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.

Wonky streaks, good fortune over Cavs on the line for Bulls

Wonky streaks, good fortune over Cavs on the line for Bulls

No matter the metric or the occasion, the only thing definitive about the Bulls over the last two seasons has been their mystifying dominance over the Cleveland Cavaliers in head-to-head matchups.

That, and their fascinating streak of consecutive wins while playing at home on TNT, a streak that could end at 19 games Thursday night when the two teams with varying objectives clash at the United Center.

The Cavaliers are searching to find themselves, along with a light switch that will perhaps alert them to a lost defense over the past several weeks that has been worst in the league since the All-Star break.

The Bulls are searching for consistency, but since it’s probably a little too late in the season for that, they’ll settle for a playoff spot with eight games left.

They’ll take two straight wins for the first time in a month, if they can get it.

They’ll extend a goofy streak, if that’s what things will come down to.

“The big thing is obviously you have to execute very well against this Cleveland team,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “You have to go out there with great urgency, great energy. I anticipate them coming in and playing with a ton of energy tomorrow. We’re going to have to match that. We’re going to have to come out and play physical basketball.”

Having a big break between games this late in the season is a rarity, as the Bulls have been off since Sunday evening, but it’s just another weird detail in this weird Bulls experience.

An experience that the mild-mannered Hoiberg has to experience from his couch some nights, such as watching the Miami Heat furiously steal a game in Detroit at the buzzer with a Hasaan Whiteside tip-in to extend a lead over his team to a game, followed by another win Wednesday to put more distance between the two teams.

“I did, actually,” said Hoiberg with a smirk when asked if he’s scoreboard watching and paying attention to the teams ahead of the Bulls in the playoff race.

After being prompted to give his raw emotions when Whiteside’s tip-in occurred, he slipped right back to Robo-Hoiberg—although one can imagine how animated he must’ve been while looking to catch a break from a previous contender for the eighth spot in the Pistons.

“It is what it is,” Hoiberg said. “You have to go out and worry about yourselves at this time of year. It was a great finish for Miami, obviously, the way that game ended. But there’s nothing you can do about that. You’ve got to worry about yourselves and hopefully go out and execute.”

Going 6-1 against the Cavaliers in his two seasons as Bulls coach is probably the biggest feather in his cap, including three wins in all three meetings this go round.

The rhyme or reason doesn’t seem explainable, but Nikola Mirotic seemed to give a few keys to the Bulls’ success over LeBron James’ Cavaliers: Sharing the ball, controlling the glass and getting back on defense.

“Against big teams, we play much better,” Mirotic said. “I don’t know why is the reason for that. We need to find a way to play against everybody like that. It’s on us. We just have to prove it.”

Usually, those tenets seem to work against most teams, not just the supremely talented champions who’ve just lost a grip on first place in the conference.

But their inconsistencies have left the Bulls here with a handful of games left before the April 12th finale.

A win over Cleveland could mean everything, or nothing at all, or something in between.

“Sure, we understand,” Mirotic said. “We’ve been in a very similar situation last year. We didn’t make the playoffs so this year we want to try to make that push. I think we have a good schedule for the last. Very important game tomorrow, huge one. I think we have played very well against Cleveland until now. We have a chance. We need to get out there and play with energy.” 

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