Let's keep it a buck-fifty for a minute. At Complex, one of our primary objectives is to “make culture pop.” Believe it or not, Mike Singletary (of all people) stood at a major intersection between sport, music, and culture in the 1980s. Many of us know him as the mega-intense, former 49ers coach who lasted at the post for only a couple years. But the legend of Samurai Mike, an actual nickname of his, runs deep. Peep his stacked resume:
10x Pro Bowler
Super Bowl Champ
Heart and soul of the Chicago Bears ‘85 defense
NFL Hall of Famer
Grammy award nominee for best R&B performance (you read that correctly)
Kicked Pro Bowler Vernon Davis off the field for lack of effort (DURING HIS FIRST GAME as an NFL head coach), and then proceeded to unleash an epic post-game press conference rant
Greatest 1A and 1B nicknames ever: Samurai Mike and the Minister of Defense
At 12 years old, he wrote down his life goals: 1) Receive a scholarship to go to college, 2) Make it to the NFL, 3) Buy his mom a house.
One of the best to ever do it at the middle linebacker position, Singletary was crucial in making the Buddy Ryan-pioneered 46 defense stick. Quarterbacking that iconic D primed him to become an NFL coach, and although he finished with a mediocre 18-22 record at the helm, there’s no question he has an extraordinary football mind and is an upper-echelon motivator. Just listen to his HOF speech.
At the NFL Experience venue in Times Square, NYC, I experienced Singletary’s coaching first-hand. He broke down game film from the Pats-Jags AFC Championship game and explained the difference between pimps and preachers on the football field:
Pimp = A wide receiver who’s acting hype like it’s a pass play when it’s really a run.
Preacher = A wide receiver who appears lackadaisical, but is ready to burn you on a pass down the field.
But before the vocab lesson and film session, Samurai Mike—who’s one of the most gracious, old-school guys you’ll meet—and I chopped it up about the “Super Bowl Shuffle,” being nominated for a Grammy, how he would game plan against the high-powered Pats, and more.
Have you gotten a chance to check out the NFL Experience space yet?
It’s really cool. I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity. I was telling a writer a little while ago that at the Hall of Fame they have something very similar. The stadium part of this venue is absolutely off the charts. Every part of the experience, from the fake snow all the way down to the seats moving. It’s really cool.
I have to say, I didn’t get to watch your playing career, but I do remember you coaching the 49ers. When my dad told me about the “Super Bowl Shuffle” a few years back, I was sold on Mike Singletary. What do you remember about being there, filming that with your teammates?
Well, what I do remember about that is that it came off of the only loss we had that year. The very next day, we had to tape that. And no one wanted to think about taping the “Super Bowl Shuffle” after the Monday night loss. But we all showed up, and it was a blast. We all got together and the game kind of got further and further away from us. We just really kind of refocused and thought, “Hey man, we’re supposed to be having fun.” That wasn’t who we were. It was just one of those games, man. We just had to get back to who we were and where we were going to be. I think it was really a turning point in many ways to getting us back on track. Getting us back to the fun of football.
Wow, interesting. You had your own solo in it, too. You come to the mic, start off with, “Yo, I’m Samurai Mike.” Did you have a hand in writing your verse for it?
I did not. All the verses were written out prior to us getting together. All we had to do was pick them up and go with them.
If we won the Grammy, I would have thrown it in the trash.
So no freestyling. Do you remember the lyrics to your part? Can you recite them?
[Starts rapping.] I’m Samurai Mike, big and bold…
[Whispers to himself trying to remember]: I’m Samurai Mike, big and bold…
I’m Samurai Mike, I stop em cold / Part of the defense, big and bold. / Give me a chance, I’ll rock you good. / Nobody messin’ in my neighborhood. / I didn’t come here lookin’ for trouble. / I came here to do the Super Bowl Shuffle.
Wow, impressive! You guys were also nominated for a Grammy for that song. Is that written on your Hall of Fame plaque? I feel like it’s definitely worth the mention.
You know what, unfortunately, the money from that whole thing did not go where it was supposed to go. If we won the Grammy, I would have thrown it in the trash.
Where was it supposed to go?
To the poor people of Chicago. That’s the whole reason we did it. All of the proceeds were going to go to the poor. They did not. They went to somebody else, unfortunately.
Ah man, that’s really too bad. Shifting gears a bit, you played for Mike Ditka for most of your career. You played for Buddy Ryan. Two very outspoken gentlemen, not holding back in any way. Brutally honest. Do you have any funny stories about either one of them that you can share?
Well, a story about Buddy Ryan. I mean, you talk brutally honest. I remember as a rookie, I was trying to break into the lineup, and I went to Buddy one time, and said, “Buddy, you gotta let me in the game.” He looked at me and said, “Go sit down son, we’re trying to win this one.” And of course he said it loud enough where everybody could hear it.
What I really appreciate about Coach Ditka is his communication. He had books, tapes. Every now and then, I would break into his office without knocking, and he would be sitting there reading something, and he would knock everything off his desk and be like, “What do you want?!” I always wanted to see what he was reading, but he would kick me out. It was pretty funny. But he really tried to communicate effectively.
[The Patriots] Are not the most talented team on the field, but they find a way to get it done.
That ‘85 Bears team, a legendary one, you guys finished 15-1. Were there points during the season before that one loss to the Dolphins where you really felt like you were going to go undefeated? Or is that something you don’t think about?
After we lost in the NFC Championship to San Francisco the year before, when we got on the plane coming back to Chicago, we said, “Next year is our year. We’re going to the Super Bowl. We’re going to win the Super Bowl. And we will never lose until that happens.” So that was the vision right after that game coming back home.
Heading into Super Bowl 52, we’ve got Tom Brady—arguably the best quarterback of all time—looking to grab another one. The Pats have a high-powered offense, even after all these years. Do you think the ‘85 Bears would have been able to stop them?
What’s your game plan?
Obviously people are gonna say, “Yeah, yeah. Of course he would say that.” But when you have a coach like Buddy Ryan, and you have a group of players like we had… I say this respectfully. A lot of people look at the Bears and ‘85 and say, “Those guys were really a talented group of guys.” We were not. I think we were very similar to the New England Patriots of today. We were not the most talented team week-in and week-out on the field. But we really hated to lose. We had a desire to go out and execute the game plan, and we wanted to win. And we were willing to do everything we could to win. When you have that, you find a way. That was fundamentally who we were, the ‘85 Bears. And I think that’s who the New England Patriots are. They’re not the most talented team on the field, but they find a way to get it done. So when you find two teams like that on the same field, it’s gonna be a lot of good football.
When you were coaching the Rams in 2016, the team was featured on “All or Nothing.” Similar to “Hard Knocks” with cameras all around, fans get to see what practices and film sessions are like. The moment during that season that gained a lot of traction on social media was the firing of Jeff Fisher. Is that something you knew was about to happen? Was it totally unscripted? It must have been awkward.
It was totally unscripted. It was totally surprising. It caught everybody off guard. Jeff and the entire coaching were excited about the prospect of the team moving from St. Louis to L.A. We were struggling, we had a rookie quarterback. Jeff felt that if we could just get through this season, that we’d have a chance to come out the next year and do some great things. But we didn’t get that opportunity. We didn’t have that luxury. That was our plan, but the fans turned sour.
Changing the topic, I remember you kicked Vernon Davis off the field during your head coaching debut. It was a really ballsy move, but your explanation was totally valid, and it really jump-started Vernon Davis’ Pro Bowl career in a lot of ways.
Vernon was a kid who I thought had a tremendous amount of ability. When I became the head coach, he was thought to be a bust. But I knew he could play. It was very frustrating to have someone like that on your team, and not have him understand that he had all these tools to help us win. So I did it for him to wake up and understand what he was capable of, and to make sure he didn’t rob himself anymore from what he could be.
You’ve got two nicknames: Samurai Mike and Minister of Defense. Which is your favorite?
It’s gotta be Samurai Mike. Got to be Samurai. [Laughs.]