Declaring "This is as much fun as I will have as president of the United States," President and sports fan-in-chief Barack Obama saluted his hometown team Friday for winning the Super Bowl a quarter century ago.
Nobama for this Bear
For a White House known for brooking no drama, this had all the makings of a clash of cultures. The '85 Bears were fabled for their internal dramas and off-the-field high-jinx, particularly by rebellious quarterback Jim McMahon, a swaggering leader who liked to head-butt his offensive linemen after a score.
"This team changed everything for every team that came on after, on and off the field," Obama said. "They changed the laws of football. They were gritty. They were gutsy. They were hard-working. They were fun-loving. Sort of how Chicagoans like to think of themselves."
As he wrapped up his welcome, Obama invited the team to stick around and enjoy themselves: "Don't break anything. And keep your eyes on McMahon."
"On behalf of the 1985 Chicago Bears, we consider him one of us," the team's coach, Mike Ditka, said of Obama. "We're very proud that you honored us by bringing us here. It's only 26 years after the fact, and five administrations, but thank you."
The ringleader was McMahon, who openly squabbled with the fiery Ditka and who wore his signature head band and sunglasses during the White House ceremony ("He gave me a headband," Obama said, "but I'm not wearing it."). The team included future Hall of Famers Walter Payton, Dan Hampton, Richard Dent and Mike Singletary. And it featured the 300-pound-plus lineman and occasional running back William "The Refrigerator" Perry.
In an era before YouTube, Twitter and 24-hour sports networks, the team managed to capture national attention, even filming a video of themselves doing the "Super Bowl Shuffle."
The team's appearance was full of subtexts.
There, standing at Obama's side were Ditka and Buddy Ryan, the defensive coordinator with whom Ditka often feuded. Obama declared that their joint appearance was "a sign that anything is possible, even in Washington."
There was Ditka himself, a prototypical Chicagoan with a working-class ethic who turned down Republican entreaties in 2004 that he run against Obama for the U.S. Senate. Instead, he stuck with his job as a television sports commentator.
Good thing, Obama joked. "I would have been terrible on ESPN."
There, too, were Dent and linebacker Otis Wilson, who over time befriended Obama and became his workout partners.
But the remembrance also was bitter sweet.
Payton, known as "Sweetness" and who retired as the NFL's all-time leading rusher after the 1987 season, died of a rare liver disease and bile duct cancer in 1999.
"Chicago still loves Sweetness," Obama said. Wilson added: "I think about him every day."
Perry was diagnosed in 2009 with Guillain-Barre syndrome, an autoimmune disease that attacks the nervous system and can cause paralysis. He was unable to attend.
And Obama paid tribute to Dave Duerson, a safety on the defense that was the backbone of the team, who committed suicide in February after asking his family to donate to his brain to researchers studying the effect of head trauma in athletes.
"Hopefully lessons from his great struggle, with the kind of brain injuries those hits might have caused, will help today's players down the road," Obama said.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press