that special if all you do is look at numbers. That defense was so dominant that the offense could run on autopilot. The D got the ball back to them in no time flat, usually in incredible field position. Outside of Dilfer, McMahon may be the worst QB ever to win a SB but it just didn’t matter. I loved me some Sweetness but he was on the back nine at that point. That D might have gone 14-2 without an offense. What did they give up something like 12 PPG?

  7. The smartest move Norman Braman ever did was to hire Buddy Ryan as head coach of the Eagles and his dumbest move was to fire Buddy Ryan. This team was only a couple of offensive linemen away from a Super Bowl champion.

  8. Payton was selfish in that Superbowl, tho. He was very upset over not scoring a TD and any other player would have been heavily criticized for being upset after a great team accomplishment. I understand it’s not typical of his career, but it’s fair game for a documentary to note it.

  9. jag1959 says:
    Jan 28, 2016 7:57 PM
    nfl4dummies says:
    Jan 28, 2016 7:27 PM
    If your old enough to have watched them, and I am, you understand that is one of the greatest teams of all times and that is the Gold Standard for defenses.
    ————————–

    Giants fan that saw more of them than I wanted to, lol, as in getting shut out by them in the playoffs. That was one of the greatest defenses of all time without question. As to greatest overall team they look better in hindsight. It’s easy to forget that offense wasn’t all that special if all you do is look at numbers. That defense was so dominant that the offense could run on autopilot. The D got the ball back to them in no time flat, usually in incredible field position. Outside of Dilfer, McMahon may be the worst QB ever to win a SB but it just didn’t matter. I loved me some Sweetness but he was on the back nine at that point. That D might have gone 14-2 without an offense. What did they give up something like 12 PPG?
    ___________________________________

    Tom Brady without cheating reminds me of a Trent Dilfer. McHahon was a good qb. Bears were a really good team in ’86. I’m looking forward to the documentary.

  10. With the Bears up 37-3, Ditka gave the ball to William Perry, not Payton on the 1 yard line. He had every right to be upset and should have called Ditka out. Classless move by a classless coach.

  11. Buddy was overrated and son Rob is worst coach in nfl history. If rob and rex last name was a i they wold be pee wee volunteer coaches

  12. but they still couldn’t beat Dan Marino and the Dolphins

    Biggest underachievers of the Super Bowl era.

    Favre/Rodgers Packers second place.

  13. Man I miss that kind of football. Give me that any day of the week over the QB-centric, flag-fests of today’s football. Denver gave us a glimpse of what good football is last Sunday.

  14. Tom Brady without cheating reminds me of a Trent Dilfer. McHahon was a good qb. Bears were a really good team in ’86. I’m looking forward to the documentary.
    ****
    Oh come on. Without cheating he’s more like Alex Smith than Dilfer.
    🙂

  15. Most overrated team ever.

    ONE SB appearance for the best defense ever and with Sweetness? No.

    Mid 1980s were down years for the NFL. Look how bad the Pats were and they won the AFC.

  16. I lived in Chicago from 1978-1988, and watched the Bears turn from also-rans to champs. Met several of the players from the ’85 team, bunch of great guys, and got to go to several Bears games at Soldier Field.

    Good Times.

  17. realitycheckbaby says:
    Jan 28, 2016 10:49 PM
    Mid 1980s were down years for the NFL. Look how bad the Pats were and they won the AFC.
    _________________________

    Down years for the AFC. The NFCCG was pretty much the SB but the cream of the NFC had some of the best teams ever put together. That ’85 Bears team had to contend with Montana’s Niners, Gibb’s Skins and Parcells’ Giants.

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