Commentary

Shuffling down memory lane

Bears proud of what music video meant to city

Updated: January 15, 2010, 2:18 PM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- Like every other living member of the 1985 Chicago Bears, Willie Gault is always in the mood to reminisce about the day that made his championship team immortal and unforgettable.

[+] Enlarge'85 Bears
Courtesy of Boost MobileA few of the Shuffling Crew Bears today (back row from left):Maury Buford, Richard Dent, Steve Fuller, Otis Wilson, Willie Gault, (front row) Jim McMahon and Mike Singletary.

"It gave us a sense of pride to know we accomplished something as a group, something very few people get an opportunity to do," he said. "And to win the Super Bowl on top of that was really rewarding"

Yes, Speedy Willie, still "smooth as a chocolate swirl," was talking about "The Super Bowl Shuffle," an idea he presented to the team and one that has resonated far longer than did the actual Super Bowl, that 46-10 laugher over the Patriots.

"It reminds people of us," said a smiling Gault of the seven-minute video that featured the worst dancing of the decade outside of a New Kids on the Block concert.

As if Chicago could ever forget the '85 Bears. As if they'd let us.

A couple of weeks ago, a handful of old Bears teammates -- relatively fit and energetic, but wizened and mostly surgically repaired -- got together for dinner and good conversation. These men are some of the most successful ex-Bears, the ones who belong to the East Bank Club and have luxury suites at Soldier Field or live contentedly in sunny locales. Some are still close friends; others moved away decades ago, out of the loop and the Loop.

"We went to Ditka's," Jim McMahon said. "I told Ditka he charged us way too much. I think he overcharged us."

Dedicating the song to Mike Ditka apparently doesn't buy you free pork chops in your 50s.

"No," McMahon said. "I kept telling our waitress, 'I think this is all on Mike,' but she didn't buy it."

It was OK, though. McMahon wasn't there to cause any trouble. No, he was back in town to do another … well, you know the rest.

The next morning, bright and early, these Bears assembled at the scene of their second-biggest victory of the season, the one that will live forever, the Park West theater on Armitage Avenue, a Maury Buford punt from Lincoln Park.

"It looks exactly the same," Gault said. "Otis [Wilson] said probably the carpet is still the same."

(Note to Park West: Change the carpet.)

The occasion was a commercial shoot. It's what the 1985 Bears do best these days: Evocation for Dollars.

Boost Mobile brought back a few memorable soloists/cowbell players to recreate the famous "Shuffle" video for a Super Bowl commercial. The 30-second parody will air during the first quarter. Despite the video's popularity, the Bears have never remade it, for various reasons. And that's part of the joke in the commercial.

In the shoot, the participating Bears -- Speedy Willie, the Punky QB (McMahon), Mama's Boy Otis, the Sackman (Richard Dent), the guy who "runs like lightning and passes like thunder" (Steve Fuller) and the Dude Playing the Cowbell with a Panama Hat and Sunglasses (Buford) -- are wearing No. 50 jerseys to highlight Boost's new $50 plan while they sing wacky new lyrics in front of a band of aged extras.

For good measure, the Bears' real No. 50, "Samurai" Mike Singletary, recorded his solo on the West Coast as he couldn't be there for the taping.

On a snowy Chicago morning, Dent, Wilson, Gault, McMahon, Fuller and Buford filmed their trademark dance moves in front of giggling producers and PR types. Most of these guys have stayed trim. Wilson and Gault look like they could still suit up. But for the life of them, they still can't dance or sing.

"There are a lot of tongue twisters in the lyrics," Dent said. "The lyrics are probably worse than the ones before."

Is that possible? Nothing epitomizes the nouveau riche excess of the 1980s like "The Super Bowl Shuffle." The video production, the dance moves, the bad rapping, the boasting. If Bret Easton Ellis wrote about football players, he would have dreamed up that video. It was brash and awesome. Every Bears fan should watch it at the start of the season.

"Very '80s," said McMahon, who along with the late Walter Payton missed the original all-day shoot, the day after the Bears' only loss of the season to the Dolphins in Miami. McMahon and Payton later filmed their solos at Halas Hall.

"We told them we weren't coming," he said. "I guess they didn't believe us until we didn't show."

The song was produced and co-written by the late Richard Meyer, who had a studio in suburban Chicago and knew Gault. It all came together quickly. Ditka said he wouldn't participate, but he didn't mind the idea, because he appreciated the team's personality.

"Talking about the Super Bowl in the middle of the season," Wilson said. "I'm thinking, 'Are we crazy?'"

"At the time, we thought it was a joke," McMahon said. "But everybody still talks about it. Everywhere I go, 'Can you still do the "Shuffle"?' Thank God we won, huh?"

The "Shuffle" was a marketing dream. It got a Grammy nomination for best -- ahem -- rhythm and blues performance by a duo or group (losing to Prince and The Revolution's "Kiss.") and made it to No. 41 on the Billboard charts. It sold something like a half-million singles and a million videos, with a good portion of the money going to charity.

"I guess the great thing about our 'Shuffle' was that it brought the city together," said Gault, who now lives in his native Los Angeles. "It brought fun back to the league. It transcended everything people thought about the league. And we won, and people around the world knew who we were. We had people at our practice from Russia, from China. It was interesting."

The Bears couldn't pull off a perfect season like the 1972 Dolphins, or even the 2007 New England Patriots (Super Bowl excluded), but no team will ever have the international impact of the '85 Bears. Ever.

"We were almost like rock stars," Wilson said. "It did set us apart."

It still does.

"When I was going to the Super Bowl, when the Bears played against the Colts, this lady sitting beside me was from Australia, and she was talking about how it ain't like the old Bears," Dent said. "She didn't know me from Adam and Eve, you know? But she could remember that time and how great it was. It was kind of funny."

They all have those stories.

While some of the '85 Bears have had hard lives since the glory days -- "L.A. Mike" Richardson, a star of the team and the "Shuffle," is serving a one-year prison sentence after his 21st drug conviction -- most have long since settled into comfortable adulthood as businessmen, media characters and by simply being themselves. And nearly all have taken advantage of their fame.

"It's a situation where we've been able to make a few coins over the years," said Dent, who is up for induction into the Hall of Fame.

"Even to this day, we stay busy," Wilson said "The phone still rings. People still call me 'Mama's Boy.' That stuck like glue."

I have to say I've made my share of jokes about the '85 Bears' ubiquity, but there's something admirable about how the alums have stayed relevant, especially in a sport that has recently seen the ugly side of post-football life exposed.

A Boost representative said they're working on donating money to a charity in honor of the team, possibly one helping William "Refrigerator" Perry, who couldn't make the shoot because of health problems but is mentioned prominently in the commercial.

Ditka wasn't in the original video but he is in the commercial, though unfortunately he doesn't dance.

He's donating his money, as he often does nowadays, to his foundation, the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund, which helps retired NFL players in need of money and medical care. In the past few years, Ditka has warred with the NFL hierarchy -- especially the late players' association head, Gene Upshaw -- over the health issues of its veterans.

Boost is trekking to Miami for the Super Bowl to promote its first Super Bowl commercial, and some of the Bears are going, too. They want to bring Buford, but only if he wears his hat and sunglasses.

Before the players started filming, their old coach huddled them up to talk about some ideas he had for the team's 25th anniversary this fall. Don't think the '85 Bears would let that milestone pass without some fanfare. (Think the U.S. bicentennial with more fireworks.)

"If you win a championship here, you'll forever be etched in the memory of this city, and that's the greatest thing that can happen to you in sports," Ditka said. "Nobody will ever forget the '85 Bears."

If McMahon has his way, no one will get a chance.

"This town has been great," he said. "They always support their teams, but when you win here, they love you for life. Until they win again, it's pretty easy money around here."

Shuffle on, Jimbo. Shuffle on.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.