Ditka Revisited: Dent, others still think of what could have been

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Ditka Revisited: Dent, others still think of what could have been

A few years back when I was doing the research for my 2005 book, The Chicago Bears and Super Bowl XX: The Rise and Self-Destruction of the Greatest Football Team in History, I had dinner with Richard Dent. The Colonel was MVP of the game but not all of his thoughts were particularly fond memories.
 
At one point, Richard summed up his feelings about his head coach:
 
He was the reason we won that Super Bowl and the reason why we didnt win three, he told me.
 
On Wednesday morning, Dent visited with The Mully and Hanley Show on WSCR 670 AM The Score. It was clear that the edges on those feelings are still sharp.
 
The disappointing part to me is that we only got one out of it, Dent told Mike and Brian. We should have been the first team ever to win three Super Bowls in a row.
 
Roots of the collapse
 
It was difficult to disagree with Dent. Ditka alienated elements of the team with the handling of Doug Flutie and the quarterback situation around injuries to Jim McMahon. It didnt matter that Flutie eventually became a decent NFL quarterback, leaving Ditka feeling vindicated.
 
During that season Ditka castigated the team for its loss of focus over off-the-field endorsements and activities, then players went home and had to see TV ads for Ditka endorsements on all four stations that night.
 
The situation turned worse in 1987 when Ditka declared the Spare Bears as the real Chicago Bears. Whether or not that was the only real choice management gave him didnt matter to the players.
 
And the overriding problem was that the Bears were in the deep water with other sharks like the New York Giants, San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins, all Super Bowl winners. Even the slightest slip or drop of blood and the sharks were all over the Bears.
 
What was unfortunate was the level of hurt feelings and disappointment that still lingered in Dent, and in a number of the other players I talked with. It was truly the best of their football times, it was the worst of those times.
 
John Madden told me that the 1985 Bears was the greatest team he ever saw (and he coached against those 1970s Steelers teams). In the Forward to the book, John said, You would have thought it would have gotten them through another year or two, except that things just happened to them.
 
As far as The Colonel still calculates, Ditka was the single biggest thing.
 
The great might-have-been
 
Well, we are going to be king of the hill all the time," Dent said to The Score guys. "It doesn't matter. I was on a team that took on the world. It wasnt just winning the Super Bowl. Hell, we got a gold record. We got a platinum video. We talked about it and we did it.
 
"And we came back three years in a row and had home-field advantage. Our coach couldnt figure out the right quarterback to play. ... It was there in the taking, but we didnt manage that one position right."
 
Dan Hampton told me in the course of the book research that Vince Tobin replaced Buddy Ryan as defensive coordinator and turned attack dogs into guard dogs.
 
But Dent was insistent on the main problem:
 
"Mike didnt manage that quarterback position," Dent said. "Bringing Doug Flutie in and thinking that he's gonna come in and be on a team for three weeks and start him in a playoff game? Hell, I mean you're trying to change the name on the Super Bowl trophy to Mike Ditka from Vince Lombardi when you do something like that.
 
"We had won with Mike Tomczak and Steve Fuller. Thats all we needed to do is stay with that plan."
 
Ditkas seeming favoritism toward Flutie angered the Bears but the Washington Redskins, who ousted the Bears from the 1986 and 1987 playoffs, liked Flutie in a Bear uniform just fine.
 
"We played the Redskins and Washington cornerback Darrell Green had told me, 'Hey man, I heard you guys are gonna start Doug Flutie,' Dent said on The Score. But hey, you know, we should've won more than one Super Bowl, but the one we won is bigger and better than anybody ever won.

Check out this season's second episode of Chicago Fire All Access

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Check out this season's second episode of Chicago Fire All Access

Check out the second episode of the second season of Chicago Fire All Access.

In this episode, the team helps out in the Chicagoland community, talks about finding comfort foods in Chicago and life on the road in the MLS. 

Bears 'horizontal' leadership plan building on some surprising leaders

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Bears 'horizontal' leadership plan building on some surprising leaders

Sometimes you really do have to just appreciate the attitude. Because Bears coaches do, in ways of significance in what kind of team the 2016 Bears will become.

Ka’Deem Carey has been a backup his first two Bears seasons, yet now finds himself with more games played in a Bears uniform than any other Chicago running back. The 2014 fourth-round draft pick accordingly has set one very lofty 2016 objective for himself:

“Just being a leader, really trying to focus on that,” Carey said during the team’s OTA this week. “We’ve still got a young team, I’m vocal, coaches like the way I run the ball, and sometimes the way I play out there, the coaches like that and want to pass that on to teammates.

“So I’m just trying to be a leader to these young guys.”

Somehow the notion of a 23-year-old talking about setting an example for “these” young guys shouldn’t be dismissed. At all. Because Carey is representative of something developing within the current team.

Leadership is a popular, near-annual topic for Bears teams, no less so early this offseason as the 2016 team takes shape without 40 percent of its elected – and veteran – captains from the 2015 season.

Players elect five captains: two for offense, two defense and one special teams. Coach John Fox names a sixth captain each based on merit from the previous week.

The problem for the Bears is that two of the 2015 five elected captains – running back Matt Forte, safety Antrel Rolle – were not brought back by the organization this offseason. Veterans were added in free agency, but headcount does not translate into instant chemistry, cohesion or leadership.

That falls to a Carey to infuse. Elsewhere, guard Matt Slauson, a popular leader in the offensive-line room and huddle, was released, as was left tackle Jermon Bushrod. After just three NFL seasons, Kyle Long abruptly becomes the offensive lineman with more games in a Bears uniform than anyone else in the O-line room.

Indeed, longevity is no criterion whatsoever for a Bears “leadership” role. Teammates elected Pernell McPhee one of the defensive co-captains last year, his first as a Bear. And linebacker Danny Trevathan, brought in from Super Bowl champion Denver, could emerge as one in his first, using precisely the same calling card that McPhee did.

“I'm just going out there and being an example,” Trevathan said. “It's not hard, you know, I've just got to go out and play the game that I know how to play but also get guys to come along and speak and communicate and be on one page with these guys.”

The key is the “horizontal” leadership concept – leading not from a few at the top, but from multiple strong individuals in a leadership layer.

“Obviously missing Matt Slauson, missing guys like Slauson and Forte, there are large voids to be filled,” Long said. “But this team has been built on horizontal leadership and we’ve done a great job bringing in the right people, defensively, offensively and the special teams unit.

“I love the coaches, I love the guys on this team, I don’t think that will be an issue, so I don’t really have to take on that much bigger of a role because of the guys that we have in our room. Everybody is kind of accountable themselves.”

Melo Trimble will return to Terps for junior season

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Melo Trimble will return to Terps for junior season

Well, at least Mark Turgeon won't lose his entire starting lineup.

With four-fifths of Maryland's starting unit already off to the NBA in one fashion or another, Melo Trimble decided to return to the Terps for his junior season, opting to postpone his pro career for at least one more year.

"I am really excited to return for my junior season at Maryland," Trimble said in the team's announcement. "It’s truly special that I get to continue to play in front of my family, friends and our amazing fans. I’m looking forward to working out with my teammates this summer, and I am excited for what we can accomplish. I learned a great deal through this experience, and I am committed to working hard in getting better each day. I’m appreciative of all the support that I have received from coach Turgeon, my family and my teammates throughout this process. I look forward to continuing my education and building upon the success that we have had at Maryland."

Trimble waited an awful long time to make his decision on whether to withdraw from or remain in the NBA Draft, with news of the decision coming out just a couple hours before Wednesday night's deadline.

Trimble had a strong follow up to his sensational freshman season last year, improving as a distributor and as a defender despite a significant dropoff in his scoring and shooting numbers. But he still led the way for a star-studded Maryland team that advanced to the program's first Sweet Sixteen in 13 years.

After averaging 16.2 points per game, shooting 44 percent from the field and 41.2 percent from 3-point range and getting to the free-throw line nearly seven times a game as a freshman, Trimble averaged 14.8 points per game, shot just 41 percent from the field and 31.5 percent from 3-point range and averaged just better than five free throws a game as a sophomore. Still, he earned All-Big Ten First Team honors for the second straight season.

The expectations placed on him and his team were huge. Trimble was the conference preseason player of the year, and the Terps were tabbed as one of the favorites to win the national championship.

A return to school is not without its risks, as a further decline in Trimble's shooting numbers could prove costly for his draft stock. Plus, with many of the stars from last season's team gone, the Terps will enter the season with vastly different expectations, with many questioning whether they'll even make the NCAA tournament.

However, Trimble could be doing exactly what the new rules were designed to do: using better access to information to make the best decision. If NBA teams truly believe he's not ready for the pros, continuing to develop at the college level makes a heck of a lot of sense. Plus, while his stock was high after that freshman season, it no doubt took a hit after his sophomore season and could rocket back up with another big year as a junior.

Plus, Trimble's return means Turgeon doesn't have to go into full-tilt rebuild mode a season removed from one with championship expectations.

"Melo informed me (Wednesday) night that he has decided to return to Maryland for his junior season," Turgeon said. "After gathering information throughout this process, I agree that this is the best decision for him. Melo is a very special person. He is a winner, and his impact on our program has been immeasurable. Melo has an extremely bright future ahead of him both on and off the basketball court. We are excited that he will continue to pursue his degree and build upon his legacy in College Park."