Glencoe’s Rich Cohen pens forthcoming book about ’85 BearsContinue reading.
Glencoe’s Rich Cohen remembers the dazzling 1985 Chicago Bears in new book
As a high school senior, in the winter of 1986, Glencoe native and New Trier grad Rich Cohen — now a prolific author and magazine journalist — was lucky enough to score two tickets to the Chicago Bears-New England Patriots Super Bowl in New Orleans. The colorful season leading up to that game — which the Bears won handily 46 to 10 — is easily the most iconic in the team’s history.
In his newest book, “Monsters: The 1985 Chicago Bears and the Wild Heart of Football,” (out now) Cohen revisits many of his childhood sports heroes (“Punky QB” Jim McMahon and scowling head coach Mike Ditka among them) and attempts to convey what made their Super Bowl shuffling squad such a sensation. For an excerpt, click here.
During a recent visit to Chicago, Cohen bellied up to the bar at Ditka’s restaurant on E. Chestnut to talk about his favorite team. And yes, in case you’re wondering, “Brian’s Song” still makes him cry.
Q: What made the ’85 Bears so great?
Rich Cohen: First of all, they had great, great players. It starts with that. No matter how they played, they would have been great… And second of all, they had this system [and] nobody could figure out how it worked or how to stop it. They overwhelmed football. They kind of cracked the code. And they had this realization that if you just killed the quarterback, nothing else mattered…And they started to believe in their own thing and it started to roll downhill. And then other teams started to be scared that they were going to get hurt.
Q: It was fun to watch McMahon and Ditka on the sidelines.
RC: I remember going to games in the ’70s and they were just cold and kind of boring. But you’d go to a Bears game in ’84 or ’85, and there was all this s— going on. McMahon storming around yelling at Ditka. Ditka storming around yelling at McMahon. It was really fun. And they were obviously having a great time.
Q: Did talking with one player help you talk to others?
RC: I think talking to [former Bears safety Doug] Plank helped me talk to [safety Gary] Fencik. But [the players] don’t talk to each other. McMahon said to me, “Tell the guys hello.” He doesn’t talk to them. It’s sort of sad.
Q: Did you find yourself getting emotional all over again writing about this team?
RC: All the time. It was a very emotional book. Weirdly.
Q: What in particular got to you?
RC: When I write something that I really care about, I get really, really into it. And what I like about sports is that it’s a metaphor for everything. You see everything out in the open. A player losing his physical skills and gradually having no more place [in the game] is just what happens to everybody in their life. And a football player has to go through that twice—once as a player and again as a human. So those kinds of moments were very emotional to me.
Q: There’s one scene in the book where you’re in a meeting at Rolling Stone magazine in New York and one of the editors tells you Ditka has been sacked as coach of the Bears. You left the meeting, sat outside on a curb and wept. Did you let anyone see you do that?
RC: I was basically running outside to hide my Chicago shame — to be away from these music-loving, sports-hating a——- who didn’t understand who Mike Ditka was.
Q: Is the intensity of a city’s allegiance to their teams somehow tied to that city’s history and the type of people who came up there?
RC: Yeah. If you think about the Bears and the history of the Bears, it organically grows out of the history of the city. It’s of a piece. It’s not separate. There’s no franchise…[Legendary Bears coach] George Halas is the epitome of Chicago. The child of immigrants, West Side, Crane Tech, University of Illinois. Civil Engineer, baseball player, football player. And he just wants to keep playing.
Rich Cohen’s November 2013 Chicago area appearances
11/1 — The Hideout: 6:30 p.m.
11/2 — The Book Cellar: 6 p.m.
11/3 — North Shore Congregation Israel, Glencoe: 3 p.m.
11/5 — The Book Stall, Winnetka: 7 p.m.
11/6 — Anderson’s Bookshop, Naperville: 7 p.m.
11/7 — Soldier Field/Chicago Tribune Fan Fest: 6 p.m. (tickets $50)
11/14 — Cook Park Library, Libertyville: 7 p.m.
11/25 — Northlight Theatre, Skokie: 7 p.m.