Our series on ASN’s 50 greatest NFL championship competitors of the past 50 years continues with No. 34 Gary Fencik, originally published on Jan. 20.
Gary Fencik was a 10-year veteran, team captain and All-Pro safety, playing for a team that was blasting its way toward history. But the Super Bowl has a disquieting effect on even the most prepared, seasoned players.
“Once you arrive, the tension really picks up,” the Chicago Bears’ all-timer said in an October 2012 interview with the website, Sports Quotient. “The press, the coverage, knowing this is maybe your only chance to win a Super Bowl, starts to ramp up the anxiety. The most difficult part of the experience is trying to get tickets for everyone. I would say that 24 hours before the game, I had never been so nervous. A lot of guys on both teams also were getting the flu, which didn’t help.”
Fencik’s apprehension was unfounded, or perhaps it fueled his focus, as the Bears blasted New England 46-10 in Super Bowl XX in New Orleans. Chicago completed an unprecedented playoff run and cemented a spot among the best teams of all time.
Fencik, a hard-hitting safety, was a key component in the Bears’ “46” defensive scheme, which ceaselessly pressured quarterbacks and disrupted rushing lanes. He had 118 tackles and five interceptions for a defense that allowed a league-low 198 points and two shutouts in three postseason games.
Fencik, who grew up in suburban Chicago, was a 10th-round draft pick out of Yale by the Miami Dolphins in 1976. He was among the last players cut and as he contemplated life after football, the Bears invited him to camp. He made the team, beginning a 12-year career in which he became the Bears’ career leader in tackles (1,102) and interceptions (38).
The ’85 Bears were a team full of characters and larger-than-life personalities: head coach Mike Ditka; defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan; quarterback Jim McMahon; running back Walter Payton; defensive linemen William “The Refrigerator” Perry and Dan Hampton; and wide receiver Willie Gault.
The Bears went 18-1, losing only a Monday night game to Miami. Oddly, 10 of the players recorded the Super Bowl Shuffle rap and video session the day after the November loss. The video was released in December. Fencik was among them and delivered a verse:
It’s Gary here
And I’m Mr. Clean
They call me the Hit Man
I don’t know what they mean.
“Every month, every week of my life, I get grief about The Super Bowl Shuffle,” Fencik said in a GQ magazine oral history of the ’85 Bears in February 2011.
But the Bears backed up their boasts and went to New Orleans as heavy favorites. The Patriots scored first, a field goal courtesy of a Payton fumble on the game’s first series.
“I felt pretty good coming off the field after their field goal,” Fencik said in a March 2005 story in the Chicago Tribune, “but there was something up on the scoreboard that basically said that 19 out of 20 teams that score first, win. And I went from feeling pretty good to feeling like a Chicagoan.”
That was a reference to the city’s thin history of sporting successes, pre-dating the Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls and recent Stanley Cups by the Chicago Blackhawks.
Fencik and the Bears’ defense dominated afterward, limiting New England to negative first-half yardage and 123 yards for the game. They recorded seven sacks and came up with six Patriots’ turnovers.
“We felt pretty confident from a defensive standpoint that we could handle New England,” Fencik told the Sports Quotient. “The game turned quickly, and I don’t recall being in another game where we were in complete dominance the entire second half. In fact, the Super Bowl was probably the earliest the second defense came in to replace the starters in any game I ever played.”