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Q&A with former Bears DL Steve McMichael, 1985 Super Bowl champ

Former Bears player Steve “Mongo” McMichael (right) offers club selection advice to Karl Klepitsch on Monday during the Ovarian Cancer Symptom Awareness Organization golf tournament at Boulder Ridge in Lake in the Hills.
Former Bears player Steve “Mongo” McMichael (right) offers club selection advice to Karl Klepitsch on Monday during the Ovarian Cancer Symptom Awareness Organization golf tournament at Boulder Ridge in Lake in the Hills.

Former Bears defensive lineman and 1985 Super Bowl champion Steve “Mongo” McMichael came to Lake in the Hills on Monday for an event to raise awareness for the Ovarian Cancer Symptom Awareness Organization. While he was there, McMichael spoke with Northwest Herald/Chicago Football intern Matthew Paras.

Paras: What made the 1985 Bears team so special?

McMichael: We had 11 guys out there at all times who wanted the team to make the play. They weren’t about themselves. We had eight All-Pro players on that team at one time or another. That defense was going to squash you. If our offense turned the ball over and they scored some cheap points, they might have gotten out of there alive. That’s what they all felt.

That’s what’s gone from the NFL. Football is supposed to be about intimidation. That’s why you have pads on, and we’re going to hit you if you try to do this. That’s defense. It’s not like that anymore, and it’s a shame.

Paras: Do you feel current day defenses hold up to your era? They call the Seahawks the Legion of Boom.

McMichael: The Legion of Boom means they are putting guys out of the game. They didn’t hurt nobody.

Doomsday defense from Dallas, there wouldn’t have been no guy named Captain Comeback (Roger Staubach). The Steel Curtain, Terry Bradshaw and that offense outscored everybody. I wish I would have had a quarterback who stayed healthy. We would have been the team of the ’80s if [Jim McMahon] had stayed healthy.

The way we hurt other teams’ quarterbacks, he was a target. We told him, you better start going down because they’re trying to kill you because what we were doing to their quarterback. But he’d try to fight and just get blown up.

It was a legitimate case for dementia and disability. He’s losing his memory. Everybody saw how he got his [expletive] ripped out there.

It’s a catch-22 because, without being the defense we were, we would have won if McMahon had stayed healthy.

Paras: Do you feel the rule changes have made the game safer overall?

McMichael: Football is not safe. I don’t know why they’re trying to legislate safety into it. Play another sport. If you don’t like what you’re watching on TV, change the channel.

Everything happens too fast out there. It’s not slow motion. It happens too fast to legislate the contact that happens. Here you come for that guy and he lowers his head into my head or you’re coming around the corner, and as you’re being pulled down by that offensive lineman, you take out the legs of another player. They’re never going to be able to legislate that out.

The violence in football is what the fans come to see. What brings people out of their chair? Two things: a touchdown and someone getting the [expletive] kicked out of them. And which one do they show on all the media outlets in slow motion replay? “Look at this hit! He’s going to be fined and suspended for this.”

And they’re still showing it. You know why? Because they’re hypocrites.

Paras: A lot of parents are concerned with their kids playing football because of that. Would you recommend that kids still play it?

McMichael: Yes. I would tell them to play defense. You’re either the hammer or the nail.

I want to get this started. I want to start a program because my neck with three ruptured discs is the worst thing on me. I didn’t start wearing a neck brace until it was too late into my career. My neck is the worst thing on my whole body and I need a knee replacement.

Dan Hampton wore a neck brace his whole career and his neck is fine. Now, if you want to help your little kids out, Mommy and Daddy, put a neck collar on their shoulder pads until they get old like me and they take it off. Then there’s less pain your boy will be in and you can do something about that.

Also, I think – you know how they got those racecar drivers locked in now so they don’t get the whiplash? – that makes the concussions worse. If your head is locked in and you don’t get that spring-splash on your brain pad, it lessens the concussion. It’s a preemptive strike on dementia right there.

Paras: Another concern for former players is the use of painkillers. How did that affect you in the NFL? Did you know what was being put in your body?

McMichael: Yes, oh yeah. And I was totally fine with it. I never saw one guy get a pill shoved down his throat. [Expletive]. You know what I’m saying?

But the trainer and the doctor should legislate it, not just give them their handfuls and let them take it. They’re going to be out and partying and thinking, “Oh, that feels good.” Then you’re going over the ledge to addiction and then eventually death.

Paras: What do you think about the Bears’ current defensive line?

McMichael: They were the worst defense in the league last year. They couldn’t get any worse, now can they? They are getting better, so the glass is half full right there.

Paras: They made a bunch of improvements in the offseason. How do you like the fits they brought in?

McMichael: We’ll see. No one is that much of a prophet to know how they’ll fit into that system. Ever.

Paras: Do you think they’ll make the playoffs?

McMichael: If those little, brittle businessman stay healthy, they will win. If they start laying around hurt and saying, “Oh, I’m not going to play,” they’re going to get their [expletive] beat.

Paras: You were a bit of a pro wrestler after your career. What drew you to wrestling?

McMichael: I’ve been a man of many lives, my friend. Walking out to the sound of the roar of the crowd (is what drew me). I knew I was always going to miss that after I retired. It’s like post-traumatic syndrome. Some guys kill themselves over that. That was my avenue.

It was fun for a while, but realize that you’re nothing but a traveling carney. It even smells like the carney midway backstage. You’re on the road and you might be home two days out of the month to get clean clothes.

Paras: Would you say it was more of an exhausting process than playing football?

McMichael: Yeah. Just all that traveling was exhausting.

Paras: You’ve described yourself as an entertainer. You’re also in a band now with former Bears players. What is it about your personality that draws you to be an entertainer?

McMichael: Friday night lights and football, the whole town looks at you like a hero in a divine province. It’s your responsibility to do it for them. So a kid at 2 years old gets phobias. What you learn in life, you take with it for the rest of your life. It’s on you.

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