It was twenty-five years ago today, and Sergeant Pepper did not tell the band to play. He told Bears fans to cry for joy because the Bears would win their first Super Bowl, but also to weep for the last game for the Bears cheerleaders, the Honey Bears. On 26th of January, 1986, after Super Bowl XX, the Bears walked off the field, carrying Coaches Mike Ditka and Buddy Ryan on their shoulders, in celebration of their 46-10 win in New Orleans. But, walking behind the Bears off the SuperDome turf were the Honey Bears, leaving the field for the last time. The Bears had announced months prior that this would be the last season of Honey Bears, their ninth season of providing sidelines entertainment at Soldier Field.
In Part I, we learned about the experiences from pre-Super Bowl Honey Bear Captain, Renee Halverson. In Part II, to continue to celebrate Honey Bear memories, we are also thrilled to have the opportunity to interview one of the Honey Bear captains on the sidelines in New Orleans during that sole Bear Super Bowl victory. Maribeth Duffy-Bolger was in her third season as a Honey Bear in 1985-86, and one of four captains. Maribeth shares memories of the emotional highs and lows that occurred during Honey Bear try-outs, the time that Bears fans actually booed their beloved Honey Bears, how being at the Super Bowl doesn’t always mean you will actually SEE the game, and why it is good during a Sunday night lively Super Bowl celebration to have a Saturday Night Live alum around.
Maribeth is originally from the Chicago area, specifically Woodridge, and attended Downers Grove North High School. She spent three years during high school on a state champion drill team, which was a key for her future success with the Honey Bears. “That is where my high kicks, my splits, and my dancing came in,” recalls Maribeth, “We were so good, and we used to practice between four to six hours a day.” Maribeth went on to be a cheerleader at Benedictine University, a small Catholic university located in Lisle, a suburb of Chicago.
Maribeth first thought about trying out for the Honey Bears when she heard about try-outs on the radio one afternoon. Maribeth remembers, “I heard they were having tryouts and I thought, WHY NOT?! I never thought in a million years that I would ever make it. I didn’t even tell anybody except my mom and dad that I was trying out.”
“Tryouts were a very long process,” Maribeth relates, “First, they sent you an application, like a job application. You had to fill that out and send your picture in, with all your dance experience. Weeks later, I got a notice in the mail that I could try out, and I guess they received 5,000 applications. So that was the first sort of ‘cut,’ if you will. They gave you a time to show up, and you were interviewed and then you danced; you had to do splits and kicks and all that kind of stuff. In my group, they picked two out of eight. Then you came back two weeks later, and kind of the same thing. You tried out in a group at a certain time. I think that went on for about a month. You just kept going back, and getting interviewed, and dancing, and all kinds of stuff. They kept cutting people from there.”
According to Maribeth, “The very last day is a very long day, because there are about 100 people left, and then they bring in the squad from the year before, and then you had to try out against them as well. So there’s just a process of elimination the entire day. They just kept saying that they were going to have another elimination, so they would send us out into the hallway, and then they would call out a number, and if they called your number, you either stayed out in the hall or came back in. Finally, later in the afternoon, my coach (Cathy Core) said, ‘Okay, we need the following girls to come back in, because we are still not sure if we are going to choose you.’ They included me, and I went in there, and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve got to dance my heart out!’ She put on the music and we all danced and danced and danced. After that, then Cathy said, ‘I’ve made my decision, THIS is the new squad.’ Of course, all of us started screaming. It was amazing!”
New to the process, Maribeth did not realize that a veteran’s earlier reaction symbolized the mix of high and low emotions on such a competitive day. “Right before I was going through first tryouts, I called a girl from my hometown who was on the squad, and I said, ‘Hey, I am going to try out for Honey Bears, can you give me some pointers?’” Maribeth relates. “She said, ‘Oh yeah!’ and she told me everything I needed to know for every single tryout.” While Maribeth received the elating news of being chosen for her first squad, the veteran did not make the cut that same year. “I felt so bad because she made it to the very last minute, and then, remember when Cathy called us in, and said she was not really sure. When Cathy said, ‘Can you do the dance, so I can make my final decision?,’ they did not call her, and I just remember her starting to cry. I thought, ‘I wonder why she is crying?’ but she probably knew that she did not make it. I felt so bad because I felt like I took her spot, after she gave me all these pointers. They only picked about 15 new girls, they cut half the squad every year, and they only picked 15-16 new ones, so there are 15 of out 5,000 applications. It is not a very high amount.”
Maribeth’s first try-out for the squad was after the Bears had finished 3-6 in a strike shortened season. Maribeth recalls that not all foresaw the future Super Bowl success, “Yes, I was always a big Bears fan, but you know, when I first made the squad, the Bears weren’t doing that well, and so I did catch some grief. But after the Bears did well the second year, I said ‘See, they are doing better!’” Maribeth’s first 1983 Honey Bears season was an 8-8, non-playoff year for the Bears. However, the next season, the 1984 Bears went 10-6 on their way to an NFC Championship appearance. The next year, and the last for the Honey Bears to cheer them on, the 1985 Bears went 15-1 with a dominant playoff run culminating with a Super Bowl win. Maribeth remembers, “They made the playoffs the second year which was great, and then the third year, they won the Super Bowl. So I was really lucky, I had two great years with them, even though the first year was still exciting, because it was my first year.”
Her memory of her very first game as a Honey Bear kind of blends together with the total experience, according to Maribeth, “It’s really hard to remember that, after you have done so many of them. But I do remember being super, super excited, super nervous. But I was like that for a lot of games, because you are excited for every game, whether pre-season or not. I do remember being nervous about messing up, but by the time you go out there, you have been doing this stuff a long time. By that time, you kind of know what you are doing, and you’re pretty confident in what you are doing. I remember though, the first time we went out into the field from the tunnel and how amazing it felt with the fans and everything. It’s a feeling like no other.”
Often though, Soldier Field did not have the full feeling of fan electricity for the pre-game dance, as Maribeth explains, “The only problem is, it is a little bit anti-climatic because when you go out for the pre-game dance, there are not that many people there at that point. It is not as crowded as it would be for half time. So it is a little bit disappointing, in that we wish we had a little bit more of a crowd at that time. But it is still exciting. But it is really, really exciting when you go out after the pre-game dance, and then the players all come out, forming the lines for the players to run through.”
When asked if there were memorable moments on the sidelines, either embarrassing, thrilling, or otherwise, one rare incidence of the Honey Bears being booed, by the home fans, no less, comes to mind. Maribeth recalls, “Yeah, there were embarrassing moments, definitely. One that comes to mind, my coach decided to have us wear skirts. She had these skirts made for us, and then we had to wear a very low heel with it. We wore them as we were coming out onto the field, and we were booed, because we were covering up our ‘tushies.’ I’ll never forget that because I thought, ‘WHAT, why is everybody booing us?!’ And all the guys kept yelling, ‘Take it off, take it off!’ Finally, after a certain time, we came back out with our boots on and the little skirts off. They didn’t like it.” (writer’s note: my recollection, which may not be accurate, is that this was the 1984 game when Walter Payton broke Jim Brown’s career rushing record. Payton broke the record right after halftime, and then the Honey Bears returned from the locker room with their regular uniforms on. At the time I was clueless, I thought maybe the skirts and flats had something to do with wearing them until Walter broke the record)
The always vociferous Bears fans, though, had little growling directed at the Honey Bears, as Maribeth says, “The Bears fans were really supportive. Nine times out of ten, though, you really could not hear what they were saying because it was so loud. But they were always really supportive and really nice. Bears fans are the best fans ever, they really are. They are great fans; they were a lot of fun.”
Cheering for the Monsters of the Midway means that the Honey Bears cheered in the heat of summer and the cold of winter. When asked about her least favorite season on the sidelines, no question, Maribeth replies “Cold! Oh yeah!” However, the playing surface provided discomfort no matter what the extreme, as she recalls, “When they had the artificial turf, when it was hot, that turf would burn the bottom of our feet, just burn! And then when it was cold, our feet were ice cold. It was just one of those things, it was just brutal to stand on during extreme hot or cold.” The coldest games required measures such as, “What we would do, if there were games when it was below zero, we had to really bundle up, but we would do take turns coming in. You could not go out there the whole game because it was too cold. There were four lines, so we would switch off lines, and say, ‘Okay, these two lines go out, these two lines can come in,’ so that is what we would do. And then we just had to bundle up, we had sweat suits, and we had to bundle underneath the sweat suits to keep warm.“
During those cold or hot games, was there ever the feeling hoping the game clock would just wind down already? Not for Maribeth, “No, I loved cheering at the games. There were definitely times I thought, oh my gosh, it is so cold, but I did not really want it to end, especially my last year. Never when it was hot, because I liked it when it was hot. It was easier to cheer in the warm than the cold. But I still say they should get a dome, I don’t know why they didn’t!”
Being part of the Honey Bears provided opportunities for many off the field appearances. Some of the most memorable for Maribeth were fund raisers organized by Chicagoland-native, comedian Tom Dreeson, who started the “Run for Darlene” which was a multiple sclerosis awareness event inspired by Dreeson’s sister, Darlene. The Honey Bears were part of it, as were recording artists such as Smokey Robinson and actors such as Tony Danza. Maribeth remembers, “We’d get to meet everybody, and that was really a lot of fun, and I became pretty good friends with a couple of the actors.” Another favorite charity was the Ronald McDonald House, which Maribeth remembers fondly. As far as the Bears players, Maribeth says, “Yes, they were very nice. We pretty much met all of the players, but we were not allowed to date them. But we would do a lot of functions with them, and it was fun.” But Maribeth recalls, no matter what the event or appearance, “Everything for Honey Bears was fun.”
All of the joy of the 1985 Super Bowl season was tempered by the knowledge that this would be the last Honey Bears season. As Maribeth says, “We found out the year before, so we knew for a year. We were all really upset; I remember crying on the way home. I was upset and so were the girls, but you know, it made it so we wanted to try out even more the following year, because we knew the Bears were doing so well. We knew there was a really good chance we were going to go to the Super Bowl, so we really wanted to make the squad that year; that was the most important thing! Plus, we knew it was our last year. It was really important that you made the last year! “
The last Honey Bear season, Maribeth was one of the four captains. Responsibilities include, “You lead the practice, and when you are out on the field, you call the cheers and dances. You keep your line in sync; you tell everyone what’s going on. Most of the time everyone knows what to do, but somebody has to call the cheers. So there has to be one person. “
In 1985, the Bears did end up shuffling off to the Super Bowl after an impressive, almost flawless regular season and playoff run. The time to finally go to New Orleans for Super Bowl XX against the Patriots was by far Maribeth’s most memorable moments as a Honey Bear. She recalls, “Oh my gosh, it was so exciting! I remember walking out on to the field, and I remember that more than my first game actually. I remember our dance was to ‘Baby I’m a Star’ by Prince, and we still remember part of the dance. Sometimes we will get together and do part of it.” The Honey Bears were the only cheer squad at Super Bowl XX, “Which was nice because we got the attention, and of course, we hated that (laughs). It was nice because we were able to do all of the jobs, if people were hiring, having a party on one of the boats or something like that, they called us. We were really on the go.”
But being on the sidelines wasn’t exactly one of the ‘best seats in the house’ for the big game, plus the TV cameras never directly showed the Honey Bears in their finale. Maribeth remembers, “The actual Super Bowl itself, they kind of stuck us in a corner, and that is probably why you didn’t see us there. We could not see the field because there were so many people standing around. So we had to look at the scoreboard, so I almost felt like I wasn’t even at the game, we were kind of far from the field in the corner. A couple of times, the people in the stands were yelling at us, saying ‘It is not offense, it is defense!’ or ‘It is not defense, it is offense.’ I told them, ‘I can’t see the game!’ I was counting on the scoreboard to tell me if it was offense or defense, and I was calling these cheers. But I was a play behind. I said, ‘Alright you guys. Tell me whether it is offense or defense, and we’ll do the cheers.’ So the crowd started telling us what is was. We couldn’t see it; we couldn’t see anything. That was kind of funny.”
When asked whether the Bears management perhaps discouraged the showing of the Honey Bears by the TV broadcast, Maribeth believes, “No, I don’t think it had anything to do with that. I think it was where the Super Bowl put us. They kind of put us in the back and we were standing on this concrete slab. Our feet and our backs were killing us, because it was so hard to stand on. Yeah, it was kind of a bummer, but it was still fun.”
After the Bears won Super Bowl XX by a 46-10 margin, it was time for a New Orleans Super Bowl celebration. Maribeth says, “There was a big party after the game. It was at one of the hotels, and the players were there and we were there; and Bill Murray was there. Bill Murray showed up! He was probably the funnest part of the whole party, HE WAS JUST A BLAST! We would make a big circle and he would get in the middle of us, and start dancing. He would fall backwards, and say, “Okay, catch me!” He was a really funny guy, he was really nice.”
That was twenty-five years ago today, and the Honey Bears joined in a celebration of a great season, with the knowledge that their decade on the sidelines was over. A version of the Honey Bears, the ‘Bare Necessities,’ tried to continue under the same management, Cathy Core. After Maribeth’s three years on the Honey Bears, she continued for two years with the Bare Necessities, who did appearances and cheered on an early Chicago arena football team. So continuing on with the Bare Necessities must indicate that Maribeth would have continued on with the Honey Bears, if possible, and she responds, “I definitely would have, definitely.”
After the Bare Necessities ended their two-year run, Cathy Core focused on hardwood, running the Chicago Bulls dance squad, the Luvabulls. When asked if she considered continuing with the Luvabulls, Maribeth replies, “Actually, you know, I thought about it. My coach was just starting the Luvabulls that year, after the Bare Necessities didn’t go over too well, and asked me if I would be interested. I said I REALLY wanted to do it, but it takes over your life, every single day, and I had to work. So I could not. I had to W-O-R-K, and it was just too much, because you had to practice three to four days a week. Plus do all of the appearances, and things like that. If I couldn’t give it everything I had, then I knew I could not do it. And I had to take a pass.” Plus the reality of 40+ home games rather than ten, Maribeth recounts, “That is kind of what I was thinking, too. It is a lot more demanding than football. I just really wanted to do it, but I just couldn’t. I didn’t have the time. And you know what; we just left the Super Bowl. I thought, I put in my time, and I went out on a high note, and I did not want to get cut from the squad. I really wanted to have a high note and not have any bad memories. I just wanted it to be a positive experience.”
The high note of cheering on a Bears Super Bowl on the Honey Bears last game, coupled with no other Bears’ Super Bowl wins in the ensuing 25 years has created the “Honey Bears Curse.” Maribeth was unfamiliar with this curse that indicates that no Super Bowls will be won by the Bears until the Honey Bears are back on the sidelines. When told, Maribeth replies, “SEE! I think it was because I was on the squad. That’s when they started doing well! What do they know, not having us out there?!” So maybe it is not the “Honey Bears Curse,” but the “Maribeth Blessing” that gave the Bears their unparalleled success. Perhaps a lifetime sideline pass for Maribeth will cure the quarter century of historic ills of the Monsters of the Midway. Think about it Bears!
The Bears cheer squad was disbanded, but you cannot break the bond among the Honey Bears that are still strong after more than 25 years. Why maintain such close connections, compared to other co-workers and associates from the same time in their lives? Maribeth explains, “The experience that we went through, for sure, it is like no other. It’s like a sisterhood; it’s like a sorority. I went to a small Catholic college, and we didn’t have a sorority or fraternity. The Honey Bears were like my sorority. We had a very close knit group. When you are practicing together, and you are doing things together all of the time, you become good friends. And especially that experience, of going to the Super Bowl together. It’s like nobody else can talk about that experience if they have not done it. It is just something that you know you did, and the other girls that did it, get it! You can sit there and tell your family about it, and everybody else, and show them pictures, but until they experience that, there is nothing like it.”
And Maribeth’s Honey Bear experience allows her to relate to one reality show about a team a few states south of Chicago, “It’s really an experience. I’ll watch this show, the ‘Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team,’ and I can completely 100% relate to everything. And it brings back all the memories about how I felt, the locker room stuff, and all kinds of things.”
So, Maribeth, would you like to see cheerleaders back on the Bear sidelines, or do you like being in the elite group of women who can say they were Honey Bears? “I think both,” Maribeth laughs, “Part of me likes being the last of the Honey Bears, and part of me thinks they need them out there. I think it is boring not having them out there, and I think it is a lot of fun. A lot of people, when they go out to the game, they watch the cheerleaders. I know I do, and I think it is fun to have that team spirit. But that is just me, I like cheerleading and I like cheerleaders, but some people couldn’t care less. I think personally, I think it would be nice to have them back. But if they don’t, I’m okay with that too, because I was on the last squad ever and I am proud of that. It is kind of a unique thing, and I like to think that I was on that last team and that people will always remember the 1985 Honey Bears, and the Honey Bears in general. I like the uniqueness of it. But I think it would be nice if other girls had the opportunity to do it, because it is kind of a bummer that they can’t. We only have the Luvabulls that they can try out for. And the Luvabulls are great, too, but I think it would be so nice if the other girls had the opportunity to be able to experience it, because it really is a fun experience. It really is.”
Today, with so much digital information available, it seems like photos and video of cheer squads are common place. But during the Honey Bears era, there aren’t as many images available of the dancers on the sidelines. But Maribeth still was able to be part of some video memories. During the Super Bowl season, she was shown at the beginning of the local ABC station’s sports segment every Sunday. Maribeth recalls, “I’d rush home to see myself on TV, ‘There I am!’ (laughs) We taped them, and we did a lot of interviews at the Super Bowl, so I told my folks, ‘We are going to be on TV, tape it!’ So we taped everything!”
Maribeth today remains in the Chicago area, and is a happy mom with two boys and a great husband. Her family loves boating and staying very active. Maribeth runs a salon/spa in her home (hellobeautiful-salon.com), and also is a group exercise instructor.
Maribeth’s time away from the sideline spotlight allows her to be able to put her time in perspective, and she has shared this insight with current cheerleaders. Maribeth recounts, “I went to one of the Luvabulls practices. We showed up to see Cathy Core because she was our Honey Bears coach, and we were doing a Super Bowl thing when the Bears went to the Super Bowl in 2007. We were meeting her there because we were doing an interview for the local Fox station, and they were going to interview me, and three other girls, so we met Cathy at practice. I started talking to the Luvabulls, and I told them, ‘Just start taking a lot of pictures, and save everything you get, because you don’t know if this is going to be your last year. Whatever I did, I saved things from it, and I made big scrap books. ‘ And they thought that is really good advice! Because, they will look back at it years from now, and say ‘Aww, I wish I would have saved that, or took more pictures, or kept in touch with people.’”
Maribeth also gains the perspective of time with her Honey Bears experience, but there is one thing that tends to make the phone ring with Honey Bear interest. She says, “I think a lot of Honey Bears thought that they were going to get famous, and you are only famous for so long. You’re only famous as long as you’re a Honey Bear, and that’s it, and you’re done. Until the Bears go to the Super Bowl again, and people call you. That’s really fun.”
I bet that the Honey Bear era would make an excellent subject for a book or film. I’m sure there were lots of interesting stories generated by those in and around squad during those days. You’ve got beautiful women from varied backgrounds, a colorful set of characters coaching and on the Bears, and a family run team ownership with their fair share of personalities, plus all in the backdrop of the music, styles, and hair of the “Big 80’s.” So, Maribeth, who would you cast to play yourself if someone made a movie about the last Honey Bears team? Maribeth immediately replied, “I know who would play me! Sandra Bullock! I love her so much, she is really cute. Two of my favorite movies are Blindsided and Miss Congeniality.”
Quick, get me Bullock and Murray on the phone, we’ve got a film to shoot!
THANK YOU SO MUCH MARIBETH for sharing your time and memories. Tomorrow, Part III of memories from the Honey Bears continue, with more about the finale at Super Bowl XX 25 years ago. It features a wonderful first person narrative by Tena Casassa O’Keefe, who also was on the last Honey Bears squad.