The NFL Conference Championship weekend is over and we now know it’s going to be the Kansas City Chiefs vs. The San Francisco 49’ers in this year’s SuperBowl. But it feels like a bit of a letdown. Don’t get me wrong – I have no stake in either team, and they both deserve to be in the big game.
Just like last year’s World Series. Neither the Nats nor the Houston Astros would be considered my “home team”, so I didn’t feel any particular affiliation towards either one. Instead, I was more disappointed that another season ended and we never got a theme song.
The Nationals actually have an official song “Nuts About the Nats”, which, for some reason, just makes me think of the old Mounds/Almond Joy ads. But that’s not what I mean.
I’m talking about the song done by the actual team. For example, anybody can put together a slick video package to show what a great player Patrick Mahomes is. But it’s not the same as actual players from the ’81 Dodgers taking We Are the Champions all the way to the Tonight Show. Or the 1986 Calgary Flames pretending to play trombones.
Do those ring any bells for you? Still nothing? Okay, let me give you three words that just about everyone from a certain age will recognize – sports fan or not: Super Bowl Shuffle.
The 1985 Chicago Bears were one of the most dominant teams to ever play in the NFL. They excelled on all sides of the ball and only lost one game all season. A few games into the season, one of their fans decided that just watching them dominate wasn’t enough – he needed to hear them. Fortunately, his girlfriend was one of the Bears cheerleaders. She introduced him to wide receiver Willie Gault, who – to use an appropriate phrase – took the ball and ran with it.
The song was written during the middle of the season and went through a few changes before recording. A couple of the players flat-out refused. Defensive tackle Dan Hampton recalls, “I thought it was presumptuous to say, ‘Oh yeah, we’re going to the Super Bowl’ when the franchise had never been in one.” His part was given to Steve McMichael, who also declined for superstitious reasons. In total, only ten players felt comfortable lending their vocals.
While the song was being completed, somebody remembered that it was 1985 and MTV was HUGE! That meant they needed a video. Days before the song was to be released, they rounded up a few more players (24 total) to appear in the video. However, their timing could not have been worse.
The song was scheduled to hit the airwaves on Tuesday, December 3rd, 1985. The Bears had a Monday Night Football game right before and the single could ride that victory’s momentum. Unfortunately, they were defeated by the Dolphins 34-28 (their only loss of the season) and many wondered if karma was catching up to them.
After the loss everybody was down and sad, and people didn’t know if we should do it — ‘maybe it’s a sign.’ I was like: It’s not, we’ve already done it, we’re committed to it, these guys have spent a lot of money, and people are going to benefit from it. We just have to do it.Willie Gault – Wide Receiver ’85 Bears
The next morning, though many reluctantly, the players showed up for the shoot. Most of them anyway. Quarterback Jim McMahon & running back Walter Payton had both changed their minds and decided not to do the video after all. (After changing back, they would be added later via green screen.) That day, the single was released to radio stations and it was apparent that the loss had not impacted their popularity at all.
The song was an immediate smash hit, not only in Chicago, but across the country. It sold over 500,000 copies, rose to Number 41 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart and was even nominated for a Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group. Fortunately, they lost to Kiss by Prince.
Can you imagine that going differently? That would be worse than Milli Vanilli taking Best New Artist or Jethro Tull getting Best Metal Performance. Even the players knew they didn’t belong in the same avenue as The Purple One, but they enjoyed the fun while it lasted.
Proceeds from the song raised over $300,000 for Chicago’s families in need, so some good did rise from all of it. Plus, the team went to dominate the rest of the season, eventually destroying the New England Patriots 46-10 in Super Bowl XX. Maybe those concerns about being too arrogant were unfounded.
Did I think it was inappropriate? No. If you don’t think you’re going to win, then you’re not going to win. That’s why I thought [the song] was pretty much a symbol of the fact that they thought they were going to win.Mike Ditka – Chicago Bears Head Coach 1982-1992
By the way, the Patriots also released their own tune right before that Super Bowl. New England, the Patriots and Me was nowhere near as catchy, but it did feature cameos by players, local politicians and news personalities. Even Spenser: For Hire himself – Robert Urich (at 2:32).
The Super Bowl Shuffle was not, however, the first such anthem. In fact, just the year before, the San Francisco 49ers put out We Are The 49ers, a traditional 80’s dance/ hip hop sounding tune and they also went on to a Super Bowl victory. With statistics like that, can you blame other teams for following suit?
Oakland had The Silver & Black Attack:
The Seahawks’ The Blue Wave is on a Roll:
And it wasn’t confined to football, either. Even the NHL’s Calgary Flames wanted in:
Looking and listening to all of these makes me long for the days when horns were a regular thing in music. Bring back the sax!
Even though they technically just did a cover and not an original tune, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one of the most successful of these team-led singalongs. Following their 1981 World Series victory, four members of the LA Dodgers thought it would be fun to make a record of themselves singing Queen’s We Are the Champions. In its own early-80s way, the song went viral and soon, The Big Blue Wrecking Crew (as they liked to be known) were performing on everything from The Tonight Show to Solid Gold.
The football season is nearly over with hockey and basketball are hitting the halfway point, but hopefully, we’ll hear another song like this someday soon. For now, though, I’ll need to make due with the brassy horns of another Chicago… Chicago V.
Saturday in the Park, anyone?