President Barack Obama welcomed long-retired team members as they stood proudly in the South Lawn of the White House before fans and guests, some sporting navy blue and orange Bears jerseys and caps.
Super Bowl champion teams are typically invited to Washington for a traditional presidential celebration.
But two days after the Bears won the championship at the Super Dome in New Orleans in January 1986, the Challenger exploded, killing the entire crew. The accident overshadowed the victory and the team never made it to the White House.
Obama, a Bears fan and former Chicago resident, invited the squad’s members for the visit that had been pending since the tragedy, following a request by the team,
Obama congratulated the team for the historic win, calling it the “greatest team” in the history of the National Football League. The team has not won the title again since the 1985 season victory.
The team that won that championship against the New England Patriots has been remembered as one of the most formidable teams in football folklore. It featured a stifling defense and a versatile offense.
“They changed the laws of football, they were gritty, they were gutsy, they were hard-working, they were fun-loving, sort of how Chicagoans like to think of themselves,” Obama said.
During the 1985 series, the team recorded a rap song, “The Super Bowl Shuffle,” which captivated fans and earned the team a nomination.
Team members who were present at Friday’s celebration included Bears star quarterback Jim McMahon, who wore his signature sunglasses and headband, and Willie Gault, a speedy wide receiver.
Among the players who were not there was Walter “Sweetness” Payton, the legendary Hall of Fame running back who died of liver disease in 1999.
Head coach Mike Ditka, who a few years ago contemplated running for political office as a Republican, thanked Obama for the recognition. “It was a great group of guys. We’re very proud that you honored us by bringing us here.”
Ditka, whose aggressive, boisterous coaching style led the team to the championship title, presented Obama with an “OBAMA 85” Bears jersey. Among Ditka’s innovations as coach was using a 300-pound defensive lineman, William “Refrigerator” Perry, as a running back on offense in short yardage situations.
“And as much fun as it is to finally have these guys here, we want today’s Bears to come home to the White House with a championship as well,” Obama said before posing with the team for a picture with the 1985 trophy.
The 2011 Bears have a record of two wins and two losses so far this season.
(Reporting by Malathi Nayak; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)