Dancing Bears

The last Chicago team in a Super Bowl helped propel a potent blend of sport and entertainment

February 01, 2007|By Joe Burris | Joe Burris,sun reporter

To look at the video now, awkwardly caught between disco's twilight and hip-hop's heyday some 21 years ago, is to wonder how the idea ever took flight.

Ten members of the last Chicago Bears team to play in the Super Bowl made a rap music video called the Super Bowl Shuffle, promoting their football prowess weeks before they even qualified for the championship.

Rather than sample from popular songs of the day like many hip-hop recordings, the Shuffle came from, of all things, a tune linked to old minstrel show Amos 'n Andy.

And the Bears filmed their swaggering performance the day after a midseason defeat -- perhaps the last squad so flauntingly dominant before the NFL emphasized "parity" to try to even out quality among its teams.

We are the Bears Shufflin' Crew, shufflin' on down, doin' it for you.

We're so bad we know we're good. Blowin' your mind like we knew we would.

You know we're just struttin' for fun, struttin' our stuff for everyone.

We're not here to start no trouble. We're just here to do the Super Bowl Shuffle.

The video began with a drumbeat that sounded like a 4-year-old banging on a counter with a spatula. Soon after came several Chicago Bears players in their navy-and-orange uniforms. They flashed cocky looks and strutted side to side, attempting to capture the rhythm and cadence of a gospel choir.

That video didn't just define the Bears in their last Super Bowl season. It marked the rise of the pro athlete as entertainer, fueled by round-the-clock sports cable.

"We were stepping out of the element of sports and stepping on stage and doing something that was kind of unusual," former Bears defensive linemen Richard Dent said. "It sort of took the world by storm."

In the video, the players who coined themselves the Bears Shufflin' Crew clearly left their best moves on the gridiron. As each one tried his hand at rapping, it was evident the whole bunch was hip-hop hopeless.

But back in the day, the Shuffle was def ("outstanding" in 1980s slang). Folks couldn't get enough of the six-minute recording -- or the antics of the maverick bunch that made watching football fun en route to winning Super Bowl XX, as they lyrically foretold.

Like few teams ever, the 1985 Bears were so full of characters, they drew up to 10,000 fans per practice and millions of followers worldwide, some of whom cared little about football. Some teams have tried to recapture that aura, even making records similar to the Shuffle, but none has come close.

"We were real entertainment, not just football players. People were coming from Germany and Japan just to watch us practice," recalled the former Bears wide receiver Willie Gault, who rounded up teammates for the song after being approached by a Chicago record-label owner named Richard Meyer. "We made it more than just a football game."

A video turned out to be the perfect showcase for the team's colorful characters.

There was quarterback Jim McMahon, the self-described "Punky QB." A reckless, cool-handed passer with a brash attitude, he butted helmets with his offensive linemen and wrote messages on white headbands -- including one that mocked the NFL commissioner. He also wore dark sunglasses, one of the video's most memorable features, although he didn't intend it as a fashion statement. He wanted to shade his light-sensitive left eye, which he injured in a mishap as a child.

Walter PaytonRunning back , who died of illness in 1999, was the team's living legend, the greatest NFL runner of his day. Nicknamed, "Sweetness," he possessed ballet-artist grace, wrecking-ball power and delighted in taking on tacklers.

Then there was defensive lineman William "The Refrigerator" Perry. Judging from his 320-pound frame, Perry looked as if he seldom made it past a Red Lobster without stopping. But he had an infectious boyish grin, a charming demeanor and the agility of a lighter man.

The Bears' brand of entertainment was nouveau for football and emerged at an opportune time.

MTV, then four years old, had made watching videos the "in" thing. Hip-hop, still marginalized, was beginning to build a following. And 6-year-old ESPN -- which stood for the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network -- was beginning to transform sports coverage and make athletes as recognizable as TV stars.

"It made sense to try a video like that at some point, given the nature of the team's personality and how personality translates well in so many forms of entertainment," said Raymond I. Schuck, a pop-culture instructor at Bowling Green State University.

Meyer, the owner of Chicago-based Red Label Records, purchased the rights to The Kingfish Shuffle. The song had been created for the character George "Kingfish" Stevens on Amos `n Andy, the radio serial and later TV show popular during the first half of the 20th century. Meyer produced and co-wrote Shuffle, blending the Kingfish tune with more modern rap lyrics.

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