This story has been updated.
Twenty-five years later, da Bears were honored at da White House
President Obama welcomed the Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears team of 1985 on Friday, a quarter century after the squad won the Lombardi Trophy but never made the traditional visit to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
The Bears’ championship victory against the New England Patriots on Jan. 26, 1986, was overshadowed two days later by the explosion of Space Shuttle Challenger, which killed all seven crew members. The accident has been cited as the reason the Bears never had their victory celebration in Washington.
Obama, a Chicagoan and avid fan, said he agreed to make it happen after being contacted by the National Football League.
“This is as much fun as I will have as president of the United States,” Obama said with a smile during a ceremony on the South Lawn, flanked by Coach Mike Ditka and defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan, with the players behind them.
“In 1985, I had just moved to Chicago,” Obama recounted. “I didn’t really know what it was like to be a suffering sport fan. . . .This city was invigorated and brought together by this team. They ruled this city, riveted this country. They were everywhere, like the Beatles.”
Obama recalled his 2004 run for Senate from Illinois, when some of his adversaries attempted to draft Ditka, now a television football analyst, to run against him.
“I admit I was a little worried,” Obama said. “I glad you didn’t run because I have to say I would have been terrible on ESPN.”
He alluded obliquely to his own fighting with Republicans by noting that Ditka and Ryan, who often feuded, were standing on the South Lawn together. And Obama paid tribute to Bears legend Walter Payton, who died 12 years ago of liver disease, and Dave Duerson, who shot himself in February after warning that traumatic brain injuries caused by repeated hits on the field could cause depression in former players.
The president also made sure to mention quarterback Jim McMahon, the rebellious team leader who often wore headbands with messages written on them. McMahon, dressed in a suit, wore his trademark headband and even gave one to Obama, with USA written on it, but the president declined to put it on.
Finally, Obama said: “They suggested I should dance the Super Bowl Shuffle. Can’t do it. But I do remember it. And in Chicago you could not get away from this song even if you wanted to. It’s safe to say they’re the only team in NFL history with a gold record and a Grammy nomination.
“This team changed everything for every team that came after – on and off the field. They changed the laws of football. They were gritty, gusty, hard-working, fun-loving, like Chicagoans like to think of themselves. We love the Bears.”