Friday, May 21, 2010

The Fog Bowl


     When Bears defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan resigned after the 1986 Super Bowl to become head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, the uneasy truce that he and Mike Ditka had observed for four years was fractured forever. Since they no longer had to work together, each man was now free to say just what he thought of the other. Both men made full use of the privilege, and their long-simmering enmity bubbled over in a series of recriminations back and forth through the media.
     The feud was good theater, and it sparked interest in the Eagles-Bears playoff game at Soldier Field on the last day of 1988. Unfortunately, the crowd of 65,534 and the national television audience saw only the first half. The second half was rendered all but invisible by fog.
     Neal Anderson’s four-yard touchdown blast put the Bears ahead 14-6 with 6:21 remaining in the second quarter. This took place under sunny skies. But when Kevin Butler added a field goal some four minutes later, the fog was rolling in from Lake Michigan and creeping over the stands. Within minutes, the whole field had been obscured.
     For the rest of the game, the spectators could not see a thing. Nor could the TV cameras capture the action going on behind and within the soupy curtain of fog. “I felt like I was on another planet,” a CBS producer remarked. For the players and officials on the field, visibility was better—but still less than 20 yards. “Have I ever played in anything like that before?” said Butler. “I haven’t even driven in anything like that before.”
     Philadelphia’s Luis Zendejas kicked two field goals (his third and fourth of the game) through the mist in the second half, and Butler booted another to make the final score Bears 20, Eagles 12. The game was quite unremarkable but for the fog. Quarterbacks Mike Tomczak of the Bears and Randall Cunningham of the Eagles tossed three interceptions apiece. The Eagles outplayed the Bears in most aspects, but they frittered away one opportunity after another—particularly in the first half, when Cunningham had two touchdown passes called back for penalties and another would-be touchdown strike dropped in the end zone.
     Despite 430 total yards and 22 first downs, the Eagles never breached the Bears’ goal line. “Credit the Bear defense,” Ryan said. “Every time we got down there, we didn’t make anything happen. We stopped ourselves. The effort was there, the heart was there, but it just didn’t happen.”
     The Bears were delighted to have gotten away with the victory that few people saw. “One good thing will come out of this,” said center Jay Hilgenberg. “We’ll have a short film session tomorrow. I mean, what are the coaches gonna show us?”
     Bob Verdi had the last word on the game that was known ever after as the Fog Bowl. “Somewhere over there on the lakefront,” he wrote, “there’s a guy who left his seat late in the first half to find a restroom and he’s still out there, trying to find his wife.”

Reprinted from Heydays: Great Stories in Chicago Sports
(c)2009, 2010 by Christopher Tabbert

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