The 1985 Chicago Bears team finished a dream season by winning the Super Bowl, 46-10, over the New England Patriots. But unlike recent championship teams, the Bears didn't make it to the White House — their trip was pre-empted by the Challenger shuttle disaster, which occurred on Jan. 28, 1986, two days after Super Bowl XX.
Now, some of the team's surviving members have made up for that lost chance, but it was Bears fan President Obama who greeted them at the White House, instead of President Ronald Reagan.
"This is as much fun as I will have as president of the United States. This is one of the perks of the job, right here," Obama said. He then called the Bears, who went 15-1 in their championship campaign, "the best team in NFL history."
The team reportedly chartered a flight for the occasion, bringing some 100 former players and staff to Washington, D.C.
Running back Walter Payton wasn't there — he died of cancer in 1999. Neither was William "Refrigerator" Perry, who is ailing from an immune disorder.
But former coach Mike Ditka made the trip, along with Super Bowl MVP Richard Dent and receiver Willie Gault. So did quarterback Jim McMahon (and his trademark headband) and defensive mastermind Buddy Ryan. As a recent article on Bleacher Report notes, it was Ryan's imposing "46" defense — and stars like Mike Singletary, Dent, Perry, and the late Dave Duerson — that propelled the team to legendary status.
NPR's Scott Horsley, who was also at the White House, reports that in meeting the team, Obama recalled that when he first ran for Senate, some Chicagoans tried to recruit Ditka to run against him.
"I will admit I was a little worried, because he doesn't lose," Obama said.
The president then added that he would like to host another Super Bowl-winning Bears team at the White House next year, reports Scott, who filed a story for All Things Considered about the event.
According to The Chicago Tribune, it took two years to set up Friday's meeting:
After Obama took office, the NFL contacted the White House and asked if the '85 Bears could have their reception at long last. Obama, a Chicagoan who reads coverage of the Bears and watches games when he can, was eager to oblige.
In keeping with tradition, Ditka presented Obama with a Bears jersey — but the jersey had number "85" on it, instead of the "1" that appears on most team jerseys given to the commander-in-chief.
And here, for no reason other than it's Friday, is video of the 1985 team's famous "Super Bowl Shuffle," recorded early in that legendary season:
You could say it's something of a sports week at the White House. Thursday, President Obama hosted Texas A&M's women's basketball team, which won the 2011 NCAA championship.
And on the same day, first lady Michelle Obama welcomed the U.S. Women's Soccer team, which made it to the title game of this year's World Cup.
GUY RAZ, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
And I'm Melissa Block. President Obama hosted the world champion Chicago Bears this afternoon. That's right. The Bears. They won the Super Bowl in 1986. The team was scheduled to visit the White House back then, but that visit was cancelled in light of a national tragedy. The explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger.
So today, President Obama, a Bears fan himself, hosted a makeup and NPR's Scott Horsley was there.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: The South Lawn of the White House looked like a little piece of Soldier Field this afternoon with all the fans in Bears jerseys, Bears sweaters and Bears ball caps. President Obama welcomed the winners of Super Bowl XX to what he called a well-deserved and long overdue celebration.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This is as much fun as I will have as president of the United States right here.
(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)
OBAMA: This is one of the perks of the job right here.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama was just a newcomer to Chicago in 1985, but he said even longtime sports fans in the city had never seen anything like the team that dominated the NFL that year.
OBAMA: This team ruled the city. It riveted the country. They were everywhere. They were like The Beatles.
HORSLEY: It wasn't just that the Bears won 15 out of 16 regular season games that year that captivated the city, Mr. Obama said, but the way they played: gritty and fun-loving, like Chicago itself. They were so confident that one day after their only loss, they recorded that infamous music video of the "Super Bowl Shuffle."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE SUPER BOWL SHUFFLE")
THE CHICAGO BEARS: (Singing) We're not here to start no trouble. We're just here for the Super Bowl Shuffle. We are the Bears.
OBAMA: In Chicago, you could not get away from this song even if you wanted to. I think it's safe to say that this is the only team in NFL history with a gold record and a Grammy nomination.
HORSLEY: Today's event was also tinged with sadness. Two stars of the '85 team, running back Walter Payton and safety Dave Duerson, have died and the Fridge, William Perry, is not well enough to travel. Defensive lineman Dan Hampton also stayed away, saying he's not a fan of President Obama.
But pro bowl quarterback Jim McMahon was here in his trademark headband, along with defensive lineman Richard Dent, the Super Bowl MVP. Head coach Mike Ditka gave Mr. Obama a personalized Bears jersey with the number 85.
MIKE DITKA FORMER NFL COACH: It's only 26 years after the fact and five administrations, but thank you.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama recalled that when he ran for senate back in 2004 some Chicagoans tried to recruit Ditka to run against him.
OBAMA: I will admit, I was a little worried because he doesn't lose. Coach, I'm glad you didn't run because I have to say I probably would have been terrible on ESPN.
HORSLEY: With the Lombardi trophy glinting in the afternoon sun, Mr. Obama posed for pictures with the team and told them to enjoy their autumn celebration. Don't break anything and keep an eye on McMahon, he joked, adding that he still hopes to play host to another Super Bowl champion from Chicago, maybe next year.
Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.