The Chicago Bears, a disorganized, inept group that in its first two games of the 1968 season had looked more like the Midgets than the Monsters of the Midway, rose from the dead last week. Their resurrection came at the expense of the Minnesota Vikings, a club whose performance this season had been the exact opposite of Chicago's. While the Bears were losing by thumping scores to Washington (38-28) and to Detroit (42-0), the Vikings, playing with style and dash behind the cool, crisp leadership of Canadian import Joe Kapp, had demolished Atlanta (47-7) and had beaten the World Champion Green Bay Packers (26-13). On the face of it, the game in bright, chilly Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minn, seemed a major mismatch. So, of course, the Bears won 27-17.
Chicago had numerous heroes. Jack Concannon, who had been erratic in the first two games, was deadly in this one. He threw 12 passes and completed nine for 103 yards and one touchdown. He also carried the ball four times for 25 yards before he was injured on a run in the second quarter. Gale Sayers, easily the most fascinating runner in pro football, skittered through the befuddled Viking defense like a demented waterbug for 108 yards and a touchdown. Rudy Bukich, Concannon's replacement, lasted only briefly before he, too, was injured early in the third period. But Larry Rakestraw, who had completed five passes to Detroit the week before, came in and completed four out of four for 44 yards, leading the Bears on a long drive for the clinching touchdown.
Heroes aside, the biggest reason the Bears beat the Vikings was the fertile mind of the bespectacled young man who celebrated his nomination as Chicago head coach by pouring $25,000 in cash out of a sack at a team picnic a few weeks ago, to impress his players with the rewards available for winning the NFL title and the Super Bowl.
Jim Dooley, the 38-year-old who succeeded 73-year-old George Halas after the 1967 season, is a tall, scholarly man who looks more like a high school mathematics teacher than the coach of a professional football team. Since he once was a math teacher in Miami, this is perhaps unsurprising. He was the first draft choice of the Bears in 1952, and played nine years as an offensive end and defensive halfback.
He became an assistant to Halas in 1962 and worked with the offense through 1965, when the Chicago club set a team record by scoring 409 points. Halas, figuring that anyone who could devise a way to score that many points might also be capable of devising a way to stifle such an offense, switched him to defense. He was a success, but last week—on the eve of the Viking game—his woebegone features testified eloquently to the fact that his vaunted defense had already yielded a shocking 80 points in the first two games of the season.
"When I was named head coach," he said, "the first thing I said was that this team would live or die on its defense.
"I am not quite sure what has happened to us," he went on. "There have been some fundamental breakdowns, and the teams we have played have used some different offensive sets, sets we were not accustomed to. They used a slot-back offensive quite a lot [an offense in which one of the running backs is set out as a wingback to one side or the other, putting four receivers at or near the line of scrimmage in good position for a quick pass]. We did not react well to it. I will make some adjustments in the defense for next year, but it is too late to do anything about it now. We'll just have to go with what we have."
Dooley's primary contribution to the pro football philosophy of defense came last season when he began substituting a defensive back for a linebacker where a pass seemed likely.
The Dooley defense was extraordinarily sticky during the latter part of the 1967 season.
"In the last half of the season only 36% of our opponents' passes were completed," Dooley said.
The system is designed to shut off both long and short passes, unlike the popular prevent defense used by most clubs when they have a narrow lead late in the game.
"In 1966 I got tired of watching quarterbacks like Starr and Unitas pick the conventional defenses apart with short passes," Dooley said. "I studied the game pictures between seasons and I found out that in our two games with the San Francisco 49ers they threw a hundred passes against us, and half of them were thrown six yards or less."
Dooley applied his mathematical experience to the problem. "In the prevent, with a three-man rush, everyone drops off to kill the bomb," he said. "In our defense with four men on the line and a back and two linebackers behind it, we can do anything. We use all kinds of blitzes from it—both linebackers, cornerback, safety. When it is done properly, it can keep an offense off balance."
As Dooley introduced the defense last year and as the Bears have played it so far this season, the fifth defensive back is inserted in the game on second or third down and long yardage, or in any situation in which Dooley is convinced the odds favor a pass.
"In those situations," he said, "you can figure that the offensive team will throw the ball 80% of the time. If they run, that's what you want them to do because it is unlikely that they will gain enough yards for a first down."
In the debacle against the Lions, the Dooley defense did not get a true test, since Concannon and Rakestraw between them threw eight interceptions. Against the Vikings, their passing was impeccable.
The Dooley defense, given an operable offense, stuck to the coach's percentage plays with spectacular success. On the first Minnesota series, with second down and eight yards to go, Joe Kapp dropped back to pass from the Chicago 34-yard line, peering hopefully at the Bear defenders. A full blitz from the Dooley set dropped him for a 10-yard loss and forced a fumble on the Bear 44, which was recovered by John Johnson, a Chicago tackle. The Bears marched in for their first score. Late in the first quarter, trailing by two touchdowns, the Vikings mounted another putative drive behind Kapp. who was having considerable difficulty saving his skin against the tremendous rush. With second and 10 on the Bear 42 and the fifth back on the field again, Kapp tried to cross the Bears by running Clinton Jones on a sweep, but Linebacker Doug Buffone and Safetyman Richie Petitbon came across the line fast to drop Jones for a yard loss. With third and 11, the Dooley defense was still operative, and this time Kapp, with Bears surrounding him, threw an incomplete pass in the flat.
On third and 10 on the next Viking series Buffone was the lead man in a blitz from the Bear special defense and this time he dropped the hapless Kapp for a 10-yard loss. Late in the third period, on one of his few successful sorties, Kapp marshaled the Vikings to the Bear 35-yard line; but he found himself facing third and 10 and again a Bear defensive back trotted on the field to relieve a linebacker. Rushed, Kapp was bumped and his long, wobbly pass to Fullback Bill Brown was intercepted by Petitbon on the Bear nine-yard line and returned to the 27.
It was an enormously successful afternoon for the Dooley defense. Yet, the victory may have been a Pyrrhic one for the Bears: Concannon has a broken collarbone and will be out for a long time and Bukich has a slight shoulder sprain, leaving Rakestraw the only healthy quarterback on the club. It was a disheartening game for the Vikings, but there were bright spots in the running of Fullback Bill Brown and Gary Cuozzo's fourth-period performance as a relief pitcher, when he engineered two touchdowns. He completed four of four passes for 69 yards, giving him seven straight for the season.
And Kapp, the big, tough California graduate who came to the Vikings after eight years in the Canadian league, took his beating stoically. He met one of the most confusing defenses in modern football. It is no discredit to him that he could not solve it immediately.
The Bear victory, coupled with Green Bay's 23-17 loss to the resurgent Detroit Lions, leaves Detroit and Minnesota tied for first in what is undoubtedly the toughest of the four NFL divisions.
Since the Packers get a breather against Atlanta next week while Detroit and Minnesota settle the battle for first, it is probable that Green Bay will still be in easy striking range of the division title when the fourth game of the season is over. The Bears meet Baltimore, a team which could provide a sterner test of the Dooley defense than anything so far offered by either Minnesota or Green Bay.
The one thing that is perfectly apparent already is that this year, unlike last, the Packers have no cakewalk to even the division title. Any of the four teams could win.