Few testimonials come close to capturing the cultural impact of Mike Ditka and the 1985 Bears the way Saturday Night Live’s “The Superfans” did. Not so much that it was a comedy sketch, but the fact that it came about five years after Da Coach had gotten his team to and through a Super Bowl.
It began in 1988 as a comedy bit on stage by Rob Smigel in Chicago with fellow SNL writers Conan O’Brien and Bob Odenkirk, who grew up in Naperville. Smigel lived in Chicago from 1982-85, which was when he lived the Ditka/Bears experience.
[RELATED: Healing continues as Bears retire Ditka's No. 89]
When Ditka was fired in 1992, the Super Fans sent an irate letter to Michael McCaskey, declaring that they were returning things such as their sandwiches from Mike Singletary’s farewell dinner.
“The really funny part for me was that so many people later on would come up to me and loudly declare, ‘I knows peepul like data! D’er nuts about da Bearss,’” Smigel told me while I was writing “The Rise and Self-Destruction of the Greatest Football Team in History” several years ago. “I was seeing the sketch in real-time.”
What is sometimes forgotten is that the first “performance” of “The Superfans” was done for actor Joe Mantegna, a Chicago guy who’d gone to Los Angeles in the course of his acting career and was hosting SNL show No. 297, airing on Jan. 12, 1991.
[MORE: Ditka a tough '89' act to follow]
Smigel and Odenkirk were talking about the Superfans sketch and both were familiar with “The Sportswriters” show with Bill Gleason, Bill Jauss, Joe Mooshil and Ben Bentley. Smigel came up with the idea of something like that but with absurdly over-the-top predictions and other declarations for a group of fans.
All centered around coach Dikka.
“The skit was such a smash that the next day, Chicago radio stations ran the entire skit,” Mantegna told me.
Besides Mantegna playing Bill Swerski, Mike Myers played Pat Arnold; Chris Farley played Todd O’Connor; Smigel played Carl Wollarski; and Kevin Nealon played oddsmaker Danny Sheridan doing a walk-through.
[RELATED: Selecting four face for the Bears' Mount Rushmore]
Because of Da Coach, matters involving playoff predictions sometimes ranged to the divine:
Swerski: What is God’s role in this? Obviously he’s rooting for da Bears.
Arnold: Otherwise he wouldn’t have put ‘em in Chicago.
Wollarski: That’s right.
Swerski: That’s right. The question is: now, did God create da Bears and make them superior to all teams? Or is he just a huge fan and coach Ditka made them superior to all teams?
Wollarski: That’s a tough one.
* * *
Ditka’s dominance transcended the lines between individual sports:
Swerski: Now, what if da Bears were to enter the Indianapolis 500? What would you predict would be the outcome?
O’Connor: How would they compete?
Swerski: Let’s say they rode together in a big bus.
Wollarski: Is Ditka driving?
Swerski: Of course.
Wollarski: Then I like da Bears.
Swerski: What if da Bears entered da Preakness?
Superfans: Da Bears!
Winning the Indy 500 and Preakness certainly deserves a retired number.