Playing against the Bears in Chicago has never been anybody's idea of a frolic except, perhaps, for a few masochists who might enjoy learning to walk again. There is something about the slopes and beams of Wrigley Field, the scraggly ivy on the red brick wall, the sight of the apartment towers over by the lakefront and the presence of George Halas, marching the sidelines like an emperor, that arouses in the Bears a dedication matched only by the people in the stands. It is probably not much worse than playing against the French in Paris on Bastille Day. Unless, that is, the visiting team is the Green Bay Packers, in which case the fever rises all over town and few escape being touched by it.
"A Bear-Packer game does not have to be crucial, as this one has been labeled, to attract the morbid among us," wrote Harry Sheer in Chicago's American on Saturday. "Bears and Packers grow up in an environment of hate and suspicion of the enemy. A wound stripe from a Bear-Packer encounter becomes something to cherish, right through the years of Social Security.... This is the game where you learn what it must have been like in the days of the Neanderthal man."
Lest one lose perspective among such confessions of hostility, what Mr. Sheer was talking about was a football game, though there were few people in the Midwest last week who would have called it by so simple a name. In truth, it is seldom an ordinary game when the Bears and the Packers play, as they now have 94 times. The two teams—one from a sprawling, smoky city flushed with conventioneers roaring along Rush Street, and the other from a small dairy and farming town—are tied for the most NFL championships with eight each, and they are close enough in geography to work up a fine anger about it.
The Packers have won two league and three division championships in the past five seasons. For the Bears, the only glory in a decade came in 1963 when they won the Western Division and then beat the Giants for the championship with a team that was accorded scant respect save for its defensive ability.
That 1963 team had Bill Wade at quarterback, whereas this current Bear team has Bill Wade on the bench. Whether that is a matter of good fortune is still open to argument, but the Bears did have undeniable luck in 1963. They had almost no important injuries, and they had the knack—as many championship teams have had—of being able to win on their off days, of running into an opponent who was a bit sloppier. In 1964 the Bears fell off to a 5-9 record, and the talk of their new, simplified defense was an echo that no one listened to. The fault that showed up was the one that had been there all along but had been overcome by defense and destiny. Other than throwing the ball to Mike Ditka, the tight end who is built like a buffalo but can move like a rabbit, or to little Johnny Morris, the NFL pass-catching record holder, the Bears had no offense. When Halfback Willie Galimore and End John Farrington were killed in a car crash before the 1964 season began, that finished the Bears.
The start this year was no better. After three games—all on the road, away from the homey comforts and inspirations of Wrigley Field—the Bears were 0-3. They still had no offense and their defense had degenerated (it gave up 52 points to San Francisco). But, ah, that third game. Something special happened in that third game.
With the score 20-0 against him at the half, Halas asked Bill Wade to sit down and he put in Rudy Bukich. That could not be construed as exactly a desperation move, for Bukich completed 62% of his 160 passes last season and threw for 12 touchdowns in the final four games. But Wade was the championship quarterback and Bukich had been merely someone else in uniform during his career with Washington and Pittsburgh before he joined the Bears. With Bukich, Halas summoned a fullback named Andy Livingston, a young man who is 6 feet and weighs 234 pounds and ran the 100 in 9.7 before he tore the muscles of one leg away from his pelvis in a high school game in Mesa, Ariz.
Livingston is hardly a Harvard man. He got his high school diploma while earning credits at a junior college. He became a dropout because of an appendicitis infection that required four operations. Halas heard about him from a former Bear halfback and acting on an impulse born of urgent need, sent him a plane ticket after the deaths of Galimore and Farrington.
Livingston was 20 years old when he played that second half against Green Bay. Obviously, he had no business being there. So he ran seven times for 70 yards and caught two passes for 37 yards. The Bears moved for 309 yards in that second half, outscored Green Bay 14-3 and have been looking back at everybody since.
"This could be the start of something," Halas said after that game. It was. The Bears beat the Rams, the Vikings and the Lions in a row. Their big, fast middle linebacker, Dick Butkus, began to shed his rookie mistakes. Weak-side Linebacker Larry Morris, who had missed all the exhibition games as well as the opener, returned in good health. Morris is of tremendous importance to the Bears because he removes worries about technical niceties from the 6-foot-8, 255-pound defensive end, Doug Atkins, and lets Atkins play his favorite game, which is smothering quarterbacks and knocking down runners. And the Bears found themselves one more runner—and maybe the most vital one to the success of the team—if runner is enough of a word to use for Gale Sayers.
At Kansas, where he set a Big Eight rushing record, Sayers was both a brilliant runner and pass receiver, and the Bears took him and Butkus as their two top draft choices. Some scouts were less than ecstatic about Sayers because they felt he was not much of a blocker. With the Bears, he blocks. He is no Forrest Evashevski, but he does ram his helmet into people, particularly when the other deep back is on a kick return. Some scouts also said Sayers does not run inside, but the Bears do not believe that and, as it has turned out, Sayers runs inside very well. Going into the Green Bay game, Sayers had rushed for 236 yards, was leading the league in kickoff returns and was tied in scoring with nine touchdowns, including four in one game. A television announcer asked Sayers if scoring four touchdowns was his greatest thrill, and he replied, simply and beautifully, "No."
Last Sunday conditions were perfect for the Bear fans. Green Bay was unbeaten, but Chicago was on the way up. A ticket scalper, interviewed on television, admitted he was selling his tickets for $35 each and expected the price to rise. The day arrived cool and bright, and the Bear fans—cloth hats, jackets over sweatshirts, black leather shoes, many of them carrying paper sacks—squeezed themselves three-deep in aisles that a fashion model could barely walk down. Wrigley Field holds only 46,000, and the people were jammed in so tight that they could not be certain whose mouth they were sticking their hot dogs into. "They all think this is the championship game," said Bear Publicist Dan Desmond. "Everybody in the Midwest is trying to get in."
The Packers had flirted with trouble the previous two weeks. They got behind Detroit by 21-3 before winning, and they could gain just 63 yards in total offense against Dallas. Their big backs—Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung—did not seem to be running as well as in the past, and Quarterback Bart Starr had not been releasing the ball as quickly as he once did. But the Packers were undefeated and appeared unperturbed as they received the opening kickoff and marched it 69 yards for a touchdown, even though Starr was belted hard twice and temporarily left the game.
By the end of the first quarter, however, Sayers had made himself felt. Trying to kick away from Sayers, Don Chandler got off a short punt and the Bears moved quickly to the Green Bay 18, where an outstanding play by Packer Linebacker Dave Robinson in a one-on-one situation stopped Sayers from scoring with a pass. The Bears got a field goal and started another drive that was halted by Livingston's fumble. Then, in less than three minutes, the Bears had two touchdowns off two interceptions. One was a grab of a batted ball by Atkins, followed by a pass to rookie Jim Jones on a flag pattern. The next was an interception by Bennie McRae, and Sayers turned it into a touchdown by outrunning Packer Backs Herb Adderley and Willie Wood into the end zone on a sweep to the right. A field goal by Chandler left Chicago ahead 17-10 at the half.
Early in the third quarter Sayers escaped on a 62-yard punt return, swerving through several Green Bay tacklers to the Packer 15, and Jon Arnett scored for Chicago from the one. Sayers and Livingston were running hard, but so were Arnett and Ronnie Bull. Bukich, with a 14-point lead, played it cautious with traps and influence blocking, and the Bear ground game kept going. Starr was having problems.
The Bears were not blitzing as much as usual but they were getting a heavy rush from their front four, and Starr had to keep his backs in to block, sending only two or three receivers downfield. He had some success in beating Right Safety Dave Whitsell to the outside, usually with Max McGee, but even that went sour. Whitsell, waiting and watching, cut inside McGee for another interception that carried to the Green Bay six. Although the Bears did not score that time because of an interception by Doug Hart in the end zone on the same flag pattern to Jones, they got the ball again and hammered it 62 yards on the ground. Bull scored on a sweep from the four to make it 31-10, and that was that.
The Packers, now 6-1, still appear to be headed toward the championship of the Western Division, but their offense has been inept lately and they need a resurgence by Taylor, Hornung and Starr. Green Bay has always relied on execution and pure force to move the ball, rather than on cuteness or speed. Now that their execution and force are sputtering, they need a back with the outside speed of a Sayers.
"Sayers outran us," Green Bay Coach Vince Lombardi said after he had walked through a barrage of insults from delirious Bear fans. "We misjudged him at least half the time. He's a great back. This is a better Bear club than the one that won the championship in 1963. Far better." Next week the Bears will have to prove it against the Colts, the Western Division champions of 1964, and the Packers will try their faltering offense against the tough defense of Detroit. But as far as Bear fans are concerned, plenty was proved last Sunday. Beating the Packers, for them, was worth declaring a holiday. Maybe they could call it Halloween.