The San Francisco 49ers went east last week and trained for their game with the Chicago Bears in Milwaukee, where Coach Red Hickey felt they would be safe from prying Bear eyes. His preoccupation with security, it appears now, was justified. On the Thursday before the game, a man and his wife wandered into the stadium where the club was working out. Hickey escorted them out, gently but firmly. Later, perched on a nearby hill with a partial view of the field, the same man, who was watching the practicing 49ers through a pair of binoculars and was making notes, was chased off by Milwaukee police. There are still those who doubt that the man was a Chicago Bear operative, but judging by the result of the Bears-49ers game last Sunday in Chicago, he probably was—and a very good one at that.
For the first time since Hickey installed it last year, the San Francisco shotgun offense was completely muffled. To be sure, the Green Bay Packers beat the San Francisco team 30-10 earlier, but that was the old shotgun they defeated. It was after that loss—in which John Brodie did almost all of the quarterbacking—that Hickey went to his present system of rotating three quarterbacks and beat the Detroit Lions 49-0, the Los Angeles Rams 35-0 and the Minnesota Vikings 38-24 on successive Sundays.
Last Sunday, using a wondrously complex defense, the Chicago Bears stopped this revised shotgun cold (31-0). Mastermind of the sliding, shifting, fluid and effective Bear defenses was Clark Shaughnessy, the man who is regarded as the father of the last great innovation in football, the T formation.
George Halas, the owner and coach of the Chicago team, has most to say about the Bear offense today—including its T formation—but it is Shaughnessy who devotes all of his time to coaching the Bear defenses. Shag—or the Old Man, as he is sometimes called—is a devious, crafty tactician. Against the 49ers he devised a defense that seemed never to be the same on successive plays and which varied from a three-to a seven-man line. It rarely failed. The San Francisco team, which had gained 540 yards the week before, and 521 yards the week before that, gained a measly 132 on this Sunday—and lost the ball three times on interceptions and three times on fumbles.
To shatter the shotgun, Shaughnessy went back to an old defense. For years there had been no middle guard (the center man in a five-man line), but Shaughnessy had Bear Middle Linebacker Bill George playing middle guard a good deal of the time against the 49ers. The chunky George lined up on the shoulder of the San Francisco center time and again and barreled straight ahead. Often he reached one of the 49er quarterbacks at the end of his charge; when he didn't, he used up a San Francisco blocker and someone else reached the quarterback. The three San Francisco quarterbacks—Bill Kilmer, John Brodie and Bobby Waters—spent a long, harried afternoon scurrying desperately under the tremendous pressure exerted by George and the two other Bear linebackers.
The Bear ends—massive Doug Atkins (6 feet 8 inches, 255 pounds) and Maury Youmans (6 feet 6 inches, 235 pounds)—played head on with the San Francisco wingbacks, and kept them from breaking in over the center for passes. The center, of course, was vulnerable to passes when George deserted that area in favor of pursuing one or another of the San Francisco quarterbacks. So well did Youmans cover for George that when the game was over he was awarded the game ball by his jubilant, appreciative teammates.
Although the Bear defense was beautifully conceived and well executed, it should be noted that it did not, by itself, account for the downfall of the 49ers. A big, fullback-size rookie end named Mike Ditka, who scored two of the Bear touchdowns, had much to do with it. And Bill Wade, who was an often maligned and frequently ineffective quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams, played very, very well at quarterback for the Bears. He hit Ditka time and again on a pass that is difficult to throw accurately—to the end cutting straight across the field about 15 yards deep into the secondary. The ball must be thrown with a precise touch and a perfect lead to a target moving very rapidly. Wade did this over and over again, and he varied the pattern with a couple of lovely long passes that dropped down directly into the hands of receivers some 50 yards away.
Actually, the 49ers did much to beat themselves. Said Hickey after the game, "We had a real bad day. But maybe a lot of that was the Bears' fault. I know they were a lot tougher up the middle than anyone else we've played. And you got to credit a lot of that to Bill George."
The Bears had had a small foretaste of the shotgun a week before this game, when the Baltimore Colts tried it. "We learned what not to do against the Colts," Shaughnessy said. "We made our mistakes then. We knew what to do with San Francisco. But don't make the mistake of thinking the shotgun is not a fine offense. It can hit anywhere across the whole width of the field. It spreads the defense. That's what an offense should do."
Shaughnessy spent some 100 hours in the week before the game against the 49ers perfecting his defense and he was still making minor refinements at 11 o'clock on the morning of the game, when the Bears reported to the dressing room at Wrigley Field.
Once in a while the Bears would rush seven men against the 49ers; now and then they sent in only four and dropped off seven to defend against the short passes of the shotgun. Although Shaughnessy, like most coaches, is reluctant to divulge the details of his defense, it appeared that it was keyed to whichever quarterback was in the game. Brodie is the best passer of the three, the worst runner; Bill Kilmer is the best runner and the worst passer. Against Brodie, the Bears set up a passing defense, against Kilmer, a running defense. Bobby Waters throws better than Kilmer, not as well as Brodie and runs better than Brodie, but not as well as Kilmer. When he was in the game, the Bear defense was keyed to the situation, not the player.
The 49ers, understandably, were flat for this game and they lost the best blocker in their offensive line early when Bob St. Clair was injured. But that made little difference. This was a day when the Bears were loaded—and the shotgun was not.