Throwback Thursday: Super Bowl XX (1986)

To celebrate our beloved New England Patriots advancing to Super Bowl XLIX, we have redressed our mascot, Farmer Jerry, in football attire and added an appropriately deflated ball.


Watching my six-year-old jumping up and down in excitement as the seconds ticked off toward this past Sunday’s win over the Colts, I was reminded of the first time I saw the Pats in the Super Bowl–the first time anyone saw the Pats in the Super Bowl–back in the pre-Tom Brady, pre-Bill Belichick, pre-Robert Kraft, pre-Gillette Stadium era.

These were the 1985 New England Patriots:

New England Patriots 1985 Team Photo

When these guys went for a field goal, they were kickin’ it old school. [New England Patriots]

Highlight of that above picture: the young arm of Tony Eason (#11) was famously backed up by experienced veteran Steve Grogan (#13)–so who is that guy between them wearing Tom Brady’s jersey? Wikipedia says he’s Tom Ramsey (#12), but I prefer to think of him as a mustachioed time traveler from the future.

Simply put, the 1985 Patriots weren’t supposed to make the playoffs. Back in those days, they almost never did. The team came in third in their own division behind the more highly regarded Jets and Dolphins. But somehow, against all odds, the 1985 Patriots managed to score a wildcard berth and win three playoff games, all on the road as massive underdogs.

The AFC Championship game against Miami was particularly intense, since the Patriots at that time hadn’t won a single game in Miami since the 1960s. Many friends of mine purchased “Squish the Fish” T-shirts and wore them for luck—which made no sense to me, given that dolphins aren’t actually fish.

1985 Squish the Fish T-shirt design

Not a cartoon–in 1985, that was the team’s official logo. More or less.

My alternative slogan, “Slam’l the Aquatic Mammal,” didn’t quite catch on.

But we won anyway.

Which brought us to Super Bowl XX, and a date with destiny.

Super Bowl XX logo

Super Bowl XX was sponsored by Dos Equis beer. Stay thirsty, my friends.

In those days, destiny took the form of the Chicago Bears, a team whose quarterback wore designer sunglasses and a headband that defied the league’s dress code. A team whose star defensive lineman was named after a kitchen appliance. A team whose theme song played in heavy rotation on MTV.

The 1985 Bears even had their own dance, called The Super Bowl Shuffle. However bad you are imagining that dance to be, it was even worse.

The 1985 Chicago Bears do The Super Bowl Shuffle

Much, much worse.

The 1985 Chicago Bears were so over-the-top obnoxious, and acted so ridiculously entitled, they could only have come from a Hollywood central casting agency for villains.

Naturally, most of the country hated those guys with the burning intensity of a thousand suns. Especially this guy.

jim McMahon of the Chicago Bears strikes a pose.

“Are you ready for some football-themed photo shoots?”

In any decent sports movie, our band of plucky underdogs would have taken the villains down in slow motion with a cinematic score in the background. Instead, we lost. Badly.

Tony Eason takes a hit.

It looked something like this. For about four hours straight. [Photo: John Iacono/SI]

The Patriots ended up on the wrong side of a 46-10 drumming, hanging their heads as the Bears capped their season with a Super Bowl Shuffle at midfield.

I could have been disappointed, but instead I chose to take a longer-term view. I figured that the universe was 13.7 billion years old, give or take a month or two. In all that time, the Patriots had gone to the Super Bowl exactly once. Which meant that in any given year, the odds against them making it all the way were approximately 13.7 billion to one.

13.7 billion years from the Big Bang to Super Bowl XX

This is what it feels like when your team goes to the big game for the first time in franchise history.

Or in other words, no matter how that game had played out, we were blessed just to have witnessed it during our own lifetimes.

Sure, losing by such blowout proportions to a team with its own theme song felt like a disaster, but only for a couple days. That same week, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded on takeoff, providing us a proper context for what really qualified as a disaster.

Later that year, the Celtics won their 16th NBA Championship, the Red Sox came within inches of winning the World Series, and Super Bowl XX was pretty much forgotten.

Except that what goes around comes around.

You know that play two weeks ago against the Ravens? Of course you do.

Even if you missed the game, that play was all over YouTube, Facebook, and the evening news. Julian Edelman took a lateral from Tom Brady and launched it downfield for a touchdown. Yes, that play.

Wasn’t it glorious?

Don’t look now, but that play was the cousin of one that came right out of the 1985 Chicago Bears Super Bowl Shuffle Playbook. Late in the first quarter of Super Bowl XX, on second down and goal from the five, the Bears’ William “the Coffee-Maker” Perry took a handoff from Jim “Ray Bans” McMahon, looked into the end zone for a passing connection, and got sacked by the Patriots’ defense for a loss.

For that moment, and pretty much only for that moment, one of the greatest teams in NFL history looked like a mob of amateur clowns. It was a total seltzer-down-the-trousers, pie-in-the-face, Three Stooges slap-fest of a fail. Such a fail that the mighty Ditka-led Bears had to slink away from that drive with only a field goal.

By successfully pulling off that play, by making it look effortless, and by converting it into a 51-yard touchdown, the 2014-2015 Patriots have already succeeded where other great teams have tasted lemon meringue. After whomping the Colts 45-7 in the AFC Championship game, Gronk even led a group of Patriots in a dance that looked like a much smoother and more coordinated version of The Super Bowl Shuffle.

These days, friends in other regions think our team is over-the-top obnoxious and ridiculously entitled. On Facebook, I see hatred of the Patriots that burns with the intensity of a thousand suns. So I guess what goes around really does come around.

But fans of other, more humble teams around the league can look to the 1985 Patriots for their inspiration as well. Think back and remember a time when New England rallied behind a Cinderella team of scrappy fighters who defied the odds, only to be served up like lambs to a slaughterhouse. Then look how far we’ve come, fans of other teams, and keep the faith that someday your Jacksonville Jaguars might become as obnoxious and entitled as we are now.

In a couple weeks, the Patriots will be going to the Super Bowl again for what will be the seventh or eighth time—I’ve honestly lost track. But I do know that it will be the first time when my first daughter has been old enough to root for her team, and also the first time in the life of my second daughter.

Every Super Bowl is somebody’s first Super Bowl, and therefore the most special Super Bowl in the history of history.

From the Big Bang to Super Bowl XLIX

It’s all led up to this moment.

Watching it reflected in their eyes will make the game even more exciting.

Plus this time, no fish had to be squished to make it possible.

Go Pats!

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