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.

Wade Davis' impact on Cubs goes far beyond his eye-popping numbers

Wade Davis' impact on Cubs goes far beyond his eye-popping numbers

Wade Davis may not light up the radar gun like Aroldis Chapman, but the veteran closer has still had a similar impact shortening games for the Cubs.

Davis is 10-for-10 in save opportunities in his first year in Chicago, providing Joe Maddon and the Cubs with peace of mind as an anchor in a bullpen that has thrown the eighth-most innings in baseball (and ranks No. 8 in ERA with a 3.45 mark).

Davis just surrendered his first runs of the season Wednesday night on a Mac Williamson homer that snuck into the right-field basket.

Yet Davis still wound up preserving the victory by buckling down and turning away the Giants in the ninth. It was the first homer he's allowed since Sept. 24, 2015 and only the fourth longball he's given up since the start of the 2014 campaign, a span of 201 innings.

Even with Wednesday's outing, Davis boasts a microscopic 0.98 ERA and has allowed just 14 baserunners in 18.1 innings.

With 24 whiffs on the season, Davis is striking out 34.8 percent of the batters he's faced in a Cubs uniform, which would be the second-highest mark of his career (he struck out 39.1 percent of batters in 2014 as the Kansas City Royals setup man).

The 31-year-old nine-year MLB veteran is showing no ill effects from the forearm issue that limited him to only 43.1 innings last season.

[RELATED: How Wade Davis transformed into an elite pitcher by simply not caring]

But his impact isn't restricted to just on-the-field dominance. In spring training, Justin Grimm said he spent as much time as he could around Davis in an attempt to soak up all the knowledge he could.

"It's the stuff that you see — obviously he's really good," Maddon said. "He knows how to pitch, he's a very good closer, he's very successful. But he's a really good mentor to the other guys.

"Oftentimes, I'll walk through the video room and he'll be sitting there with a young relief pitcher or a catcher. There's a lot of respect. A lot of guys come to me and say, 'Listen, Wade's really great to be around.'"

Maddon was the manager with the Tampa Bay Rays when Davis first made his big-league debut in 2009 and the now-Cubs skipper credits the Rays organization with teaching Davis the right habits.

Davis also began his career as a starter before moving to the bullpen full-time in 2014 and reinventing himself as one of the best pitchers on the planet.

"He's grown into this," Maddon said. "He was raised properly. He comes from the organization with the Rays — really good pitching, really good pitching health regarding coaching. And then some of the veteran players that were around him to begin with.

"He's passing it along. The obvious is that he's got a great cutter, slider, fastball, curveball, whatever. He's very good with everybody else around him."

Davis needed 34 pitches to work around a couple jams and get the save Wednesday night. That's his highest pitch count in an outing since June 2, 2015.

Wednesday was also Davis' first time working in a week as the Cubs have not had a save situation in that span.

Maddon said he sees no link between the week off and Davis' struggles in Wednesday's outing and the Cubs manager also has no hesitance going to his closer for more than three outs.

However, Maddon doesn't see a need to extend Davis at this point in the season and would prefer to keep the Cubs' best reliever fresh for the stretch run and what the organization hopes is another shot at a World Series title.

Bears' makeover continues with salsa dancing ex-Giants WR Victor Cruz

Bears' makeover continues with salsa dancing ex-Giants WR Victor Cruz

The 2017 veteran makeover of the Bears’ wide-receiver position group continued on Thursday with the signing of former New York Giants wideout Victor Cruz to a one-year deal, a fourth move this offseason fitting an intriguing pattern in Bears roster construction.

Cruz “announced” the move on his Instagram account, declaring, “The Giants will forever be family,” Cruz wrote. “But for now, Bear down!!!” He becomes the fourth free-agent wide receiver signed by Bears and coming in with no fewer than four seasons of NFL experience.

The Bears have been about the business of shoring up their receiver group virtually since the 2016 season ended, adding depth in addition to filling in the vacancies created by Alshon Jeffery leaving for the Philadelphia Eagles via free agency, and the subsequent release of veteran Eddie Royal.

In their places, the Bears have added Cruz, Rueben Randle (Jan. 10), Markus Wheaton (Mar. 10) and Kendall Wright (Mar. 11), in addition to having Joshua Bellamy, Daniel Braverman, Cameron Meredith, Deonte Thompson and Kevin White in place.

Cruz, whose trademark Salsa dance to celebrate touchdowns has been an NFL staple over his six seasons with the Giants, for whom he started 53 of 70 career games after signing with the Giants as an undrafted free agent out of Massachusetts in 2010. Cruz has caught 303 career passes for 4,549 yards and 25 touchdowns, earning a Super Bowl ring with the Giants and earning selection to the 2012 Pro Bowl.

Cruz has not played a full 16-game season since 2012, when he caught a career-best 86 passes for 1,092 yards and 10 touchdowns. He missed all of 2015 after rehabbing from a torn patellar tendon in the 2014 season and then suffering a calf injury that eventually required surgery. The Giants released Cruz in early February this year.