With the Chicago Bears coming to Hard Rock Stadium this Sunday, and with talk that this could be the best Bears’ defense in years, how can you not, at least for a moment, let your mind race back through the years, all the way to December of 1985 and the most magical of evenings in the Orange Bowl.
That Bears defense was being billed as perhaps the best ever. They were coming off shutouts over the Falcons and Cowboys. The Bears were 12-0 at the time and had visions of becoming the NFL’s first perfect team since the 1972 Dolphins.
But the Dolphins would have none of that, pulling off what I still believe was the most dramatic and impressive home victory in team history.
Were you there? Did you see it? Are you old enough to remember that 38-24 masterpiece? The sidelines were filled that night with members of that 1972 Dolphins team. Csonka was there. So was Griese. And Kiick. And Kuechenberg. They formed an imaginary wall, keeping the Bears closed in, reminding them at every opportunity of one undeniable fact.
This wasn’t merely a Dolphins’ team the Bears were facing that night. They were facing an entire franchise.
So many things, so many moments, still remain vivid all these years later.
- How Don Shula put together perhaps the best game plan of his storied coaching career, moving Nat Moore into the backfield and at tight end, creating a mismatch for Bears’ outside linebacker Wilbur Marshall, a mismatch he could never solve. “Bet you (Mike) Ditka never saw that coming,” Shula would tell me years later.
- How Ditka’s frustration and that of defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan came to a head during halftime, the two coaches nearly coming to blows, clearly losing out on this night to a better team with a better plan.
- How Dan Marino was brilliant, finding Moore isolated on Marshall for a couple of touchdown passes, how he eluded that fierce pass rush by rolling out time after time, calmly dissecting a defense that was supposed to be impenetrable. The Dolphins scored on their first five possessions, taking a 31-10 lead into halftime. Game. Set. History. “I always refer to it as the best half of football I’ve ever been around,” Shula said.
- How the Dolphins iced the win in the third quarter on the weirdest of plays, a Marino pass bouncing off the helmet of Bears’ defensive lineman Dan Hampton and into the hands of Mark Clayton for a 42-yard touchdown. Clayton wasn’t even supposed to be part of that play, the ball simply found him. Seemed like karma didn’t it?
- How the Dolphins, not the Bears, had the best defense that night, finishing with three interceptions, six sacks and even a blocked punt, never letting the Bears’ offense find its groove.
- And finally, how the old Orange Bowl rocked and roared like perhaps never before, the wild scene filled with so much emotion you could hardly hear what you were thinking. I left that game with a headache. I remember not really minding.
I’ll never forget wide receiver Mark Clayton standing by his locker after the game, lighting up a cigar, taking a long puff and saying: “If we played them 10 times, they might have beaten us nine of those 10 times. But not tonight. This was our night, our time.”
The victory was one of seven straight for the Dolphins to close that season. But the joyride ended with a loss to the Patriots (yes them again) in the AFC Championship Game. The Bears, meanwhile, never lost another game, finishing the regular season 15-1 and dominating the Patriots in the Super Bowl 46-10.
The only blemish, the only thing that stopped them from perhaps being considered the greatest team of all time, was that one loss to the Dolphins.
That was 33 years ago. The Bears haven’t won a Super Bowl since, but they now have a team, and a defense in particular, with the potential to eventually get there. They are giving up just over 16 points a game. They have a player in Kahlil Mack as talented as any defender in the league. They have won three in a row and are coming off their most impressive victory of the season, 48-10 over Tampa Bay.
The Dolphins, meanwhile, have lost two straight. Both the offensive and defensive lines have been hit hard by injuries. They are coming off a 27-17 loss to the Bengals after being outscored 24-0 in the fourth quarter. Sounds like the Dolphins need to find an extra edge.
Wonder if we can get the ’72 team to man the sidelines just for old times sake?