Saturday, October 8, 2011

Righting a Wrong

Occasionally, presidents have the opportunity to right wrongs — and they usually act upon them.

Their motivations for doing so may be suspect, but, most of the time, the legitimacy of the need cannot be questioned.

Such was the case yesterday when President Obama greeted the 1985 Chicago Bears and honored them for their Super Bowl victory in January 1986.

Football fans know that it is traditional for a Super Bowl–winning team to pay a visit to the White House, and the Bears were supposed to visit President Reagan — but their trip to Washington was canceled in the wake of the national tragedy that was the space shuttle Challenger disaster.

As I have written here before, I am a Green Bay Packers fan. They've won four Super Bowls, and, while I was much too young to be aware of whether those first two Super Bowl–winning teams paid visits to the Johnson White House, I know the third one visited the Clinton White House and the one that beat Pittsburgh in February was honored by Obama in August.

The Packers have been recognized for their achievements. The NFL's championship trophy is named for the coach who led Green Bay to victory in those first two Super Bowls.

But the Bears only have that single Super Bowl victory to their credit. True, they annoyed many football fans with their smugness and bravado — and their "Super Bowl Shuffle" — but, in the end, those fans had to admit that the Bears made good on their promise.

And they had earned the recognition that every other Super Bowl winner received.

Anyone who witnessed the Challenger explosion knows that event overshadowed everything for weeks, if not months. It grounded the space shuttle program for nearly three years. It forced Reagan to reschedule his State of the Union address.

It was a time for mourning, not celebrating.

Consequently, it isn't surprising that "Da Bears," as they were known, got lost in the (pardon the expression) shuffle.

And, even though I am a Packers fan, I am glad the Bears finally received the recognition they deserved. I'm just sorry, as I wrote earlier this year on the 25th anniversary of their victory, that Walter Payton did not get to share it with his teammates and coaches.

Payton, as I mentioned in January, toiled through many difficult seasons for the Bears. In the 1970s, he and Dick Butkus were the only stars on lackluster teams. Things got better in the 1980s as coach Mike Ditka assembled the team that would annihilate the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.

When the Bears got to the Super Bowl, Payton put in his usual workmanlike effort. New England was focusing on him all day and held him to only 61 yards, but that was enough to lead Chicago in rushing.

Nevertheless, when given the opportunity to punch in a score from a single yard out, Ditka opted to give the ball to William "the Refrigerator" Perry, a defensive lineman who had been brought in a couple of times during the regular season when the Bears faced goal–line situations.

I felt it was a disgrace. Ask just about any pro football fan to identify the top five running backs in the history of the NFL, and nearly all will include Payton in that list. He deserved to score a touchdown in his only Super Bowl.

He also deserved to be recognized yesterday, and I am sure that Obama, a resident of Chicago in his adult years, would have welcomed him to the White House. But Payton died nearly 12 years ago.

For Payton, it is a wrong that can never be righted.

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