WASHINGTON — Correcting an oversight of history, President Barack Obama welcomed the 1985 Chicago Bears football team to the White House on Friday — nearly 26 years after they won the Super Bowl.
"This is as much fun as I will have as president of the United States," Obama said as he stood with coaches and players from the team on the South Lawn of the White House.
"This one of the perks of the job, right here," added Obama, a Chicagoan and a Bears fan.
He lavished praised on the team that went 15-1, revolutionized defense and captured the imagination of Chicago with its colorful characters and its defiant video, "The Super Bowl Shuffle." They vanquished the New England Patriots Jan. 26, 1986, at the Superdome in New Orleans, 46-10.
"The greatest team in NFL history," Obama declared, adding with a smile that the assertion might get him trouble with fans in other cities.
"It's only 26 years and five administrations after the fact," joked Mike Ditka, the iconic head coach of the '85 team. "But thanks."
The White House and the team both said the traditional visit to the White House after the '86 Super Bowl was canceled because of the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger.
Quarterback Jim McMahon in a book had blamed team chairman Michael McCaskey.
"A lot of people figured the Bears would show up at the White House to meet President Reagan after we won the Super Bowl," McMahon wrote in the book bearing his name.
"But I knew it would never happen, unless Michael McCaskey could have convinced all the players to take a bus to Washington to save money. Either that, or President Reagan would have had to send Air Force One to Chicago to get us. Free of charge, of course."
McMahon sat behind Obama during the brief ceremony, wearing a headband and rising quickly when mentioned. Obama joked, though, that they weren't going to let McMahon speak.
Obama joked about getting Ditka on the same stage with '85 defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan as a sign that even in Washington two warring factions could get together. Ditka and Ryan did not get along, and the White House decision to give them equal billing in the introduction brought back memories of the team carrying both men off the field on their shoulders after the Super Bowl win.
Many members of the 1985 team were there, including Ditka, Ryan, McMahon, defensive end Richard Dent, wide receiver Willie Gault and linebacker Otis Wilson.
"This is a very special moment for me," said Dent, who was named the Most Valuable Player in that Super Bowl and was elected earlier this year to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"The circle was finally completed," Wilson told reporters afterward.
Asked about one of the missing teammates, the late Water Payton, Wilson said, "He was a great individual, a class act. I think about him every day."
"He'll always be in our hearts," added McCaskey, the grandson of team founder George Halas.
Payton, the Hall of Fame running back known as "Sweetness," died in 1999 at age 45. He had suffered a rare autoimmune liver disease, then cancer. Several attendees at the White House event wore his jersey Friday.
- Defensive lineman William "Refrigerator"' Perry, who suffers from an immune disorder and has difficulty traveling;
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