From where he stood on the Superdome turf, New England Coach Raymond Berry watched as several of the Bears players lifted Coach Mike Ditka on their shoulders and carried him triumphantly through a crunch of minicams and overzealous Chicago celebrants, headed in the direction of the midfield crest.

When Ditka hopped down to earth, he landed on two feet, squarely, and into the arms of Berry, who embraced his Super Bowl XX rival as one would an old relation come home for the holidays.

There was nothing to be ashamed of, Berry said in a press conference moments later. There was nothing any of his players should be embarrassed about. And there certainly was no reason to feel like running and hiding from what had just transpired before almost 74,000 in-house spectators and a worldwide television audience.

"We did every durn thing we could do," was how the second-year coach put it. "We just came up short."

Then he said, "I think our team is big enough to handle a whole lot of things. That's one reason we got as far as we did."

The Patriots appeared on their way to certain doom early on, when starting quarterback Tony Eason performed as if stage-struck and threw six consecutive incomplete passes.

Berry benched Eason, who earlier in the week had been sick with flu, and replaced him with Steve Grogan with a little more than five minutes left in the second quarter. "Tony's been pretty sick. He obviously wasn't himself," Berry said. "Pulling him out and putting Steve in was one of the hardest things I had to do. But one thing I learned was that when one wasn't doing well enough you put the other in. It was a hard decision to make."

The Patriots were down, 20-3, at the time. Berry said he thought Grogan, who ended up completing 17 of 30 passes for 177 yards and one touchdown, "could come in and do better than Tony was doing. I don't know if (Tony) was nervous, I can't crawl inside his head and tell you what he must have been feeling. You just can't crawl into somebody's head and heart like that.

"But he's been through some pretty tough situations before. I told him some days the quarterback just isn't going to have a good day, there was nothing to get upset about. I told him that it was the hardest decision in the world for me to make, but that I had to make the decision I thought was in the best interests of the team."

The Patriots, known primarily as a running team, attempted to establish a passing attack at the very outset of the game. That surprised some of the Patriots, including running back Craig James, who said, "They can't say they stopped our running game out there today because we didn't run it . . . We were trying to do different things and none of them worked."

Said guard Ron Wooten, "I'd like to explain our loss in that we tried to change the personality of our team in one week . . . If we had to do it all over again, I'd like to see us run right at them."

After the game, Berry replied sharply to questions concerning reports that he planned to retire as head coach. Earlier in the day, The Boston Globe speculated that he had scheduled a team meeting immediately after the game and might announce his intentions to step down.

Said Berry, "Whoever started that story about me retiring was probably drunk the night before. I don't have any long-range plans. I go day to day."

He also said, "You and me both know that coaches usually don't call the shots. I just try to live for today. I'm not looking way ahead."

In the dressing room after the game, Berry said he told his team that "they were the greatest football team I'd ever been around. I told them the last six or eight months had to be one of the most incredible experiences of my life. They were a coach's dream, and I let them know that."

Offensive tackle Brian Holloway agreed with Berry that the Bears defense played a perfect game. "You're talking about the best defense in the league playing their best defense," Holloway said. "We had plays to move against them, we just didn't execute."

Asked to comment on Bears defensive end Richard Dent, who won most valuable player honors, Holloway said, "They put him over all the offensive linemen. Moving him around like that was the right thing for them to do. It made it tough for all of us."

"We got our butts beat out there today," Berry said, "but this season, we beat some butts, too. When you accomplish things during the year, a game like this can't take 'em away, no matter how bad it went. We earned the right to be here in the Super Bowl and I'm very proud of that. It was one of those days where we could have played our best and things still would have turned out as they did. Maybe we still would have lost. I don't think my team has to apologize to anybody. The Bears won the game on the field with performance."