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White House reception for ‘85 Bears long-overdue, but still great

The 1985 Bears White House 2011. |  Charles Dharapak~AP

The 1985 Bears at the White House in 2011. | Charles Dharapak~AP

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Updated: November 16, 2011 11:20AM

WASHINGTON — Mike Hartenstine, the former Bear and onetime bartender at the Lantern near old Halas Hall in Lake Forest, basked in the sun.

Minutes earlier, President Barack Obama had introduced the Super Bowl XX championship Bears with this astonishingly true statement: ‘‘This is as much fun that I will have as president of the United States!’’

And Hartenstine, a Bear you don’t hear much from — a quiet, large man — was in heaven.

‘‘The sun is out. It’s beautiful,’’ he said in the Kennedy Garden, as the Bears and their guests ate hors d’oeuvres and quaffed drinks. ‘‘What could be better — pizza at the White House.’’

And it was a lovely event on an 80-degree fall day, an event loaded with select Chicagoans such as Sen. Dick Durbin and Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, and friends and lucky fans who actually barked when Obama announced, ‘‘The greatest team in NFL history: the 1985 Chicago Bears!’’

And those Bears of over a quarter-century ago were the greatest. For one season, one moment that peaked with a 46-10 trouncing of the Patriots in New Orleans, a game that was more of a waterboarding than a contest, the Bears dominated in a way that was shocking.

But the space shuttle Challenger exploded on liftoff two days after that victory, and the mood in the country was dark, and the ’85 Bears never got their day in the presidential sun.

Until now.

‘‘Thank God there’s a Bears fan in the White House,’’ the cuddly and unpredictable former defensive tackle Steve ‘‘Mongo’’ McMichael said. ‘‘All the regimes before could’ve done it. They didn’t. Obama’s a Bears fan; that’s why it happened.’’

McMichael was right. Indeed, it technically is the 26th year after the Bears won it all, not even a quarter-century reunion or anything.

‘‘He’s a big Bears fan, a big Chicago fan,’’ agreed White House chief of staff Bill Daley, he himself a Sout’ Sider like all the Chicago Daleys. Indeed, the White House is lousy with Chicagoans these days, what with all the folks who came along on the Obama bandwagon from our town.

As Mongo says, the celebration didn’t happen because the ’85 Bears are national sweethearts.

‘‘These years, everybody says, ‘What a lovable team!’ No we weren’t,’’ he said. ‘‘Every town we came into, we got booed and jeered — ‘YOU SUCK!’ We were like pillagers.’’

Gary Fencik, Otis Wilson, Jimbo Covert, Jay Hilgenberg, Dennis McKinnon — all of them agreed it was a thrill.

Players felt bad for those who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, make it. Those included the partly disabled William Perry and Wilber Marshall and, oddly, Mike Tomczak and Mark Bortz. Of course, Dan Hampton was a no-show for mainly political reasons.

A player or two had tried to get Bortz, the reclusive former guard, to attend, but no. Tomczak had a family event. Of course, Walter Payton and Dave Duerson are gone, but Connie Payton was there, as was Duerson’s ex-wife, Alicia.

Jim McMahon, how could he not be there? Obama said, laughing, but serious, too, that he would not let McMahon have the microphone.

‘‘Yeah,’’ said Jimmy Mac, beer in hand, ‘‘I gave him a little grief backstage before we went out. ‘Remember, I was one of the guys at your first fund-raiser in Chicago? Twelve Greek guys and me?’ ’’

Da Bears.

They’ve gotten older. But they haven’t changed.

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