It's probably not a good sign when a head coach's rock video comes out the very week of his team's biggest game of the season. But then Iron Mike, featuring the gyrations of the Chicago Bears' Mike Ditka—"Most of us [coaches] are overpaid as it is"—was done for charity. Besides, all Bears do music videos. And books and radio shows and TV shows and stand-up comedy and posters and endorsements and other things to keep their minds off those annoying games that pop up every week during the season. Hey, to be a Bear is to be a star.
But suddenly last Saturday the wildcard Washington Redskins whipped the NFL champions 27-13, and all the off-field stuff seemed a little secondary, even a little embarrassing. None of the Bears' video dancers had had the foresight to make a Quick-Exit Shuffle.
The game was supposed to be a lock. After all, the Redskins were so out-manned, battered and exhausted after beating the Los Angeles Rams six days earlier that it seemed coach Joe Gibbs might as well just mail in a forfeit from Dulles Airport. "We're tremendous underdogs," he moaned early in the week. Gibbs then recited the Skins' problems: a short work week, injuries, the Bears' defense, the Bears' two-week layoff and general soundness, the Bears' artificial turf and home-field advantage, Walter Payton, the Bears' linebackers, Dexter Manley's mouth. Gibbs gently chided the press over the last issue, saying, "I think you people stay after Dexter until he says something."
Which, of course, is true, though it sure doesn't take long.
January 12, 1987
Last year, before the Bears whipped Washington 45-10, the All-Pro defensive end said the Skins would have to knock Payton, Mr. Sweetness himself, the NFL's answer to Bill Cosby, "out of the game." Last week, Manley talked about going after tight end Emery Moorehead for alleged "cheap shots" in the 1985 game.
But Manley's best verbal work came when he explained his absence from practice two days before the Rams game. First, he said he had contract problems. No, he amended, he was out hunting. For Bears. Then, on the Monday before the game, alone and pensive at the Skins training camp in Herndon, Va., he said, "I was hung over, I'll admit to that. I'm not a drinker and I drank too much Christmas night. I didn't even wake up for practice, to be honest. I was very stupid, very immature." The six-year pro, who used to wear a Mohawk hairdo, added, "I am concerned about my image. When your career is over, you want to be respected, not looked at as a knucklehead. If people don't respect you, you're a lost soul."
Take it easy, Dexter, the Bears respect you. Even though you and your buddies pulled a major con job on them. "We were a pretty mad team," said middle linebacker Neal Olkewicz (eight tackles, two assists, one sack) after Saturday's game, citing the Skins' rough treatment in the Chicago press as the major goad. But hadn't Washington planted all that phony-baloney weak-sister stuff in the first place? Olkewicz nodded. "It worked," he said with a grin.
Boy, did it ever. So certain were the Bears of victory that they left some of their office and medical equipment at the Atlanta Falcons camp in Suwanee, Ga., their postseason training site. After all, quarterback Doug Flutie, though a starter in just one Bears game—indeed, a member of the league for just eight weeks—was so charismatic, resourceful and just plain miraculous that he would certainly shove the Bears' torpid offense into high gear. And then there was the Bears' defense: It had given up the fewest points ever in a 16-game NFL season (187, 11.7 per game).
"We have no plans for a loss," said Bears president Mike McCaskey before the game. "If we lose it will be like a toboggan that's racing down a hill and hits a log, sending everybody flying." The bodies are still tumbling.
The Bears figured that Redskins quarterback Jay Schroeder could not stand up to a wild, blitzing attack, one that included vestiges of the old 46 front as well as such new touches as a weak-side cornerback blitz. As it turned out, he had little trouble with the Bears' defense, getting sacked only twice and throwing two touchdown passes to wide receiver Art Monk off Chicago blitzes.
"I knew it wasn't going to be a pretty game for me," said Schroeder, who completed 15 of 32 passes for 184 yards and two TDs and had one interception. "But I knew field position and turnovers would make the difference. I threw it away when I had to."
Which is something Flutie should have done, particularly in the third quarter when he had a bad pass picked off and returned 17 yards by cornerback Darrell Green. Three plays later Schroeder hit Monk in the end zone, the Redskins went ahead 14-13, and the game was history.
Oh, the Bears had numerous other chances to score, but as the game progressed the Chicago offense looked more and more like a hubcap spinning toward the gutter. Flutie, who connected on a nice 50-yard TD pass to Willie Gault in the second quarter, completed just 5 of 15 passes for 37 yards in the second half, and only 11 of 31 passes for 134 yards in the game.
None of this should detract from Washington's victory. The Skins got a couple of prizes from the USFL in running back Kelvin Bryant (8 carries for 46 yards; 4 catches for 61 yards) and wide receiver Gary Clark (5 catches for 37 yards on a bad left ankle), and their defense is better than its next-to-last ranking in the NFC. But the big question is, What ails the Bears?
•Quarterback. The Bears have started seven different people at that position since 1984. Jim McMahon could take charge, but he has missed 20 games in three years and may be done forever if his shoulder doesn't heal. Steve Fuller is old. Mike Tomczak isn't ready. Flutie is a question, not an answer.
•Running back. Walter Payton is still great, but he is 32, and suddenly mortal. He had just 38 yards on 14 carries in the game, and his fumble in the third quarter when the Bears were going for the go-ahead TD, his sixth fumble in his last seven games, seemed to cut the hearts from his brethren.
•Ditka. He is both the cause of and cure for much turmoil on the Bears. He talks hard and loose about his team, kicking butts, making decisions and taking the blame when necessary, but he also scuffs the shells of those less hard-boiled than he. The Fridge tasted Ditka's wrath this season, as did Richard Dent, McMahon, Tomczak, Gary Fencik and others, some for knee-jerk, impetuous reasons. As for the "new personality" Ditka told reporters he had developed for this season, the coach now jokes, "There are only two: Jekyll and Hyde. There is no third personality."
•The NFC Central Division. The group is awful. The Bears (14-2 for the regular season) played half their games against this gaggle, winning seven of eight. Tampa Bay, Green Bay and Detroit had 11 wins among them. In their last 11 games the Bears played only two teams that finished the season with winning records, Minnesota and the Rams. Both beat Chicago. You can't whip good teams unless you're used to whipping them. Maybe the Bears never were that good this year.
•McMahon. He stood on the sideline during the Skins game, shades on, baseball cap perched atop his punky head, neck and damaged right arm draped in animal carcasses, looking like a modern-day trapper who had been mauled by a big cat. McMahon is the best Bears quarterback since Sid Luckman, but, with Ditka, he has been the cause of most of the off-field commotion. He sneers at all authority, second-guesses all management decisions. He is at once the Bears' savior and nemesis.
McMahon is what James Dean would be if he played football today. Indeed, McMahon may well be the perfect symbol not only for Chicago's riotous, rebellious success last year but for this year's sudden gut-wrenching failure. He's talented, outspoken, aloof, fragile, immature and modern.
Let's hear now from the Refrigerator and Payton, on their rap tune Together, recently released:
Is the way we think.
United is the answer.
The missing link.
And that's the truth.