When Dan Marino and the Dolphins slayed the ’85 Bears


The ’85 Chicago Bears are one of the greatest teams ever, but one a steamy Florida night, they faltered before achieving greatness.

The 1985 Chicago Bears are more than one of the greatest Super Bowl-era teams. They’re one of its most fascinating.

They had Ditka. They had Sweetness. They had Buddy Ryan, the Punky QB, the Fridge, a hermetically-sealed defense and the Super Bowl Shuffle. In short, they had it all — including a 46-10 demolition of New England in Super Bowl XX.

They were the Chicago Frickin’ Bears, the best team in the NFL, and nobody – not Green Bay, not New England, not even commissioner Pete Rozelle – was going to stand in their way.

Until somebody did: Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins.

Rewind the videotape to Dec. 2, 1985, when the Bears traveled to Miami to play the Dolphins in a nationally televised Monday Night game. At 12-0, the Bears were coming off three victories where they outscored opponents 104-3. Furthermore, they were talking about the possibility of an undefeated season. So there was pressure.

Meanwhile, the Dolphins — the defending AFC-champion Miami Dolphins — were 8-4 and locked in a throw down with New England and the New York Jets for supremacy of the AFC East. But that’s not all. They were trying to protect the legacy of the undefeated 1972 Dolphins, some of whom were present on that muggy evening at the Orange Bowl. So there was pressure there, too.

“Nobody likes to share immortality,” guard Bob Kuechenberg, a six-time Pro Bowler and member of those Dolphins, told the Chicago Tribune.

Nobody had to.

That’s because Marino and the Dolphins sliced, diced and spliced the league’s best defense, scoring the first five times they had the ball to take a 31-10 lead into the half before coasting to victory. To put that in perspective, Miami put up more points on the Bears in one half than their previous six opponents had in 24 quarters (29).

“Everything we did was the right thing to do,” Dolphins’ coach Don Shula told the Tribune later. “I always refer to it as the best first half of football I have ever been around.”

So what was different? Marino, that’s what. The Dolphins rolled him out of the pocket, away from right end Richard Dent and pressure that might thwart deep strikes to receivers Nat Moore, Mark Duper and Mark Clayton. The plan worked so effectively that while Marino completed only 14-of-27 passes in the first half, he threw for 270 yards.

“We were exceptional in that first half,” said Shula.

And the Bears? Not so much. Quarterback Jim McMahon, who missed the previous three games because of a shoulder injury, yielded to backup Steve Fuller again. But the Bears were coming off consecutive shutouts of Atlanta (36-0) and Dallas (44-0) with Fuller and were confident that their defense, not their quarterback, would determine the outcome.

They were right. The defense cratered.

That wasn’t supposed to happen. But Miami was effective blocking third-down blitzes, allowing Marino to swing wide and find open receivers – with Moore, who caught four first-half passes for 74 yards and two touchdowns, the most effective. Covering three receivers proved too difficult for the Bears, with the 183-pound Moore too often the responsibility of 231-pound linebacker Wilber Marshall. Afterward, Bears’ safety Gary Fencik admitted that, were the two to play again, the Bears would be advised to play more nickel.

That didn’t escape his head coach, Mike Ditka. In fact, during the first half he demanded personnel adjustments from his defensive coordinator, Buddy Ryan. Ditka wanted another defensive back on the field. Ryan didn’t want suggestions from his head coach. Something needed to happen, and something did.

During halftime, the two faced off in the shower area of a cramped locker room. Ditka told Ryan to take Marshall off Moore. Ryan refused. An argument ensued. It wasn’t necessarily that Ryan disagreed with his head coach; it was that he didn’t want him telling him what to do with his players. Ryan was in charge of the defense, and he would make the personnel decisions.


He made that clear as the two hollered at each other so loudly that players from both sides noticed. Inside the Bears’ locker room, they wondered where the two were … until they heard them. As the Dolphins walked off the field at the half, wide receiver Mark Clayton said he could see Ditka going after his defensive coordinator as they walked to the locker room.

“We got ‘em,” he said then.


The Bears scored on their first possession of the second half to close the gap to 31-17, but their fate was sealed when a third-down Marino pass ricocheted off the helmet of Bears’ defensive tackle Dan Hampton and into the hands of the farthest player downfield: Mark Clayton.

His 42-yard touchdown catch ended the drama.

“That put the nail in their coffin,” he told the Chicago Tribune. “I said, ‘Merry Christmas to me.”

Final score: Miami 38, Chicago 24.

It was the only loss the Bears suffered that season, and it was supposed to be a lesson in humility. But the following day many of the Bears shot “The Super Bowl Shuffle” video at a Chicago venue in a move that even surprised some of those who participated. It could have been a distraction. It turned out to be a wake-up call that brought the team together.

Result: The Bears won their last three starts to finish the regular season at 15-1, then ran the table in the playoffs – sweeping the New York Giants, L.A. Rams and New England by a combined score of 91-10.

That they failed to meet Miami in Super Bowl XX was a bitter disappointment – not only for the Bears but for football fans everywhere.

Chicago was the class of the NFL, but the Bears weren’t unbeatable. Marino and the Dolphins proved that, and a rematch seemed certain as Miami reached the AFC Championship Game for a second straight season.

The opponent was New England, a team that lost its previous 18 games in the Orange Bowl, and the Dolphins were a 5.5-point favorite. It was Marino vs. Tony Eason, and a blowout seemed certain.

It was. The Patriots won 31-14.

That wasn’t supposed to happen. Of course, 38-24 wasn’t, either. But it did, preserving the legacy of the ’72 Dolphins and underscoring Marino as one of the game’s premier young quarterbacks. The Dolphins were certain to return to a Super Bowl, and Marino was certain to face Chicago again for a Lombardi Trophy. Anyone who watched the Bears and Dolphins that season knew it had to happen.

Only it didn’t.

Marino never returned to a Super Bowl, and the Bears quickly self-destructed. Ryan left to coach Philadelphia. McMahon was injury prone, starting only 21 games the next three years before being traded to San Diego. Marshall left as a free agent for Washington. The thrill was gone, and, soon, so was Ditka. The Bears never returned to a Super Bowl until the 2006 season when Rex Grossman was the quarterback and Lovie Smith was the head coach.

And they haven’t been back.

Of course, neither has Miami. In fact, the Dolphins haven’t been to a Super Bowl since 1984, Marino’s second pro season.

Nevertheless, for one glorious evening in December, 1985, they put on a performance so unforgettable that when the Miami Herald asked fans to compile a list of the team’s 50 greatest moments to celebrate its 50th anniversary, the 38-24 beatdown of the Bears finished second only to the perfect season.

“Dan Marino went into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005,” Hampton told the Chicago Tribune, “and I was at an event in Jacksonville when the Super Bowl was there. And they announced the Hall-of-Fame class, and it’s Dan Marino. I’m watching it with these guys I golfed with that day, and I said, “I have $100 that says when they ask him what his greatest accomplishment was, he will say, ‘Beating the Bears on Monday Night.’ “

And he did.