Wednesday, January 5, 2011

1985 Bears Flashback: Grabowskis

Twenty-five years ago today, the Bears began the postseason run that would culminate with them hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy as Super Bowl champions. In the first playoff game, the Bears hosted the New York Giants at Soldier Field. That game is described below in an excerpt from the recent book Heydays: Great Stories in Chicago Sports.

     Bears head coack Mike Ditka always emphasized the contrast between his team and the defending world-champion San Francisco 49ers. He described the 49ers as a “finesse” team, which was not intended as a compliment. He was equally eager to distinguish his own style from that of San Francisco’s “cerebral” coach Bill Walsh. “There are teams that are fair-haired and there are teams that aren’t,” Ditka said. “There are teams named Smith and teams named Grabowski. We’re Grabowskis.”
     By going 15-1 in the 1985 regular season, the Bears equaled the 49ers’ feat of the year before and ensured that if there were an NFC championship rematch between the two clubs, it would be at Soldier Field. They also earned a week off while other playoff qualifiers fought it out in wild-card games.
     While the Bears were home relaxing, the New York Giants whipped San Francisco—so the Niners wouldn’t be coming to Chicago after all. The Giants appeared at Soldier Field on January 5, 1986.
     On this clear, cold, and blustery day, the wind off Lake Michigan became a 12th player for the Bears when New York’s Sean Landeta went back to punt from his own goal line in the first quarter. A gust blew the ball away from Landeta at the instant his foot was coming through. The ball glanced off the side of his foot and wobbled to the five-yard line, where safety Shaun Gayle scooped it up and sauntered into the end zone. Landeta was credited with a punt of minus seven yards, and Gayle’s touchdown made him the 22nd different Bear to score for the year (the ninth on defense).
     The Giants were not in the game after Landeta’s miscue. They went three-and-out on nine of their first 11 possessions. Pro Bowl running back Joe Morris rushed for 14 yards on his first carry but managed only 18 yards on 11 attempts thereafter. Quarterback Phil Simms was sacked six times. Bears defensive end Richard Dent was all over the field, recording three and a half sacks and corralling Morris from behind several times. “The Giants came into the game with the No. 2 defense in the NFL,” Don Pierson wrote in the Tribune, “and left knowing that Avis is a lot closer to Hertz than the Giants are to the Bears.”
     Quarterback Jim McMahon connected with Dennis McKinnon on two touchdown strikes in the third quarter to put the game out of reach. “When the game is on the line and you’ve got to perform,” said fullback Matt Suhey, “[McMahon] is the kind of guy who turns it on. He has the mentality of a running back or an offensive lineman stuck in a quarterback body.”
     The final score was 21-0. Bears defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan had promised a shutout and his players had delivered. “We believe every thought Buddy shares with us,” safety Dave Duerson explained.
     “We beat a good football team,” said Ditka. He could scarcely conceal his glee when he added, “They manhandled the 49ers.”
     The unstoppable Bears were headed to the NFC championship game.

Excerpted from Heydays: Great Stories in Chicago Sports
(c) by Christopher Tabbert.

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