Bears’ trip to London sparks memories of 1986
The last time the Bears went to London, the world was different.
It was August 1986, and quarterback Jim McMahon ran down the concourse at O’Hare Airport to the Bears’ waiting 747 charter, sporting camouflage, wearing sunglasses, trying not to spill his cup of beer, smoking a cigar.
When the Bears checked into the Hyde Park Intercontinental Hotel, an employee asked Walter Payton, “Are you as good as the Refrigerator?’’
While pondering the charms of the ancient land, Dallas Cowboys’ tight end Doug Cosbie wondered aloud, “If England was so nice, why did everybody leave and come to America?’’
And when the exalted William Perry himself, the friendly, gap-toothed enormity who had made $3 million the previous year for endorsing everything from bacon to, yes, refrigerators, saw the statue of Winston Churchill while being chauffeured through London, he stated dramatically, “Now he was a big man.’’
Oh, it was indeed different for that Bears-Cowboys matchup at Wembley Stadium.
It was the preseason, and the trip was more of an NFL marketing outreach and goodwill tour than an important contest.
There were security concerns — especially over possible retaliation for the U.S. bombing of Libya the previous April — but the “war on terrorism’’ had not officially begun, and — believe it or not — nobody had a cell phone. People actually looked at each other, instead of their palms. Mark Zuckerberg was 2.
When the Bears head off to London on Thursday, they will be zipping in and out with the full intention of simply beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the seventh regular-season game and improving to 4-3.
That the game will be held at the same, but remodeled, Wembley Stadium as the one in which the Bears beat the Cowboys 17-6 a quarter century ago doesn’t get head coach Lovie Smith riled up. (Of course, what does?)
“I don’t think that’s going to be much of an issue,’’ Smith said Monday about the 8,000-mile road trip. “We’re going to, of course, go a few days earlier than we normally would. But it’s still a business trip for us. That’s how we’re looking at the game.’’
Sure, why not?
The Bears are not loaded with charismatic figures, and so there won’t likely be the exciting side trips to the London trade center (Matt Suhey) or the posing like the Beatles crossing the intersection at Abbey Road (Keith Van Horne, barefoot McMahon, giant-chested Dan Hampton, long-coated Kevin Butler), or business meetings with various ambassadors (Willie Gault), or even some casual posings with the Royal Guard (Fridge, the Cowboy’s Ed “Too Tall’’ Jones.
What the Bears have is a disgruntled, well-paid veteran safety (Chris Harris) who says he wants to be traded, and a quarterback (Jay Cutler) who, on a viral YouTube clip from Sunday night’ game, seemed to be telling his offensive coordinator, Mike Martz, to go do something nasty to himself.
That’s not really quality controversial stuff. And, Lovie Smith, who doesn’t know the British scandal press, may have to manufacture some dirt just to keep the gossip rags happy.
Back in 1986 The Sun ran this headline on Saturday before the game: “FRIDGE IS RED HOT IN BED, SAYS WIFE.’’
This time could we get, “HENRY MELTON DOESN’T REALLY NEED THOSE GLASSES HE WEARS’’?
It’s likely a lot of Londoners still recall the last Bears visit and the frenzy it created. It was almost an inverse Beatles-invasion, with characters galore.
Ralph Miller, the sales and promotion manager of Wembley Stadium at the time, said he could have sold a quarter million tickets for the 83,000-seat arena for the game.
Europeans know all about “American football’’ these days, but they still wouldn’t mind finding a new Fridge or Mad Mac or mini-Ditka lurking in the Bears entourage.
Could this be, say, Julius Pepper’s international moment?
I had to ask Lovie if maybe, just maybe, the Bears would do something wacky with London calling. Maybe? Please?
“Well, Rick, I’ve never been there myself,’’ the coach said gently. “I hope that won’t be one of the things we’re talking about, driving on the wrong side of the street. But I get your point.’’
Of course, he did.
“I would just think the guys would take care of business and be where they’re supposed to be, represent the Bears well and hopefully get a win.’’
OK, that’s fine.
That’s plenty, I guess.
Boring, but plenty.