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 [video] 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."
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.