Ten Questions with “ESPN’s 30 for 30: The ’85 Bears” Director Jason Hehir

Courtesy: ESPN
Courtesy: ESPN /

The 1985 Chicago Bears were an iconic team. Not only did they dominate on the field, but they dominated off the field as well. Between “The Super Bowl Shuffle,” countless advertising endorsements, and bombastic personalities such as Jim McMahon, this team was larger than life.

ESPN has chosen the ’85 Bears as it’s latest “30 for 30” project and it will debut Thursday, February 4th, at 9pm ET on ESPN. BGO sits down with “The ’85 Bears” director Jason Hehir and discusses this much anticipated documentary.

1. Sports fans can’t get enough of the 30 for 30 series. What is it that makes this documentary series so special?

Every story needs great characters, and there’s certainly no lack of those in sports. But beyond that, I think the best 30 for 30’s have re-told the stories we thought we knew in fresh, insightful ways. Sports fans pride themselves on retaining the most minute details of famous (or infamous) events. It’s when a filmmaker sheds new light on a well-known story that the series is at its best.

More from Bear Goggles On

2. As a Massachusetts kid who was only 9 years of age when the Bears won Super Bowl XX, do you have any memories of that game and if so, were you rooting for your hometown Patriots?

I was rooting for the Patriots, yes, but I also remember following the Bears very closely that season as well. They were captivating, especially for a kid just starting to understand how the NFL worked. On Super Bowl Sunday, we hosted a party at our house. Family and friends all packed into our living room around a 25 inch Zenith TV. I vividly remember the celebration after Walter Payton fumbled on the Bears’ first possession. For a second we all thought the Pats had a chance. Later I was the one begging people to stay when the game got out of hand.

3. You’ve worked with ESPN’s 30 for 30 series before, including directing a tremendous documentary on Michigan’s Fab 5. What drew you specifically to this particular project?

The Fab Five got me thinking about who the other iconic teams from my youth would be. The first team I thought of was the ’85 Bears. I got out of the cold and went down to Florida with a stack of Bears books. I came home with a pitch for ESPN.

4. Vince Vaughn has taken the torch from Bill Murray as Chicago’s number one celebrity fan. He serves as the executive producer on this documentary. How was it working with Vince and is he as much of a Chicago sports fan as he appears to be?

Vince is the real deal and then some. I ended up reading 11 books about the ’85 Bears, and five minutes into our first conversation it was clear that he’d committed all of those details to memory long ago while he was growing up in Chicago. Both Vince and Peter Billingsley are hugely successful Hollywood figures, yet they approached the project with the passion of first-time producers. Can’t say enough about them.

5. Getting the on camera insight is always some of the most fascinating information from these documentaries, how many former Bears players/coaches participated in interviews whether that be on camera or off?

We interviewed 20 people for the doc, including 11 of the ’85 Bears. In the research phase we spoke with many others, and I wish we’d had room for everyone. But the characters we interviewed were so strong and such good storytellers that there wasn’t a need for more perspective. I didn’t want the film to be flooded with so many talking heads that it was hard for newcomers to keep track of who was who.

6. We’ve seen plenty of teams dominate in other seasons, but the ’85 Bears became a cultural phenomenon that year. After working with these men for this documentary, what do you think it was that made this team so different than every other Super Bowl champion?

I think this is the most significant team of my lifetime in terms of pop cultural impact. They changed the ways teams and athletes are marketed. Not only were they dominant on the field, they were superstars off of it. Before Jim McMahon, for instance, no athlete had been on the cover of Rolling Stone. All of a sudden, a rookie defensive lineman like William Perry was a household name. It was perfect timing for this group of guys, because they all had such unique charisma. They also came along just as ESPN, MTV and cable television were coming into their own. It was a perfect storm.

Dec 14, 2015; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins former quarterback Dan Marino holds his commemorative ball during a halftime ceremony at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Innerarity-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 14, 2015; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins former quarterback Dan Marino holds his commemorative ball during a halftime ceremony at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Innerarity-USA TODAY Sports /

7. The loss the Bears suffered to the Dolphins has become one of the iconic Monday Night Football games in history. As dominant as they were, it leaves a “what could have been” element to the season. As crazy as it sounds, did that loss actually add to the mystique of this team?

That’s a great point. I think a 16-0 season would’ve been almost too perfect. Years later people might’ve said that it was just an off year for NFL parity. But to lose to a Hall Of Fame QB and Head Coach, then come back and steamroll through the playoffs the way they did, it enhanced the legend. The teams and names they beat that season are historic–Joe Theismann’s Redskins, Tom Landry’s Cowboys, Bill Parcells/Phil Simms/LT’s Giants, Eric Dickerson’s Rams. But you needed to see the Bears knocked down in order for them to recover and prove how great they truly were.

8. A lot of the players from that team have dealt with a lot of struggles since their playing days ended whether that be financial struggles, health issues, or troubles with the law. How much does the documentary discuss these struggles?

We certainly addressed McMahon’s condition and the Dave Duerson suicide. Fridge was quite sick years back with Guillian-Barre syndrome, which wasn’t related to his football career. But he’s very happy down in Aiken, SC these days. He’s dealing with diabetes and some other issues that may be the result of a less-than-healthy lifestyle, but I was happy to discover that the myth of the ’85 Bears being this group of guys who are down on their luck and in rough shape is woefully inaccurate. The hardest part of making the film was to figure out the correct balance of celebrating the greatness of that team in their era, while still giving appropriate attention to the struggles they’ve encountered since. They’ve certainly faced their share of hardships, but idea that this is a tragic story or a cautionary tale is, in my opinion, a false narrative.

9. After working on this project, I’m curious to get your opinion on this: how real was the divide that season between Mike Ditka’s offense and Buddy Ryan’s defense?

That rivalry storyline sold papers, but my sense is that it was embellished by the press. The reality is that these were tough stubborn guys who liked to be in control. It was an arranged marriage, and while they certainly weren’t the best of friends, there wasn’t much of a need for them to be. The defense AND the offense both agree that Ditka was the unquestioned leader of that team. But at the same time, Buddy’s defensive guys were fiercely loyal to him on Sundays. There was tension there, but this wasn’t something that was so dysfunctional that it became a problem in the locker room. Ditka has nothing but positive things to say about Buddy these days, and likewise Buddy seemed to harbor no ill will when I brought Mike’s name up.

10. What was the most interesting piece of information you learned from putting “The ’85 Bears” together that you were unaware of before shooting?

If you want to speak with William Perry, it helps to show up at his doorstep with a case of Budweiser and two large pizzas.