So let’s start where this article deserves to be started, with one of the greatest musical achievements in sports history. There are only two scenarios in which what you’re about to watch will have no effect on you; either you really don’t care for hip-hop or you really don’t care for football. Sadly, neither are valid, so you should relive your entire life up until this point in order to correct either or both of those flaws. Without further ado, let’s give the next 7 minutes of our time to the ‘85 Chicago Bears singing their classic hip-hop hit, “The Super Bowl Shuffle,” a musical gem which peaked at #41 on the Billboard charts in 1986.
The ‘85 Chicago Bears, coached by Hall of Famer Mike Ditka, are known as one of the greatest ever teams in professional sports. And obviously even they knew that at the time, which seems to be why they commemorated one of the NFL’s most legendary seasons with this song while the season was still happening!
The Bears went 15-1 during the 1985-86 regular season, with two playoff wins and, yes, they went on to win the Super Bowl, too. But as it turns out, despite my false understanding that this song was written and recorded specifically for their appearance in the Super Bowl, the team actually recorded and published the song presumptuously, over two months prior to the end of their season! That’s like Babe Ruth calling his home run, but doing it in a rap song, six games in advance!
A lot of factoids about “The Super Bowl Shuffle” make this song interesting. For starters, current Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, who was a linebacker on this historic squad and one of the key players in their defensive line, slept in on the morning they recorded this song and missed it. This song was actually nominated for a Grammy in 1986 in the category of Best R&B Performance, but lost to Prince and The Revolution’s “Kiss.”
The proceeds from the sales of this song and video were donated to the Chicago Community Trust, and totaled close to $300,000. Walter Payton sings a line in the song, “We’re not doing this because we’re greedy, the Bears are doing it to feed the needy!” And that’s just what they did. However, in 2014, some members of this team filed a lawsuit over profits allegedly earned by the rights-holders Julia Meyer and her agency Renaissance Marketing Corp., from licensing the content of this song without the explicit permission of the Shufflin’ Crew. So in the end, even more money may end up in the hands of needy Chicago families!
A lengthy feature for Grantland uncovers some history behind wide receiver Willie Gault’s central role in ushering “The Super Bowl Shuffle” into production, partly to help jumpstart his friend Dick Meyer’s fledgling record label. Gault had already begun leveraging his success into an acting career and was looking to expand his artistic resumé. Though many of his teammates were indifferent (or downright opposed) to shooting a hip-hop music video, Gault and Meyer successfully used the charitable angle to help bring the team on board, and launch their own music careers in so doing.
In fact, Hall of Famer Payton was pretty much always interested in goofy stuff like this. He appeared in a Dance Off on Soul Train once, and supposedly spent much of the video shoot for the “Shuffle” running around pinching players in the butt for a giggle. According to one of Payton’s kids, Busta Rhymes also tried to get him into one of his music videos, but he declined due to an illness.
Okay, so there are tons of stories about “The Super Bowl Shuffle” out there that could make this whole thing a hilarious obsession for someone. If you’re interested to read about how difficult it was for the Chicago Community Trust to actually give this money to “the needy,” they’ve written about that experience here. But from a musical standpoint, one of the most fascinating aspects is how this fits so perfectly into the bizarrely multifaceted narrative of NFL pop music at large. One could actually make an argument for legitimizing “Sports Team Pop” as a genre. In other words…. there’s more!
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More NFL Pop Music
“The Super Bowl Shuffle” was an incredible moment in music history, as well as sports history, as it penetrated the national cultural consciousness then and continues to inspire spin-offs today. However, it was not the first NFL team pop song, even though it was the most widely successful by a staggering margin.
Preceding the “Shuffle” by an entire season, the ‘84 San Francisco 49ers released an entire record, featuring two songs released as singles, “We’re the 49ers” and “49ers Rap.”
Over the course of the next few seasons, possibly as a result of the unfettered success and Super Bowl win to go along with the “Shuffle,” team songs would become all the rage in the NFL. But no team would live out the presumptuously near-perfect-season fantasy quite like the ‘85 Bears.
In 1985, the Seattle Seahawks came out with a quirky, jazzy blunder called “The Blue Wave Is on a Roll,” which might have been what put a curse on their pitiful season that year.
And then in 1986, the bungled songs and seasons spun out of control. As poetically put by the NY Daily News, the song “Ram It!” by the LA Rams “has it all: Rapping football players, cheerleaders, faux saxophone playing and tons of pelvis thrusting and sexual innuendo.” I actually kind of like this song, almost more than the “Shuffle,” but it did nothing to help the team win more games. Despite the customary saxophone solo, the Rams also recorded a losing season that year. Go figure!
Perhaps out of some friendly local competition, the Los Angeles Raiders also recorded a team rap in 1986, called “The Silver and Black Attack,” a reference to Stryper’s 1984 metal album The Yellow and Black Attack. Guess what, the Raiders had an 8-8 season that year. How did they think this would help them?
Ironically, some of the worst songs resulted in some of the strongest season finishes.
The 1988 Philadelphia Eagles recorded an awful team rap about their head coach Buddy Ryan, called “Buddy’s Watching You,” but ended up winning the NFC East division with a 10-6 record. And in 1991, the Miami Dolphins spoofed MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This” with a team rap entitled “Can’t Touch Us” featuring Hooters staff as dancers, and somehow managed to show their faces in public enough to record a 12-4 record that year.
“Stop! Dolphin time!” Honestly, the best part of that video is the prevalence of Zubaz pants. There have been countless examples of teams (and fans) creating fight songs to commemorate their team’s victories set to video highlights, including “Packerena” (a spoof of “The Macarena” by the Green Bay Packers), “Uh Oh” (by the Jacksonville Jaguars), “Fear Da Tiger” (written by Bootsy Collins and the Cincinnati Bengals), and “Walk Like a Giant” (a spoof of “Walk Like an Egyptian” by the New York Giants).
But none of these rival the full-team raps, and dances, of that stretch in the late 1980s. Those songs, all recorded during the regular season, seemed to act as a kind of good luck charm. And I’m not sure what the monetary arrangements were for any of the other song releases, or whether any of them actually ended up in stores, but it pleases me that the ‘85 Bears donated at least some of their proceeds to a local charity, and that theirs made the largest impact.
If you’re still here with me, congratulations, because I’ve saved some fun stuff for last…
Some NFL Players Who Went on to Release Music
Perhaps there’s no bigger success story than former defensive tackle Mike Reid, whose songwriting credits in country music landed him a spot in the Nashville Songwriters’ Hall of Fame. His NFL career ended due to an injury, but shortly after recovering, he launched a new career writing songs for both himself and other artists such as Ronnie Milsap, whose 1984 hit “Stranger in My House” won him a co-writing Grammy. Reid also co-wrote one of my favorite songs of all-time, Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” But here’s one of his personal hit songs, “Walk On Faith.”
And then there’s Deion Sanders. Neon Deion. Prime Time. He recorded his one funk/hip-hop album while still actually playing in the NFL, and remember, he also played professional baseball! Prime Time was released in December of 1994 on MC Hammer’s label Bust-It Records, and did modestly well on the charts, reaching #70 at one point. A second album by Sanders was released on the album’s ten year anniversary in 2005, which offers remixes of every song on Prime Time. Here’s his 1994 single, “Must Be The Money.”
Then there’s Free Reign, a heavy-metal band consisting of three Dallas Cowboys linemen, Marc Colombo (vocals/guitar), Cory Procter (drums), and Leonard Davis (bass). Check out their single, “One Step Away.”
Now it’s time to bring this whole story back around to where we left off. While there are a few more players-turned-artists we could talk about, I’ll leave you with one of my favorites, Mr. LaDainian Tomlinson. As a running back who graced the New York Jets with a handful of accolades, he’s actually best known for his time on the San Diego Chargers, who retired his jersey in 2012. But as a singer and dancer, his only true gift to the world was to make us look back at that funky shuffle from 1985. And honestly, LT’s personal tribute to “The Super Bowl Shuffle” couldn’t be more perfectly cheesy and tongue-in-cheek. Enjoy “LT Slide Electric Glide”!