'85 Bears better than Patriots?

Nathan Lindquist

Everyone keeps asking Otis Wilson the same question these days.

Could the 1985 Chicago Bears defense beat this year’s New England Patriots offense?

When the question was posed again on Wednesday, Wilson had a quick and definitive answer. “You know I’m not going to say the Patriots, right?”

“A lot of teams won football games. We dominated football games,” Wilson said. “We didn’t just win. We beat the hell out of you. So they wouldn’t have a chance.”

The former Chicago Bears outside linebacker came out to sign autographs at Menards on Wednesday in promotion of the store’s grand opening this month.

Clad in gray Bears sweats, Wilson sat in a cushy office chair with a stable of felt pens beside him as the autograph line stretched almost the full length of the store.

The former first-round pick out of Louisville had many admirers show up thanks to his playing days for the Bears from 1980-88. Wilson was an integral part of the 1985 Bears Super Bowl winners that featured defensive talent like Richard Dent, Mike Singletary, Dan Hampton, Wilber Marshall and William “The Fridge” Perry.

That season, Wilson got 10.5 sacks in the fearsome 46 defense that intimidated teams with an overload pass rush. Wilson recalls seeing fear in the eyes of opposing quarterbacks.

“With Buddy Ryan’s system, eight-man front, you can’t possibly block everybody,” Wilson said. “So they showed a little fear. It’s always nice to have someone afraid of you so they wouldn’t think about what they’re supposed to do. They think about what you’re going to do.”

Known as the “Junk Yard Dog,” Wilson said he wanted to leave a lasting impact on the sport every time he strapped it up.

“The game is bigger than us,” Wilson said. “Back then, you had guys show you the way. It wasn’t about money with us. It was about leaving a mark. That’s why 20 years later, they’re still talking about us.”

The members of that great 1985 defense still see each other regularly at games, events or golf outings. Many of them live in Chicago and travel the same circuit.

Wilson has many football memories over the years, from high school through the NFL. But his favorite memories are of his teammates.

“Really the more you think about it, you think about the guys you played with,” Wilson said. “That’s more lasting than anything.”

Wilson retired from the NFL after the 1989 season. By 1990, he launched a career in broadcasting as a sports commentator in Rockford and has since worked on sports radio and TV.

While many former players come out of football damaged, Wilson said he was blessed to leave without lingering injuries. He had a knee surgery in 1987 and also hand surgery. But he’s still in good health despite the physical punishment of the sport.

The football gene has carried over. His son, Quincy Wilson, will enter his third year in the NFL as a running back for the Cincinnati Bengals.

The elder Wilson has made sure to stress to his son that there is life after football.

“There’s only a 10-to-15-year career span, then you’ve got to find something else,” Wilson said. “That’s what I tell my son. You need to do what you do now so when you make that transition to when you can’t play, you have something to lean on. I made that transition easy.”

Now at 50 years old, Wilson has a little more grey around the temples. But he still stands tall, with a firm handshake and a low baritone voice.

He has used his sports celebrity status to create the Otis Wilson Foundation. Wilson said the program goes into the Chicago public schools and works with the kids on their health and fitness. That’s the thing that gives him the most joy these days.

“It’s been a blessing for me,” Wilson said. Whenever you can get up in the morning and do what you want to do instead of doing what you have to do, it’s the greatest thing in the world.”

Tim Jones made sure to stake out his spot in the autograph line early. The 56-year-old Monmouth resident brought his 10-year-old grandson Colton out to Menards at 3:45 p.m. so they could be first in line for the proceedings at 6 p.m.

Jones got Wilson to sign a football that had dozens of other signatures on it from football players such as Ed Sprinkle, known as “The Meanest Man in Pro Football” during his playing days for the Bears from 1944-55.

Jones has a special spot for his signed memorabilia. He has a whole room dedicated to the Bears, including a Walter Payton wall and a Dick Butkus wall.

“It’s very exciting for me because I’ve been a Bears fan since I was a little kid,” Jones said. “I watched him play as a Super Bowl player, it was great.

“We’ll take this picture home and probably frame it. I got a Bears room at home and a place for this ball.”

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