Sunday , February 25 2024
Even in the leather helmet days, the Chicago Bears developed a two-sided persona. The defense had a dominance and a swagger. The offense? Well, ...

The 50-Year Punt

I’ve been following the Chicago Bears since the early ‘60s. I remember seeing the quarterback at the time, Billy Wade, throw an interception. My father shook his head disgustedly and said, “The Bears haven’t had a good quarterback since Sid Luckman.” Luckman, of course, was the quarterback for the original Monsters of the Midway of the late ‘30s and ‘40s, back in the days of leather helmets and two-way players. Of course, the same statement would sound ridiculous today … wouldn’t it? Hmm.



Even then, the Bears were developing a two-sided persona. The defense had a dominance and a swagger, while the offense, well, had room to grow. In 1963, the Bears won the NFL championship with a defense that set a record for fewest number of points allowed in a season. There are stories that the defense, frustrated with a turnover or the inability to move the football, would jostle the offensive players when they came off the field.

Somehow, this dichotomy has continued through the decades. A strong defense has perpetually been the trademark of the Bears. On the other hand, the job of the offense has usually been to avoid losing the game for the defense.

It wasn’t as if there weren’t talented players on the Bears offense. Mike Ditka, of course, was a Hall of Fame tight end, who, along with John Mackey of the Baltimore Colts, transformed the position. Johnny Morris set a record for number of pass receptions in a season.

There was a string of great and almost great running backs too: Willie Gallimore, Gale Sayers, Walter Payton, and Neal Anderson. A succession of strong, skilled linemen opened up the holes for those running backs. There were even quarterbacks who had good individual seasons. But somehow, the whole always seemed to be less than the sum of its parts.

A classic play occurred in 1969 during a Bears game with the St. Louis Cardinals. The quarterback, Jack Concannon, turned away from the center to motion Gale Sayers to move slightly. The center, Mike Pyle, delivered the ball to the unsuspecting Concannon. The ball bounced off Concannon, flew up in the air, and into the waiting arms of the St. Louis linebacker, who ran for a touchdown.

Sometime, around that same time frame, I remember seeing another play. (By the way, if there’s anyone out there who remembers this, please let me know … I just want to be sure I didn’t hallucinate the entire sequence). It went like this: The quarterback stood under center, and two running backs crouched behind and off to either side of him in a “Y” formation. The quarterback got the ball and faded back to pass. Meanwhile, the two running backs ran forward in an attempted crossing pattern. The three players ran into each other … and fell down.

Maybe there was something in the air. Perhaps the winds, whipping the stadium from Lake Michigan, caused strange and contradictory effects.

The Bears produced a string of great middle linebackers as well: Bill George, Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary, and (a still active) Brian Urlacher. It inspired a group of fearsome defensive linemen, which included Doug Atkins, Richard Dent, and Dan Hampton. And conversely, it created a dysfunctional offensive unit that at times seemed ready for an appearance on the Jerry Springer Show.

A couple of years ago, Jerry Angelo, the Bears general manager, decided to fight this karma and bet the farm on obtaining Jay Cutler, the strong-armed, talented quarterback, from the Denver Broncos. As we all know, results have been mixed.

At times, Cutler has appeared to be the quarterback to make the old-timers finally forget Sid Luckman. At other times, harassed by opposing linemen who seem to have a free pass from the Bears offensive line, he has made poor decisions and has thrown stunningly ill-timed interceptions. Mike Martz, the offensive coordinator who previously created “The Greatest Show on Turf” for the St. Louis Rams, has helped, but even the kindest apologist would call this a work in progress.

But now the Bears are in the playoffs, currently enjoying their bye week, and maybe I’m wrong about all this. Perhaps Mike Martz will finally work out the kinks of the offense. And Cutler, buoyed by a suddenly competent offensive line, will recognize all pass coverages and throw strikes to sure-handed receivers.

He will outplay Aaron Rodgers or Matt Ryan to get the Bears to the Super Bowl. And once there, he will out-duel Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger or whoever else the AFC can throw at us. The Bears will win the Super Bowl, and Cutler will be named Most Valuable Player.

And then the Cubs will win the World Series, followed immediately by the End of Days.

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About Phillip Barnett

Phillip Barnett is a software geek with multiple, conflicting musical fantasies. He has played jazz piano, folk guitar and klezmer clarinet (not all at the same time - that would look ridiculous and would probably hurt his back).

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