There have been numerous stories about the ’85 Bears, but none quite like this.
The latest edition of “Real Sports” (HBO, Tuesday, 10 p.m. ET) will feature a report by Bryant Gumbel that alleges the players from that team used excessive painkillers and narcotics to get on the field back then. It contributed to many of them being severely debilitated nearly 30 years later.
Former Bears coach Mike Ditka even said if he had a young son today, he wouldn’t allow him to play football.
Gumbel calls the ’85 Bears football’s “ultimate cautionary tale.” In discussing Dave Duerson’s suicide, Jim McMahon acknowledged he has had similar thoughts because of his cognitive issues.
“When I first heard about these guys killing themselves, I couldn’t figure out how they could do that,” McMahon said. “But I was having those thoughts myself. Feelings of inadequacy. And just like you’re a dumbass. Once the pain starts getting that bad, you figure you’ll take the only way out. If I would’ve had a gun, I probably wouldn’t be here.”
In the piece, Ditka describes William “The Refrigerator” Perry as being “a very fragile individual now.” Wilber Marshall is on full disability.
The former players allege the Bears and NFL during the ‘80s allowed them to abuse painkillers and pills to mask the pain of playing the game.
“There was always just bowls of pills sitting out,” McMahon said. “You know, black ones, white ones, green ones, red ones, you know. I was on painkillers my last 11 years in the league. I was eating 100 Percs a month just to function.”
McMahon added that he received hundreds of painkillers during his career.
“I had to get them to practice,” McMahon said. “When they shot the hand, they would probably shoot four or five around the bone. Then they’d always hit a nerve, so I’d be numb to my elbow. Every time I’d throw a pass, I’d do that. The guys were, ‘Why can’t you throw a spiral?’ I said, ‘Well, I can’t feel the ball.’”
Richard Dent said the Bears used to pass out alcohol and pills on the plane on the way back from road games.
“A person needed a consent on what I’m taking, How much I’m taking. And what’s the consequences to it,” Dent said. “I was hell then. But now, I’m very damaged goods.”
When asked by Gumbel about the situation, Ditka acknowledged that painkillers and pills were “plentiful.”
“There’s no question about it,” Ditka said. “Now, who are you mad at? The team? Are you mad at the league? Are you mad at the sport? Are you mad at me? You’re not going to cure them right now. It’s only going to get worse. It ain’t going to get better.”
In the piece, Ditka advocates that the NFL needs to do more to assist former players. It includes this exchange with Gumbel:
Ditka: “Let me ask you a question better than that. If you had an eight-year-old kid now, would you tell him you want him to play football?”
Gumbel: “I wouldn’t. Would you?”
Ditka: “Nope. That’s sad. I wouldn’t. And my whole life was football. I think the risk is worse than the reward. I really do.”
The story did not include an official reaction from the Bears.
Gumbel concludes the piece by telling McMahon that the ’85 Bears now are paying “a terrible price” for their success. The former quarterback, though, responded by reverting back to the “Punky QB.”
“Hey, people always thought I was nuts anyway,” McMahon said. “Well, I’m finally living up to it.”