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John Blanchette: Time to drum up Super memories

Sun., Feb. 4, 2007

You don’t have to squint to find Stefan Humphries in the “Super Bowl Shuffle.” That’s him in the shades and fedora, full screen on the opening drum riff.

“After about 20 takes,” he laughed, “I was able to make it look real.”

Let’s hope they rustled up an old video to show the patients and staff at St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute on Spokane’s north side this past week. It’s not that they might not already know their medical director’s football resume – All-American guard at Michigan, five-year NFL veteran – and they could probably coax him into showing off his Super Bowl ring. But when you’re talking about the single most memorable bit of Super Bowl flotsam – the Shuffle – you’re going to want to see a guy’s bona fides.

Any given Super Bowl winds up being as much about memories as it is about the moment, but few quite as much as old XLI today, given that it’s the first return of the Chicago Bears to the proscenium since the 1985 edition and all the craziness it birthed.

Da Bears. The Shufflin’ Crew. The quarterback mooning a TV chopper. The Fridge blocking out the sun.

Humphries looks back on it all with as much fondness as anyone who had a backstage pass to it all. Maybe more, considering he was – at first – not particularly appreciative of his opportunity in Chicago.

“I’d been told I was going to get drafted by Seattle at the end of the first round the year before,” he recalled. “And that was OK with me. I thought I was headed to the great Northwest. When I fell to the third round and the Bears took me, I was disappointed – it didn’t seem like the place I wanted to go.

“Then I found out my teammates were a very fun bunch to work with and play with, and I established some great friendships that have stood the test of time. It was probably the best thing that could have happened to me.”

Besides, he would get to the Northwest eventually.

His father, Thornton, had attended Seattle University and played with Elgin Baylor on the 1958 team that lost the NCAA championship game to Kentucky – and later did an Air Force tour at Fairchild. When Humphries’ football career was cut short by a torn triceps tendon in 1989 when he was with Denver (he also played for the Broncos in a losing cause in Super Bowl XXII, though today he laughs, “What other Super Bowl?”), he walked directly from the practice field to medical school at Colorado. About a year and half ago he found his way to St. Luke’s.

If it seems like a long way from the NFL, it is – but it’s also exactly the destination Humphries had mapped.

This was, after all, the high schooler Sports Illustrated branded “the can’t miss kid” in 1980 – you can still find his high school and college transcripts on the Internet, for heaven’s sake. He took a bioengineering degree from Michigan, just missed the cut to be a Rhodes scholar and then put his medical ambitions – an older sister, his role model, is an ER physician in New Orleans – on hold for another dream.

If he didn’t find NFL stardom, he at least found the brightest corner of the galaxy.

Quarterback Jim McMahon had his message-specific headbands – one with “Rozelle” stenciled on it protested a fine from the commissioner. Defensive tackle Dan Hampton, when the Bears whipped up on America’s Team 44-0, proclaimed the Bears to be “the Kremlin’s team.” Coach Mike Ditka and defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan seemed to almost compete for headlines. And there was William Perry – “the Fridge” – who said of himself, “I was big when I was little.”

“We had some great players,” Humphries said, “and we also had our share of characters – and no one, really, was a bigger prankster than Walter Payton. But he was also the most humble guy, too, and while there were a lot of egos on that team, for some reason there was no one bigger than the team – and I think that started with Walter.”

They lost only to the Dolphins (“dumb luck in our minds”) and Prince (his “Kiss” beat the Shuffle out of a Grammy). The success, the charisma and a working-class quality endeared itself to the city – especially when Ditka himself, before the NFC title game with the Rams, proclaimed “some teams are named Smith and some are named Grabowski. We’re Grabowskis. The Rams are a Smith team.”

“Chicago had gone so long without a championship,” Humphries said. “Then you look at the characters on the team and how all classes of folks could relate to it and get behind it. Chicago doesn’t just support championship teams, it almost memorializes them. That’s the way it was for us and I imagine if Chicago wins (today), the same atmosphere will be present.”

Which leads us to the natural question: Are these Bears “Grabowski” enough to win?

“Depends on the play of the quarterback position,” Humphries offered. “If Peyton Manning gets in a rhythm, they’re a hard team to contend with. And if (Bears quarterback Rex) Grossman doesn’t have a mistake-free game, they’re in trouble.”

Nevertheless, “I know who I’d like to see win,” he said. And come today, Stefan Humphries will be beating the drum again.


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