As the Super Bowl returns to New Orleans this week, arguments will again heat up about whether the 1986 Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears are the best team in NFL history. But with personalities like Mike Ditka, Walter Payton, William “The Refrigerator” Perry, Richard Dent, Dan Hampton, Steve “Mongo” McMichael, and Jim McMahon, it’s hard to argue against them being the most character-laden team ever. Their on-field highlights en route to a 15-1 season (the only loss a high-profile Monday-night drubbing in Miami, where members of the undefeated 1972 Dolphins watched from the sidelines) were impressive. But for many fans, that season is summed up by a silly video featuring jinx-taunting boasts, amateur rapping, and the all-time best saxophone solo by a running back. “The Super Bowl Shuffle” was wide receiver Willie Gault’s pet project, designed to showcase the players, raise money for charity, and jump-start a fledgling local record label. But it became a juggernaut, earning a gold record, a platinum video, and a Grammy nomination. One measure of its popularity is that no one remembers that the previous Super Bowl champions released “We’re the 49ers,” their own funky fight song. “When the 49ers did their song, people thought of it as kind of a joke,” recalls Bay Area–bred Bears defensive back (and Shufflin’ Crew backup dancer) Ken Taylor. Although many also laughed at Steve Fuller’s moves or William Perry’s youthful bravado, the “Shuffle” was no joke. It became a cultural milestone that brought the NFL into the MTV era and helped change the status of athletes as celebrities. Its history is a story of football triumphs, personal tragedies, great and awful business decisions, an attorney general’s investigation, a blackface minstrel backstory, and a lot of feathers ruffled. This is the oral history of “The Super Bowl Shuffle.”
SPEEDY WILLIE RUNS WITH IT
Willie Gault (Chicago Bears wide receiver, 1983-87/Chicago Bears Shufflin’ Crew): In 1985 I was working on my acting career. I had already shot my part for About Last Night when I met Dick Meyer through my Hollywood agent. Dick was the owner of Red Label Records, and he had a music video he wanted me to be in called “The Heat in Me” by Linda Clifford where I’d play a fireman. After we shot that, Dick and I were sitting around talking and we said it would be fun if we did a video for the Bears.
Howard Rockman (Dick Meyer’s attorney): Dick Meyer was originally in advertising. He did successful work for Jovan [a brand of perfume] and was hired by the company, eventually becoming president. He was tall and liked to use his height to show people he was in charge, but he was affable.1
Meyer died of prostate cancer in 1992.
Fred Breitberg (recording engineer, “The Super Bowl Shuffle”): Dick was 6-foot-7. He was Cazzie Russell’s backup at Michigan.
Gault: Later, we had several meetings at his house where we talked about who would be in the video, what was the concept, what were the guys’ personalities.
Breitberg: Dick was a pioneer in many ways. He was the first person to have a major corporation underwrite a rock act. It was “Jovan presents the Rolling Stones” in 1981, first corporate sponsorship for a [rock] tour. It is de rigueur now. He also invented the talking box. It was a box that talked. It said, “This is the story of this Jovan musk perfume, blah blah blah.”
Shaun Gayle (Chicago Bears defensive back, 1984-94/Chicago Bears Shufflin’ Crew chorus): Keep in mind, before we did that song there was a lot of notoriety swirling around that team with the characters and the media coverage. Things already were at this feverish pitch.
Calvin Thomas (Chicago Bears running back, 1982-88/Chicago Bears Shufflin’ Crew saxophonist): William [Perry] did a lot of commercials, Mike [Ditka] did a lot of commercials, guys on the team were always getting offers.
Steve Fuller (Chicago Bears backup quarterback, 1984-86/Chicago Bears Shufflin’ Crew): Our star players were getting so much attention that secondary players were actually getting the overflow.
Gault: We were so big that year. There had been the Black and Blues Brothers poster for the linemen, and a lot of commercials, so it wasn’t against the norm to do this. It was just like a commercial, almost. Except that this would be for charity. Everyone in the video would be paid some nominal fee, but the main purpose was we would give money to the neediest families in Chicago. Red Label agreed to that.
RED LABEL RECORDS
Breitberg: I got involved with Red Label when I was working at Streeterville studio downtown [in Chicago], and a fella I knew was building Dick’s studio in his house. Meyer had bought the former Bensinger mansion in Winnetka, which looked like a baby wing of the Museum of Science and Industry. When he bought the mansion he was married to Judy Sharp. She was a singer/actress/model, and he was working on an album for her. The property had a full bowling alley in the basement, which Dick turned into a good-sized studio. I recorded Koko Taylor there, Albert Collins, Edgar Winter. Dick liked what I did and offered me a job. We did the album for Judy, it may have come out — I don’t remember. I was shocked when they wound up divorced around ’86.
Bobby Daniels2 (cowriter/drum programmer, “The Super Bowl Shuffle”): Dick Meyer was a touch of class. He was GQ down — an elegant statue of a man.
Daniels was the drummer and band leader for Kenny Rogers from 1976 to 1988, and he met Meyer when Jovan sponsored Rogers’s tour and introduced his and her fragrances — Gambler and Lady — named after Rogers songs.
Breitberg: After he built the studio he started a record label and got a distribution deal with Capitol Records. Richard Tufo, who’d worked with Curtis Mayfield, ran the label. Some of the acts were Osbourne and Giles, the Silent Treatment, The Buckinghams, The Innocent.3
Trent Reznor appeared on the band’s album cover but he didn’t play on the record.
Tim Breitberg (Fred Breitberg’s son, then 12): Dick Meyer was totally nice. The studio was in the basement and they also had a bar and I used to be able to get my own soda through the spray machine, and there was a movie theater that had a projection-screen TV with LaserDiscs. Sometimes his butler would take me to rent movies, but otherwise I’d watch what they had, which was Animal House, Xanadu, and Airplane!
Breitberg: During the seventh week of the Bears season we had our weekly production meeting in our downtown office and were told we were going to do a rap record and could actually get the Bears to be on it. That weekend we were at the studio trying to produce a track, and nothing really came together. Tufo had been a keyboard player and arranger for Curtis Mayfield, so he was working with our production team, percussionist Richard Milasky and keyboardist Gary Jones. We didn’t get anything on tape, it didn’t work out. After that Meyer decided to resurrect the “The Kingfish Shuffle.”
Daniels: I flew up to Chicago for overdubs with Linda Clifford. It was about 2:30, 3 in the morning, and Richard Tufo said it might be cool if we did a rap on Amos and Andy and Kingfish from the old Amos ‘n Andy show.4 We had a guy go out and rent a bunch of old Amos ‘n Andy tapes. So we put on the first tape and we didn’t even get through one show when I said, I got it! Here’s the video: Kingfish and Amos trick Sapphire, and they’re going to go down to the lodge, and this is in black-and-white. When they get there, as soon as the door opens they go into an in-color situation, with one of those disco balls that was real popular back then. Kingfish’s cigar drops out of his mouth, and Amos asks him, “Man, what are we gonna do now, Kingfish?” And Kingfish says, “I don’t know what you’re gonna do, but I’m gonna do the Kingfish Shuffle!” And the music hits!
Novelty rap records were a mid-’80s fad, beginning with songs like Chicago rapper/comedian Rappin’ Duke’s John Wayne track and also including “Pee-Wee’s Dance” by Joeski Love and “Inspector Gadget” by The Kartoon Krew.
Derrick Lee (Keyboards, “The Super Bowl Shuffle”): It was a wonderful experience: We started the record in hopes to do a 12-inch on Amos ‘n Andy and we ended up having “The Super Bowl Shuffle.”5
Amos ‘n Andy, featuring white actors with backgrounds in blackface minstrelsy portraying African American buffoons, was America’s most popular radio show in the 1920s and ’30s. The 1950s black-cast TV version was canceled after the NAACP complained it presented offensive stereotypes. However, the African American writers of “The Kingfish Shuffle” — Daniels, Lee, Lloyd Barry, and studio percussionist/impressionist Mel Owens — were undeterred. “We felt,” Lee recalls, “we turned something bad into something good.”
Daniels: I had just gotten the Linn 9000 [sequencer/drum machine] and had put down a four-bar groove just to see if the battery would hold it. When I turned on the Linn the groove that became “Super Bowl Shuffle” was still there. This was an accident — I didn’t strategically come up with the groove or that little drumbeat at the beginning that’s so stupid it’s good.
Lloyd Barry (co-writer/keyboard programmer, “The Super Bowl Shuffle”): The song came together very easily, just working at Bobby’s house. Within a few days we had cut that recording of “The Kingfish Shuffle.”
Daniels: Mel Owens wrote all the lyrics and sang all the voices. He made that record great. “We are the Kingfish shuffling crew, shuffling on down doing it for you … ” He liked to make people laugh. He was just nutty. I never saw a dark side — Mel brought sunshine in the room with him.
Michael Snow (Nashville producer): Beneath the fun-loving exterior was a rather lonely guy. His father was a retired infantry colonel, very spit-and-polish, who didn’t approve of Mel’s music career, although Mel had done his bit in the military himself, serving on a naval gunboat up the Mekong Delta in Vietnam.
Shannon “Shan de Bayou” Williford (harmonica, Delicious Blues Stew, Owens’s last band): Mel’s issues involved smoking weed and drinking beer, and he was diabetic, but didn’t take care of himself. He was an odd man, lived with his mom until she died.
Daniels: We sent the tape to Red Label and they tested it around the Midwest but decided not to put it out. The next thing you know, they want me to send them the instrumental tracks to put the Chicago Bears on it. The truth of the matter is that everything you hear on “The Super Bowl Shuffle” is “The Kingfish Shuffle,” and the lion’s share of the lyrics are by Mel Owens. All that happened was they changed it to be about McMahon and Payton and not Amos and Andy.
Gault: Dick Meyer said, “I have this song. It might work.” I never heard the original lyrics.
GETTING THE CREW TOGETHER
Gault: It was one of those things where I had to approach them with kid gloves because not too many guys would be thinking about doing a rap song. Otis and Richard Dent said great.
Richard Dent (Chicago Bears defensive end, 1983-93, 1995/Chicago Bears Shufflin’ Crew): Willie approached me, and first I wanted to hear the sound. The beat was nice — we can dance on this in the clubs.
Gault: Walter, who was a singer anyway, he said, “I’m in.” He loved doing stuff like that.
Jeff Pearlman (Walter Payton biographer): Walter Payton was a very old-school football player, who put down his head and got his yards without flash. He was never a shit talker, so the boastful side of “The Super Bowl Shuffle” might not have appealed to him. But he loved music. He was on a local dance show when he was at Jackson State, and even made it to a dance-off on Soul Train.
Jarrett Payton (Walter Payton’s son): He was in a band playing drums before he was even into playing football. He was a busy man, but he always found time for music. He had drums in the house. He played bass.
Brittney Payton (Walter Payton’s daughter): My dad was also an amazing whistler. He had the largest collection of records you could imagine, [The Rolling] Stones, [Bruce] Springsteen, Michael Jackson, Motown. He was a big lover of jazz.
Jarrett Payton: He was even into hip-hop. He liked Notorious B.I.G., Kool Moe Dee. He and Busta Rhymes had met, and Busta wanted my dad to be in a video but my dad was too sick by that time.
Gault: Steve Fuller we had to talk into it.
Fuller: I have absolutely no musical background.
Gault: We really wanted to use Gary Fencik, because he’s like the white guy in the group that’s really cool, and he’s been around for a while and he’s a really good-looking guy.
Gary Fencik (Chicago Bears safety, 1976-87/Chicago Bears Shufflin’ Crew): I was doing Cadillac commercials, so I thought I knew what this was going to be. I didn’t really give it any thought.
Gault: McMahon did it because everyone else was doing it. He was pretty cool. Fridge was doing everything that year. Hampton and those guys we knew would be tough because they’re a little more conservative. Mike Singletary, he’s conservative but cool, he thought the idea was great.
Breitberg: We got the tracks, and over the weekend, Week 8 of the season, we start working on it, and Dick modified the lyrics. The choruses are exactly the same as “Kingfish Shuffle,” but other than a few lines he rewrote the verses completely.
Gault: Dick and I sat down and talked about the personalities, then Dick Meyer wrote out lyrics. I helped write my own lyrics. I also think I added to Mike Singletary’s. At the time we had no idea about producer’s credit or writer’s credit or things like that. I got the lyrics to the guys so they’d be able to study a little bit.
Dan Hampton (Chicago Bears defensive tackle/defensive end, 1979-90): They had approached me to be in the thing and I refused because of being superstitious. I thought it was presumptuous to say, “Oh yeah, we’re going to the Super Bowl” when the franchise had never been in one. Willie gave me lyrics, I can’t remember, “something something Danimal,” or something, and I said there’s no way. They hastily rewrote it and went to McMichael and he’d seen that I wasn’t doing it and asked why, and I said, “You idiot, you’re more superstitious than I am, I ain’t gonna jinx this,” and he said, “You’re right, I ain’t going to do this either.” It ended up going to Mike Richardson.
Mike Richardson (Chicago Bears cornerback, 1983-88/Chicago Bears Shufflin’ Crew): We went into [Meyer’s] house and I wasn’t on the lineup. I just went over there with Richard to check out the taping, and Dick Meyer wrote me up something that day. The guy said, “Where you from?” I said, “L.A.,” and he put something together, and “L.A. Mike” pretty much became my nickname that stuck like glue from that point on. I thought the guy was a phenomenal writer for him to just write me in the way he did, and some of the other guys, the way he tailor-made their parts, it was magical.
Fencik: They gave me lyrics and said, “You can change them.” I’m sure if I knew then what I know now I would have looked more carefully. “Ring my bell” are not words I’m particularly proud of.
Breitberg: The following weekend we prepped the thing and had background singers singing the chorus. The Bears are on there, too, but we had them sing over real studio singers. The next Thursday, seven out of the 10 players came, everybody but McMahon, Walter, and the Fridge. The seven guys were there and we did each of their verses. Dick came in prepared. He had everything done but a couple of things that we finished together. I think we wrote, “I’m your man Dent … the quarterback’s gonna get bent.” Not rocket science.
Dent: Each person’s lines fit them pretty good. I don’t remember changing much. They captured everyone’s personalities, I thought.
Breitberg: We’d rehearse them in the control room until they sounded confident, then record their part. Singletary was very businesslike. Otis was very comical. It was clear that Willie was the one guy there that wanted a Hollywood career — he was treating this like it was real. But the others were all groovy, they just had bigger fish to fry and weren’t taking this too seriously.
Ken Taylor (Chicago Bears defensive back, 1985/Chicago Bears Shufflin’ Crew chorus): Willie told me that Mike Singletary got his part down in the first take. That’s Mike for you, 100 percent in.
Breitberg: Then on Saturday, around 10 a.m., Singletary, who was taking a lead role, making sure this came together, brought the rest of them. Walter was a prankster and he liked to grab your hamstring right up by your nuts, and it was very painful. So I had this wooden mallet and I said, “If you grab me one more time … ” We were having a great time. McMahon was nondescript, but Fridge was like a kid in the candy shop. He was such a bright spirit and enamored with everything and he was just fabulous, he had the best personality of anybody on the record, we thought. I also recorded Steve Eisen, who did the sax solo.
Steve Eisen (saxophone, “The Super Bowl Shuffle”): Freddie called me about it on a Saturday morning. He didn’t say what it was, he just said it was lean bread because it was a benefit. I think it got $65. He said, “You’ll be in and out in a few minutes, you just have to overdub a solo.” It was at a studio in the basement of a mansion in Winnetka, and I went in and there was a very narrow hallway, with a huge human being in it. It was impossible for me to pass by this guy. I looked up and it was the Fridge! So I managed to get by him and I see Walter Payton, and I see Willie Gault, and I said, “What is this?” They filled me in, and I was done in probably half an hour, but I stuck around because they were really fun guys to hang out with. The chemistry between Walter Payton and the Fridge was really something, with the veteran giving the rookie phenom a hard time, but in a very humorous way. Willie Gault seemed to be the guy who was overseeing a lot of what they had to do and would coach guys a little bit. They were just trying to get them in the groove, and some guys stuck to it like glue and other cats took a little time.
Breitberg: I mixed it the Sunday they beat Dallas 44 to nothing, and sent it out to Wally Traugott — he’s the guy at Capitol who mastered all the Beatles’ crap. He mastered it and they stopped their entire pressing operation and shoved “The Super Bowl Shuffle” in there and pressed it.
TELLING THE PARENTS
Ken Valdiserri (Chicago Bears director of public relations/director of marketing & broadcasting, 1984-2000): The Bears organization didn’t find out about this until they already had made the recording and were planning the video. We had to be brought in the loop because of trademarks and copyrights and proprietary issues. We didn’t like it from two different perspectives. One, it came to us in such a hurried and quick fashion, and secondarily, the whole concept of being presumptuous about the team going to the Super Bowl could make us look foolish. Rather than creating total internal chaos within the rank and file we decided to enable it, and that created the need to take it up the ladder not only with team but league officials.
Mike Ditka (coach, Chicago Bears, 1982-92): I didn’t know anything about it. It surprised me when I found out. But we had a fun group of guys, and I never discouraged them from having fun. That wasn’t the way I did things. Did I think it was inappropriate? No. If you don’t think you’re going to win, then you’re not going to win, that’s why I thought [the song] was pretty much a symbol of the fact that they thought they were going to win.
Don Levey (cover photographer, “The Super Bowl Shuffle” record and video): Dick [Meyer] calls me and says, “You want to make history?” I met the players at Halas Hall. It seems like they were having a chalk talk about the game the previous Sunday. I was given a racquetball court to set up in, and the players trickled in one by one. It was a quick photo shoot, 15 to 20 minutes, two and a half rolls of film. Hampton and McMichael were doing catcalls from the top of the court, kidding them while they got their makeup done.
Hampton: We always ripped on and mocked everybody on the team, and they gave it back as good as they got it. We weren’t mad at them. Even though we didn’t want to be on it, we gave the other guys our blessing.
Levey: The main thing I remember is that Walter is a big pincher, pinching people in the butt … with a grip like a bear trap!
Breitberg: When the vinyl came back from Capitol, that record became the fastest to get played in the history of WLS radio. I walked it in, gave it to my fiancée, who was the promotion director, [and] she gave it to the program director, who walked it into the studio and put it on. I believe it hit the door and was on the air in two and a half minutes. Pretty soon every radio station in Chicago was playing it.
Daniels: Dick also put it on cassette so people could listen on the way to the ballgame or while tailgating. It was really an innovative thought, the first time that a single had been put on cassette.
Maury Buford (Chicago Bears punter, 1985-86, ’89-91/cowbell, Chicago Bears Shufflin’ Crew): Willie Gault put it out to everybody that they were shooting the video the day after the Miami game.
Gault: Even though there are only 10 of us on the record, we had wanted everyone to be a part of it, so that Saturday I was letting everyone know that we needed them there at the shoot the next week because it was part of the look of the video, to have the whole team there. I made the music available and they heard some of the guys rap, and they thought it was funny and interesting.
Jim Morrissey (Chicago Bears linebacker, 1985-93/Chicago Bears Shufflin’ Crew chorus): I was asked to be in the video on the Saturday flying down to Miami. Willie Gault came over to my seat on the plane and said, “What are you doing on Tuesday?” I said, “Nothing.” I was the rookie, living with my grandparents, I didn’t know what it was he was asking about, I just knew it was something that was going to keep me busy for a day.
MAULED IN MIAMI
Fencik: Going into Miami we had won our two previous games with, what, a combined score of 80 to nothing? So mentally we maybe weren’t prepared for the game.
Taylor: I had noticed during warm-ups that the Dolphins from the 1972 undefeated team, Larry Csonka and those guys, were standing lined up on the sideline, one by one, with their arms folded, watching us. It was the weirdest thing. They put a voodoo on us.
Buford: The Orange Bowl was the loudest stadium I had ever been to in my life. It was a tough damn environment.
Gayle: At the time that was the most-watched Monday Night Football game in history.
Richardson: Looking back on some of the plays in that game, it really wasn’t meant for us to win. Marino throws, I’m lined up for an interception, and it hits Dan Hampton in the helmet, goes right over my head for a touchdown.
Fencik: I remember walking off the field with Hampton after that and we both looked at each other and said, “It ain’t happening tonight.” My own view is that it was the best thing that could have happened to us. Your goal going into an NFL season isn’t to go undefeated. It’s to get to and win the Super Bowl.
Fuller: I hurt my ankle in the game. I was disappointed, certainly, because it was a big moment for me to try to get in there and coax a win out of that situation. But we only got as close as 38 to 24.
Ditka: We went in there and Coach Shula outcoached me and they outplayed us. I thought it helped us refocus and get in the right direction going forward.
Stefan Humphries (Chicago Bears offensive lineman, 1984-86/Chicago Bears Shufflin’ Crew drummer): Anytime you lose it’s hard, especially a loss that takes away a perfect season.
Gault: After the loss everybody was down and sad, and people didn’t know if we should do it — “maybe it’s a sign.” I was like: It’s not, we’ve already done it, we’re committed to it, these guys have spent a lot of money, and people are going to benefit from it. We just have to do it. It wound up being OK. Jim McMahon and Walter didn’t come, but everybody else showed up.
THE VIDEO SHOOT
Valdiserri: After a somewhat humbling first loss on Monday night, we arrived [in Chicago] probably at three in the morning. This thing had been scheduled for an eleven o’ clock taping at the Park West. This was not ideal, because we had unnaturally worn our home uniforms for an away game at Miami, and those uniforms had to be cleaned, so we had to get our equipment manager to launder the uniforms and I had to physically take them down to the Park West.
Mike Fayette (owner, Post Effects, production company for “The Super Bowl Shuffle” video): The crew had a 7 a.m. call but didn’t know what to expect. Because of the loss, there was widespread expectation that they wouldn’t show up, and some of them didn’t. Dick was very relieved when the first guys dragged in around lunchtime.
Stephen Cardwell (cameraman, “The Super Bowl Shuffle”): It was regarded as just another day at the office for us jaded TV crew guys.
Taylor: I remember going through the doors, not knowing what to expect, and there’s this huge Hollywood set, Bears colors everywhere, the “Super Bowl Shuffle” sign, and cameras following you around.
Morrissey: Being a rookie and strictly a special teams player, I was basically along for the ride. At the start of the “Making of” video, you can kind of read my lips saying, “Why are you filming me?”
Tom Kruc (production assistant, “The Super Bowl Shuffle” video): The mood was a little subdued. The production crew and the guy who wrote the song [Meyer] were excited, but obviously the team was pretty down. Once the music started blaring through the place, it kind of brought the mood together. It was interesting to watch Mike Singletary be the leader during that video shoot. When guys were getting down he kind of rallied the players, much like you’d see him do on the sidelines.
Dent: After a loss, it didn’t feel good being somewhere the next day after getting home after two in the morning. I didn’t feel up for it, but I had a couple of drinks there and kind of got in the mood.
Fencik: They told us, “We’re going to put on the music and you’re going to sing your song, and if you have any dance steps you can do those as well.” I hadn’t really thought about any of that. I’m sure Willie had choreographed his moves, but I hadn’t spent a minute on mine.
Gault: Actually, I didn’t plan it, I just went with the beat. It was totally ad-libbed. It may have seemed like I did because it was so smooth, but there goes that smooth-as-chocolate-swirl thing.
Fuller: I was in a walking cast from an ankle injury in the Miami game. Obviously my dancing prowess was not great anyway, but if you look closely I did have a big heavy wrap on. I thought about not doing the video, especially coming back on the plane, but we had it iced down pretty good and I think the swelling and the flexibility actually got a little better on the trip home, and I was getting around way better on Tuesday. But I doubt the dancing was good therapy.
Dent: I was trying to help Fuller out because he had a broken foot, so he was all off-beat.
Fencik: People today say, “At least you were a better dancer than Steve Fuller!” They are kind of damning me with faint praise. Steve could only move one leg.
Richardson: We only did a couple takes. We were there several hours. Guys did their part and kept on moving. I still say, without the technology I was probably the best two-step dancer on the video.
Fencik: In retrospect, the most important thing about the video is that I had a date that night. I said, “Guys, I have one more take, because I have a date and I’m not missing it.” So I left and they kept shooting and I went to Dee’s on Armitage for my first date with my wife. We’ve been married for over 20 years.
Tim Breitberg: My dad invited me and I was doing homework in one of the booths while they shot it. The one thing that sticks out in my mind is that the woman who plays the referee was Dick Meyer’s girlfriend, and it took her about 40 takes to get her whistle blow right.
Breitberg: Dick had met Julia that summer at [the nightclub] Faces and they started dating. I think she became his fiancée around the time of the shoot.
Fayette: The director, Dave Thompson, had won an Emmy or two, but I can understand how people might have thought Dick Meyer was the director.
Paul Natkin (photographer, “The Super Bowl Shuffle” video shoot): Dick was running around, directing the players, getting onstage in between every take, showing people how to move and that kind of stuff.
Tyrone Keys (Chicago Bears defensive lineman, 1983-85/Chicago Bears Shufflin’ Crew keyboardist): Dick Meyer was telling us to shake it, bobbing and weaving around the stage.
Buford: They let us play whatever we wanted. I picked the cowbell. I brought in a hat I had in my car — I thought I’d put on a hat and shades and look like a cool rocker.
Keys: I had a little piano background. When I was in fifth grade I remember playing football in the street and the piano teacher would pull up and I’d be so upset to have to go inside. The guy used to hit my knuckles when I messed up, because I was just thinking about getting back out to play football. But now it was Keys on the keyboard, it was like destiny. I remember Stefan Humphries looked like he had a little background on the drums.
Humphries: I never played drums before, and I do not feel like I am doing a very good job. Somebody asked if there was anyone that wanted to be the drummer, and nobody else volunteered. It took quite a few takes for me to coordinate being on beat and, of course, everyone was in the background chiding me.
Keys: It looks like Thomas knows what he’s doing on the saxophone.
Thomas: I didn’t know what the hell I was doing.
Eisen: I wish they had called me to be a consultant. He was holding the horn all wrong, he had the left hand and right hand reversed. Anybody that’s ever played any wind instrument would recognize that immediately.
Thomas: I had never picked up a saxophone before that time and I’ve never picked up a saxophone since that time.
Eisen: I still thought it was great. His body language was perfect.
Thomas: It was acting. I tried to put myself in the mind-set of someone who was blowing those notes for real.
Mike Tomczak (Chicago Bears quarterback, 1985-1990/Chicago Bears Shufflin’ Crew guitarist): I watched a lot of MTV, and I kind of knew the gyrations for air guitar, so I tried to bring some of my Eric Clapton knowledge, if you will. It was fun — by far one of the more enjoyable experiences of that year. I think I mentioned to Bob Seger at a concert after that season that I played guitar in a music video, and he said, “How’d that go for you?” I said, “Fine, because it wasn’t plugged in.”
Leslie Frazier (Chicago Bears safety/cornerback, 1981-85/Chicago Bears Shufflin’ Crew chorus): I was told, “This is what you’re going to be doing, dancing in the background,” which was fine with me. When it got bigger I thought I wouldn’t have minded having a singing role, not that I can sing.
Gayle: Some of us just wanted to be in the back. We said we’d participate, didn’t say to what level.
Rains: I think Willie Gault caught everybody off guard, not many people knew he was doing this, so the next thing you know we’re at the video shoot, people are choosing instruments, and the guys that were leftover were the dancers. It didn’t matter to me. I like to dance. I can’t dance anymore ’cause of my knees, but I liked to dance.
Morrissey: I wish I grabbed an instrument. I had the opportunity for the drums and I passed it up. Instead, I’ve been ridiculed the last 27 years by my family, my friends, and everybody for trying to dance.
Humphries: All those guys that were dancing weren’t very good. Mike Singletary made up the steps and was helping everybody out, but Keith Ortego could have used some more help.
Frazier: I also remember Mike trying to get everybody up when things were lagging — that was Mike. He’s that spark that gets things going. That’s who he is, a natural-born leader.
Dent: Leslie Frazier was all off-beat, him being a black guy and couldn’t have a beat was kind of funny.
THE GREEN SCREEN
Fayette: There was fear that the Bears would fall apart after that loss, so Dick was crazy to get this done before they lost another game. Both Payton and McMahon declined to do it for two days. We did a version where we cut away to dancers when either one was singing. There was even a version where we used still photos of them during their parts. It was ugly.
Pearlman: I think Walter Payton was confused about how you could do a song like that after you lost, but he was an honorable guy, so he agreed to film his part later in the week.
Natkin: They shot it at Halas Hall in the racquetball court. It was a practice day, so all the Bears were there. It was a small crew, around four pissed-off video guys who didn’t want to work another day.
Cardwell: Green-screen composite was in its infancy and was then considered a cutting-edge technique.
Breitberg: We felt that the green screen was a liability at first, but it became a pretty cool effect. It gave the video texture and variety.
John Anderson (video editor, “The Super Bowl Shuffle”): Payton and McMahon, they seemed to be in a bad mood. They did about one take each. They weren’t into it.
Natkin: Walter was going around and pickpocketing people. He was really into sleight-of-hand practical jokes. He’d come up and give you a hug and pat you on the back and all of a sudden he has your wallet. He was really good at it.
Anderson: We never doubted it was going to be really funny and good, we just didn’t know if we were going to get it done in time. We got pretty well into it Thursday night, then went home at 10 p.m. We got back together Friday morning and worked without sleep till Monday, nonstop, got it done, and got it to FedEx in time to get it where it needed to get. Meyer and Tufo were on the phone dealing with distributor issues the whole time and they just kind of let us go. They succeeded with this impossible plan that had these in the stores for Christmas shoppers. It was just phenomenal.
Malik Ali (executive officer, MPI Media Group): It was very exciting, in part because most of the people that worked for us were die-hard Bears fans. We got the master and it was on the shelves in 72 hours. No one else had ever done anything like that — we were actually driving trucks up to the replication plant and delivering directly to stores. In today’s market that’s impossible. Best Buy needs a month to get a title into their system. We’ve been around since 1977, and though it’s not our best-selling release, “The Super Bowl Shuffle” is the highlight of our company’s history. Nothing matches the excitement of those 72 hours.
IT’S A HIT
Anderson: It was so much fun to go into every single record store and everybody in line had a copy of the VHS tape. It went on to be the second-biggest selling music home video of all time, behind Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Considering the difference in production values, that’s ridiculous!
Ali: I believe it was close to 250,000 units.
Rick Gieser (sports music collector/historian, webmaster, sportssongs.com): “The Super Bowl Shuffle” record should have been number one, or a Top 10 song. Based on sales, it did go gold extremely quickly. But because most radio stations didn’t officially add it to the playlists they reported to Billboard, it only got to number 41. It’s probably one of the only songs to go gold but never make it into the Top 10.
Gault: If it went by radio play it should have been number one, because everybody played it. Every station in the country the week before the Super Bowl and the week after the Super Bowl played “The Super Bowl Shuffle” every time they talked about the Bears. It doesn’t really make sense that it wasn’t in the Top Five that week. That’s an accounting error.
Taylor: What was really weird was driving down to the stadium and hearing it on the radio, like, “Oh my God, there’s our song, you got to be kidding!” Later, I was in my little apartment and heard it come on. I thought, Wow, they are really playing the heck out of this song, and then I remembered I didn’t have the radio on, I have the TV on. So I went to the TV, which was on MTV, and there was our video playing!
Fencik: At first I was horrified how successful it was. I just didn’t give any thought to the thing, and all of a sudden you’re getting grief left and right for your singing and dancing. But it was one of those things before ESPN was what it is today — there wasn’t a lot of coverage of players off the field. This really humanized a team for people.
Hampton: It deserved to be a hit. It was a really good idea, it was a good cause, it was professionally written and produced, the words were great, it was clever, and it had a great beat. Dick Clark would have gave it a 95.
Dent: It made a big splash worldwide, it wasn’t just city or state or country. It went worldwide.
Ali: It concentrated in the Chicagoland area. I think 95 percent of sales were in Illinois.
Lee: I’m music director for a TV show [Bobby Jones Gospel] and I was constantly traveling that year, and I heard it all over the world.
Richardson: You could see why it was popular — we had a team full of good-looking gentlemen. We had a lot of guys who could be models but were football players.
Hampton: I’m glad it was a hit, but I didn’t feel jealous. If you go to a karaoke deal and your best friend gets up and sounds like Elvis, you have a great time and laugh, but it doesn’t mean you want to be doing it yourself.
THE SUPER BOWL
Fuller: More than likely it would have been the largest faux pas in the history of sports if we hadn’t been able to pull off that last stretch and win those six games. I’m not sure what you compare it to — a Bill Buckner type error, something like that. But we won the rest of our games, and when we got to New Orleans you constantly heard that song.
Keys: We would walk down Bourbon Street and it was playing from everywhere. Fridge couldn’t go out at all. He couldn’t even get a few steps without people bombarding him. Everywhere we went we heard our song coming out of clubs, bars, jazz places.
Barry: Red Label told us we had Super Bowl tickets. I drove down from Nashville with my wife, Mel Owens, and his mother. When we went to get the tickets they weren’t there. We told everyone who we were, how we wrote “The Super Bowl Shuffle,” and eventually these guys who were picking up tickets — they were ex-NFL players — gave us some passes to get in.
Williford: Mel would always brag about how he had the time of his life when he went to the Super Bowl in New Orleans, how he sat in the owner’s box.
Barry: We had passes but no seats. We had to stand the whole time, but it was great. At halftime, when they played “The Super Bowl Shuffle,” to see a whole stadium go wild because of a song you wrote, it was one of the most amazing feelings I’ve had in my entire life.
Valdiserri: They played the song during halftime at the Superdome — they really did. I was OK with it because we were up 23 to 3, and the partisan crowd was definitely skewed toward Bears fans. It was surreal. Here we are halfway through the championship game and a video has already been produced that prophesizes us winning the game.
Buford: If we hadn’t won the Super Bowl we would have been the biggest laughingstock in the history of the NFL.
Gault: “The Super Bowl Shuffle” was nominated for a Grammy for Best Rhythm and Blues Performance by a group.
Dent: Me and Mike Richardson and Willie Gault went to the Grammys and enjoyed the moment. But it’s hard to fight a little guy with heels on. You can’t beat Prince, you know.
Richardson: That was definitely a pretty cool experience, to be in a building with some of your idols, rubbing shoulders with Eddie Murphy and Magic Johnson, sitting next to Prince, looking over and Janet Jackson is sitting there smiling at us. It was priceless. Of course we were disappointed — we were used to winning. At the time we expected to win everything.
Gault: We lost to Prince [“Kiss”], and I think that itself is something that’s very, very admirable. It’s something most football players can’t say. We got to sit down, hear them play our song, hear that Prince won, and have everyone tell us how incredible our song was. It was fun.
DOIN’ IT BECAUSE THEY’RE GREEDY?
Gieser: Despite the phenomenal success of the record, there were some well-publicized problems with the charitable donation, as well as money concerns with some of the players and songwriters.
Fencik: The whole hook was that half the money was supposed to go to charity. But the charities got ripped off, and the players got ripped off.
Tyrone Keys: Mike Singletary was upset that it took too long for the money to go to the needy. When Dick Meyer came by Halas Hall to deliver gold records to the players, Mike threw his record in the garbage. I took it out of the garbage can and put it in his locker.
Fencik: That was when he asked us to do a “Super Bowl Shuffle 2” and I thought Otis was going to stuff him in the trash can.
Valdiserri: I know the McCaskeys [Bears owners] did not like the bad publicity, and were adamant about making sure that a large portion of the proceeds went to charity. My understanding is they did bring in the attorney general to investigate.
Rockman: If you look at the cover, it says, “A substantial portion of proceeds for this record will be donated to help feed Chicago’s neediest families.” It seems there was a provision in Illinois that if you advertise that you’re donating profits to charity it has to be 75 percent. Red Label had planned to give less than this — maybe 15 percent. I had several meetings with the assistant attorney general leading up to a meeting with Dick Meyer and Attorney General Neil Hartigan, and they agreed he would donate 50 percent for charity. It was resolved in about a month. Meyer had a knack for resolving things. We have an expression: When everybody walks out of the room ticked off, it’s a good deal.
Gault: They ended up donating $200,000 [to the Chicago Community Trust].
Fencik: I didn’t sign a contract for “The Super Bowl Shuffle” until I was on a plane going down to New Orleans for the Super Bowl, and we got completely ripped off. We were supposed to get a percentage of gross revenue and what we got was diluted significantly. I think it was in the range of about $3,000.
Gault: My understanding was, we would all get paid the same, a royalty, and all the backup people were supposed to get “X” amount of dollars, and that’s what it was. It was a contract that all 10 of us signed. I think some of the guys thought I had a different deal than they did, but I didn’t. I did much more work than those guys because it was part of my project, but I didn’t have some under-the-table deal. It was the same as theirs.
Dent: We all got paid something, got some money out of it. But that wasn’t our focus point. After we did the material it was gone and we had other things to focus on.
Tomczak: I wasn’t compensated — I was a first-year player and was just lucky to be part of the band.
Taylor: I think a year or two later we might have got something in the mail, maybe $200, but I’m not sure.
Daniels: I heard Mel didn’t get paid all his money. I fought for Mel and for Lloyd, but did they get all the money actually due to them? I doubt it.
Lee: I didn’t get my writer’s credit, it turned out to be some crazy stuff going on with the record label, so I wound up getting paid a big lump sum through the union. I can’t remember how much, but it was fair. Not compared to what was made off of it, but compared to the other writers I ended up getting the best end of the stick.
Michael Snow (Nashville music producer): The situation Mel Owens got into with “The Super Bowl Shuffle” was something that could have been avoided. When he showed me the initial paperwork, I pointed out the areas that I felt he needed to address for his own protection, but then he went off and signed it anyway.
Williford: When Mel would get depressed he’d call me up and say, “I’ve got a gun in my mouth, I’m going to kill myself … I wrote one of the greatest songs of all time and I never got paid!”
Daniels: Everybody’s eyes got real big after the “Shuffle.” Someone coined the phrase “jock rock,” and they stopped working with musical acts and started working with other sports teams.
Carl Giammarese (guitarist, The Buckinghams): Red Label had limited resources, so with “The Super Bowl Shuffle” out they didn’t have any promotion for our record.
Nick Fortuna (bassist, The Buckinghams): Richard Tufo never had a hit. “Super Bowl Shuffle” is not a hit, it’s bullshit … a freak, a novelty like “Monster Mash.”
Giammarese: It was business. There were no hard feelings.
Fortuna: The last thing we would have ever done is gone back into the studio again with that idiot.
Linda Clifford (Red Label recording artist): At first, I thought “The Super Bowl Shuffle” was cool. I was a Bears fan, and I thought its success was going to make my record more successful. But after it hit, the label’s priorities changed and they let everything else fall by the wayside. They ended up with just one hit and they probably would have had more if they kept their focus on their other acts.
Daniels: The next thing you know we cut a thing called “Baseball Boogie” with the Dodgers, then a thing on the L.A. Rams called “Ram It.” I was producing all this stuff with Tufo. They were releasing them but they didn’t do anything. What I was telling everybody was, look, we kind of backed into something here with the “Super Bowl Shuffle,” let’s just say hallelujah and move on. But in Tufo’s mind we had just cornered a new part of the market.
Gieser: “Let’s Ram It” fails in the fact that there’s no real personalities. There’s names like Eric Dickerson and Nolan Cromwell, but they aren’t likable and entertaining like the Bears.
Nick Prueher (VHS archivist/cofounder, Found Footage Festival): “Let’s Ram It” is about being sexually suggestive positive role models.
Gieser: “Baseball Boogie,” by the Baseball Boogie Bunch, was by the 1986 Dodgers team that included guys like Orel Hershiser, Fernando Valenzuela, and Jerry Reuss. They had these satin jackets and tight baseball pants that were highly comical and highly ’80s. Orel told me it took them three days to shoot the video compared to the 10 hours for the Bears, because they were so bad at dancing and singing. Reuss also released a single in 1981 with a group called The Big Blue Wrecking Crew, with Jay Johnstone, Rick Monday, and Steve Yeager. They actually appeared on Solid Gold.
Anderson: About a year later I worked on one more video for Meyer, “The Grabowski Shuffle.” Mike Ditka made a comment in the press about wanting his team to be made up of regular guys, “Grabowskis.” So Red Label tried to do a song and a video around that. The magic was not recaptured.
Ditka: I don’t really remember it, to be honest with you.
Prueher: “The Grabowski Shuffle” was the lame attempt to cash in on the “Super Bowl Shuffle” juggernaut. The group had Ditka surrounded by everyday Joes they cast to be the Grabowskis. In addition to Ditka rapping, there’s a construction worker, a cop, a woman, a Mexican — it’s a Benetton version of Village People. In the “Making of” video you see Dick Meyer casting the Grabowskis and he puts them through the ringer, asking them hard questions about what makes a good Grabowski. He seems to see himself as Bob Fosse, breaking down these people to assemble the greatest performing team ever, and one Grabowski gets emotional and teary during the interrogation.6 It didn’t sell, because it’s very rare. We search for old VHS tapes for a living, and we’ve only come across one “Grabowski Shuffle,” and when we lost it we had to buy a copy on eBay for $97! “The Super Bowl Shuffle” is Sergeant Pepper’s compared to the phoned-in “Grabowski Shuffle.”
Despite the tough application process, in true Chicago style, nepotism won out and Meyer’s daughter Valerie became one of the five Grabowskis.
Ditka: We were all kind of stupid back then. That song was the last thing on my mind not only when I did it, but to this day.
Breitberg: I didn’t work on those. I left Red Label while “The Super Bowl Shuffle” was a hit. My reputation was in a great place after that record, and Streeterville asked me to come back, and the dough was right. Ultimately Red Label wasn’t as successful as Dick had hoped. He didn’t have investors, this was all on his dime, and he had a full A&R staff, eight to 10 employees. He moved out of the mansion shortly after “The Super Bowl Shuffle,” so he didn’t have the studio anymore. It wasn’t a viable business, and Dick and Julia eventually moved out of town.
Rockman: I later learned Dick had prostate cancer, which I know is very difficult. I had it too. Sadly, he didn’t make it.
Gieser: Since [Meyer’s] 1992 death, Julia Meyer has been very protective of her late husband’s legacy, and very aggressive protecting the “Super Bowl Shuffle” license, as she should be. She fights very hard to keep it in the public eye in a way that it can be monetized, and is quick to blow the whistle on unpaid use of the song and video, which is why it’s hard to see on YouTube.
Fayette: Dick Meyer should be remembered as a Hollywood promoter in a Midwest city. He had a unique vision of sports as entertainment way before most of his peers understood that athletes were entertainers the same as actors or musicians.
Williford: It was fun to be in a band with Mel Owens, and we even broke into “Super Bowl Shuffle” if there was a game on in the bar. But everything took a nosedive for Mel after his mother died. He was 52 years old and she’d been taking care of him that whole time. He quit coming to practice, and sometimes when I’d go see him he wouldn’t let me in because he hadn’t cleaned up. He was basically living in squalor, waiting to die.
Snow: His health started failing, he made some devastating financial decisions, and became more defensive and remote. It was very sad toward the end, as he was reliant on the VA for his care and living in a subsidized care facility.
Williford: Finally I go over there after not hearing from him for a while. It was 2003, I think, and they said he died. It turned out he laid up there dead for days before anyone noticed.
Snow: His death was probably a release for him, but he was a great, if flawed, talent. At the height of his powers, he was as good as anyone I ever saw.
Gault: In 2010, Boost Mobile wanted to do a Super Bowl ad about “The Super Bowl Shuffle.” I was a little disappointed with the experience. I think they had an opportunity to make that really great and I tried to come up with some ideas for them. I thought we could redo “The Super Bowl Shuffle” in a great way and I gave them ideas and they thought they were OK, but wanted to go another way. It became a comedy about McMahon and Ditka as opposed to being about the team. I thought we could make light of the guys getting older, a rap about how we won it, and we still could win it again, yet we can’t because we’re too old to do it, but maybe we still could. I had everything written down, a lot of lyrics, but they didn’t like them.
Fuller: I agreed to do it, if nothing else to get the group back together. It was shot in the same club, and it was eerie how similar the whole setup was. It was literally done exactly the same, as close to re-creating the situation as possible.
Buford: Walking in there it was like a weird déjà vu.
Fencik: I didn’t want to do it because I was concerned that nothing could come close to that naive innocence of “The Super Bowl Shuffle.” When I saw it I was very pleased I did not participate.
“THE SUPER BOWL SHUFFLE” WILL SET YOU FREE
Gault: I think we helped the NFL viewership. People saw the video and they wanted to see what the fuss was, and viewership increased. I can’t tell you how many ladies came up to me to say something about me moving my hips — I think it gained ladies as NFL fans. Not to pat myself on the back, but we helped build the NFL to where it is now. At the time we won the Super Bowl it was the most-viewed Super Bowl in history, and that was because of all the stuff done on the field and because of “The Super Bowl Shuffle.”
Fuller: It’s turned into a real positive. I was absolutely embarrassed by it, but more of a juvenile embarrassment as opposed to a professional embarrassment. It has been fodder for cocktail-party jokes, or when your wife wants to tease you, it’s perfect for that.
Brittney Payton: I think it’s awesome and bold, and it’s amazing how everyone knows it. I was born in 1985 and people younger than me know all the words.
Fuller: I’m coaching high school football now, and you get new kids every year. They’re the ones that tease you the most.
Morrissey: People come up to me all the time saying, “I was in second grade and we did a skit,” or “I was in fifth grade and we danced to it at parties.”
Gayle: You always get fans that tell you which player they were portraying in the rendition of “The Super Bowl Shuffle” in their school production.
Humphries: I’m a doctor now, working as medical director at a rehabilitation hospital, and every so often in a meeting during a PowerPoint presentation all of a sudden there will be a video clip of me playing the drums at the beginning of the “Shuffle.” It’s all in good fun.
Jarrett Payton: When I got to University of Miami all the guys had to sing their high school fight song, but they wanted me to sing “The Super Bowl Shuffle.” At first I felt kind of weird, but all the other guys were such big fans of my dad. My freshman year people wanted to hear it a lot and I sang it a bunch of times, but I didn’t mind because I love my dad’s verse. I thought it was super cool.
Tim Breitberg: Nowadays, working in a record store, it’s pretty easy for me to sell that record. “Oh yeah, my dad recorded that!” We sell the 12-inch for $30.
Frazier: I can’t imagine a team doing this in today’s NFL. I wouldn’t be onboard if my players wanted to do it. But it’s who we were in 1985, myself and the guys had so much confidence. My players on the team now, who weren’t born when “The Super Bowl Shuffle” came out, are in awe that we did that when we did that. It always blows them away.
Rains: Even though the video is almost, like, corny, I’m proud of the charity part. I think, you know, to whom much is given much is required. Count your blessings and try to bless other people.
Buford: On Saturday Night Live they had some phrase about “More cowbell!” I’ve had people yell that at me quite a few times.
Keys: I hope Mrs. Meyer knows how many kids that song has helped because of the audacity of the idea and Dick Meyer’s great, clean, positive lyrics. When I meet a child who is going through challenges, I show them “The Shuffle.” “Is that you on the keyboard?” “Yeah, and I’m going to give you some keys to life, I’m going to tell you the score of the game we lost to the Dolphins. We were undefeated, and we got beat down, and how did we respond? The next morning we went out in 11 degrees, and made that ‘Shuffle.'” And when they hear the lyrics, the students can’t believe that it was made less than 24 hours after we got beat. We weren’t licking our wounds. The cause was too great — it was for charity. When I was inducted in the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame I spoke to groups of kids and at the end everybody sung “The Super Bowl Shuffle.” I use the “Shuffle” as a way to talk about faith, how we had faith that day that we were going to win those six more games.
Fencik: I was bothered for decades about doing something called “The Super Bowl Shuffle.” Were we that brazen during the season? I would hope that if Willie asked me to do something with that name I would have said, “No way. I’m a Chicagoan, I don’t want to set myself up to be ridiculed.” I asked Willie a couple of years ago and he said it was originally just called “The Shuffle” when I agreed to do it. Maybe he was just placating me, but it worked. I feel better now.
Tomczak: It wasn’t like it was Lollapalooza or Woodstock, it was just some untalented players and singers that came together with a good jingle and a good cause.
Gault: Think about how almost 30 years ago we did this thing and people still talk about it to this day, and they’ll talk about it for years to come. Every Super Bowl, someone, somewhere will be playing “The Super Bowl Shuffle,” and that’s longevity and that’s what any artist wants. I see myself as an artist, and whether or not they believe it, all of the guys on it are artists. We created something from a naked canvas that will be remembered forever. People can look at this 100 years from now and see something we created that no one can take away from us. That’s the thing that makes me most proud.
Jake Austen (@JAKEandRATSO) is editor of Roctober magazine, co-author of Darkest America: Black Minstrelsy from Slavery to Hip-Hop and a contributor to Fan Interference: A Collection of Baseball Rants and Reflections.