Something is gravely wrong with Chicago. You can't tell it from looking at the town, for Chicago has always come on heavy. City of the big shoulders, as they say. New buildings stud the skyline with some of the most innovative architecture in North America. The shops in the Loop jingle with paying customers of all colors. The traffic along Lake Shore Drive runs thick and confident, arterial blood coursing through the heartland, as they also say. Pleasure boats prowl along the breakwaters of the loveliest waterfront on the Great Lakes, slim barks and gutsy powerboats sailing, it seems, to some Byzantium of the blessed. One thinks of Yeats. But then the image fades, and Chicago appears in its true colors. A loser. Not even the Second City anymore, but the one city that has to blow it. For the stale smell of defeat lingers in every dark corner of Chicago, and not even the coarse, cold wind off Lake Michigan can scour it clean.
If sport can serve as a barometer of social change, the glass is falling fast in Chicago. In the jukeboxes of Old Town, the city's rather pale imitation of Greenwich Village, a favorite is The Cub Song:
Hey, hey, holy mackerel,
The Cubs are on their way.
They got the hustle, they got the muscle,
Yes, the Cubs are on their way.
Disenchanted Cub fans play it over and over again. Chicago's basketball team, the Bulls, has no fight song on the Old Town hit parade, but after losing two of three maybe they don't rate one. The Black Hawks, playing without holdout Bobby Hull, have dropped five in a row. As for the White Sox, they might as well have played their entire schedule in Milwaukee for all their fans cared. But the real crusher is the Bears. This is where Chicago's pride lives. The Monsters of the Midway. The brass-knuckled scions of the House of Halas. And what are the Bears this year? Last.
October 27, 1969
Against the Minnesota Vikings—a team that hadn't beaten Chicago since 1965—the Bears cranked out just three yards rushing in the entire second half. Gale Sayers, once known as the finest runner in the game, has gained a total of 220 yards in 68 carries. Work it out: 3.25 yards a carry. Physically, at least, Sayers is fully recovered from his knee surgery of last year. Psychologically, the Kansas whirlwind has diminished to little more than a dust devil. You can see it even in practice, running an off-tackle slant as if someone was about to coldcock him.
And if Sayers' impotence isn't enough, the Bears are suffering from other less predictable failures. Mac Percival, once one of the most consistent field-goal kickers, had two kicks blocked in the first four games. Then there's Quarterback Jack Concannon. It's almost too easy to blame Concannon for everything wrong with the Bear offense. Ironically enough, his passing this year is his best ever: 60% completions. Yet Jack still throws late—after his receivers have made their breaks. Or runs too early—before his targets have got clear. Dick Gordon, his best wide receiver, has broken loose countless times, only to look back and see Concannon sacked or sprinting. "I'm out there and I'm open," says Gordon, with a touch of self-pity. "That's my job and I'm doing it."
Add to all this the matter of breaks, and you begin to understand what Ed O'Bradovich, the wicked defensive end, means when he laments, "If it wasn't for bad luck, we wouldn't have any luck at all." For example, in the Viking game, which the Bears lost 31-0, backup Safety Garry Lyle burst through to block a field-goal attempt by Fred Cox from the Bear 47. The ball bounced off Lyle's chest and back into Cox's arms, and the startled kicker scampered to the Bear 29 for a first down. From there, the Vikings pushed to the Bear six, but were thrown back to the eight. Then Joe Kapp, the Viking quarterback, overthrew Gene Washington in the end zone, but a Bear defender interfered, and the Vikings had first and goal on the one. Kapp passed for the touchdown, and the game was out of reach. The Bears talk a lot about fate. Says Dick Gordon, "Zeus must really be mad at us."
All right, now we get to the really bad stuff. During the third quarter of the Viking game, which happened to be the Bears' home opener, the fans turned vicious. Those who didn't walk out began shouting abuse. Some even threw bottles at the players. Wide Receiver Bob Wallace was hit on the helmet with an empty gin bottle. The same voices that only three years ago were snarling derision at Quarterback Rudy Bukich began to chant: "We want Rudy!" The Wrigley Field staff say they have never seen Chicago fans in so foul a mood.
The rage has even spilled over into public print—a real breakthrough in Chicago, where the papers and TV stations are traditionally apologists for the teams. Now you can read that "The [Bear] offense has joined the Peace Corps," or that Guard George Seals "could have stayed home and watched the game on TV for all he contributed to the Bears' operation." One of the lamer lines relates to Chicago's bright young coach: "Hang down your head, Jim Dooley, hang down your head and cry." In fact, a Daily News sports editor recently ran an open letter to George Halas: "Papa Bear, come back.... Jim Dooley is a nice young man, but what the Bears need is a grouchy old man, one who is willing to kick them in the billfolds or other parts of their anatomy."
In the cocktail lounges and cafeterias rumors are rife that the old man will indeed return as head coach—another manifestation of Chicago's malaise, for the old man is not coming back. He is 74, and he just can't do it anymore. Not that Halas is failing. His jaw is as firm as ever, and his handshake even firmer. Says Ed McCaskey, Papa Bear's son-in-law, "He has faith in this kid."
At 39, Jim Dooley is hardly a kid. A tall, horn-rimmed kind of guy who once was an offensive end and later inherited the defensive-coaching job vacated by George Allen, Dooley is one of the few NFL coaches who has experience both ways. His main problem is that he's too much the gentleman. "When Dooley tells you to kill," says one Bear, "you've just got to laugh. He wasn't that kind of a ballplayer." After the Viking debacle Dooley got tough. As the Bears prepared for last Sunday's do-or-die game with Detroit, Dooley worked his team mercilessly. Practices ran for 2½ hours, with contact scrimmages culminating the drills. Throughout the week, the tone of the team was sullen, introspective. George Seals talked to no one, Dick Butkus hit everyone and Corner-back Bennie McRae worried out loud. "I've never seen our effort and the results so far out of proportion," he said. At the end of Friday's workout Dooley resorted to rhetoric. He promised that the Bears would "come back," using the phrase at least five times in a strident voice and warning that any player who didn't put out 100% would soon be unemployed. The Bears stood at attention throughout the speech.
"There are no quitters on this team," said Center Mike Pyle after the practice. "We're better than 0 and 4. But it gets to you. I haven't even been reading the papers. I've been hiding out." Pyle looked at the empty stands, the autumnal sun barely taking the chill off the air. "I grew up in this town," he said, "and I used to sit in those stands and growl at the Bears. But when I started to play I began to get hot at the fans. Still, they see it like it is. We're losers right now. It's up to us to win."
Game day in Detroit broke in keeping with the Bears' mood. A relentless, soaking rain turned the field in Tiger Stadium into a swamp even before the kick-off. Both coaches were starting reserve quarterbacks, Detroit's Joe Schmidt going with second-year-man Greg Landry—since Bill Munson had broken his throwing hand a week earlier in the Green Bay game—and Jim Dooley, looking to a future of sorts, starting his southpaw rookie, Bobby Douglass. Four minutes into the second quarter Douglass hit Bob Wallace with a 32-yard touchdown pass. It was the first time this year that the Bears had opened the scoring, but the Lions came right back with a touchdown to make it 7-7. "Well," said one Chicago sportswriter, "it was fun while it lasted."
He was right. Detroit began the second half with a 70-yard drive that terminated in a 20-yard field goal by Errol Mann. Although Dooley kept Sayers on the bench for most of the second half, feeling his heavy backs would be more effective on the muddy field, Douglass was able to move the Bears into field-goal range. Then Zeus frowned, and Percival missed from the 38. There it was. Percival now 2 for 8 on the season. Dooley turned to Concannon, but to no avail. Mann kicked a 46-yard field goal and the Lions won 13-7.
That spelled 0 and 5—the worst start for a Bear team since 1945. Oh, those poor, downtrodden Bears! As the game ended an announcer alerted the 54,732 fans in Tiger Stadium to stay around for a Little League game immediately after the gun. "No," yelled a Chicago sportswriter, "this is the Little League game. Later we get the pros."