Every day of the 2015 Chicago Bears season, Chicago Sun-Times Sports will revisit its coverage 30 years ago during the 1985 Bears’ run to a Super Bowl title.
Steve’s feeling fuller
Originally published Nov. 11, 1985
To be honest, that wasn’t a great game Steve Fuller played for the Bears yesterday. His admittedly “stupid play” set up Detroit’s only score. A field goal snap slipped through his fingers. He completed only seven passes and scored one of his two touchdowns without the ball. Mostly, he just handed off to Walter Payton and Matt Suhey.
Still, he got the job done, a 24-3 victory under difficult weather conditions, and made a major contribution not only to his team’s 10-0 record, but to his own peace of mind. The best thing he did was buy a week of healing time for Jim McMahon.
“Coming into this game,” Fuller said, “we were 9-0 and Steve Fuller felt he hadn’t done a whole lot to contribute to that success. Just the chance to be part of this is what makes me happiest.”
The life of a backup quarterback is a mixed bag. He spends most of his weekdays practicing for games he won’t play, most of his Sundays standing and watching. If you count his pay by the hours of playing time, his compensation is lavish. But the job is hard on the mind. He seldom knows when, or whether, he will play. If he
squanders a rare chance by playing badly, there will be an open wound on his psyche that may not heal for weeks, until he can play again and perform competently.
So it was with Fuller. Yesterday’s game against the Lions was his second start this season in relief of Jim McMahon. He had played poorly on national TV at Minnesota in September, and McMahon, though injured, had to come off the bench to spark a come-from-behind triumph. “That game didn’t bother me as much as some of the others,” Steve says. Thrust into other games in relief of McMahon when the Bears were comfortably ahead, he had not been able to move the team. His teammates had seemed to let down when he entered the huddle. They allowed him to be sacked six times.
“The times I’ve played, I haven’t felt the confidence I thought was necessary to be a decent quarterback,” he confessed after yesterday’s victory. The memory of last year, when he performed well in relief of McMahon and led the team to the conference title game, was scant consolation. In football, it is always what you did yesterday that counts. “I don’t think I lost my confidence. It got dented a couple times. This game gave me a chance to contribute, however minor. It will pick my confidence up. Should I be needed down the line, I’ll
play well. . . .”
Head coach Mike Ditka did everything he could to make it easy on his No. 2 quarterback. He gave him a game plan tailored to his talents, rather than McMahon’s, and told him to take it home Friday night and narrow it to the plays he preferred. He circled the plays he liked, and they were the ones Ditka called. Fuller, who was an option quarterback at Clemson University, likes rollout or sprintout passes and bootleg runs. “I do better if I move out of the pocket than if I sit back there and throw it all the time,” he says.
Sunday dawned wet, cold and windy, and the weather made its own changes in the game plan. A 17 m.p.h. wind blowing into his face whenever the team faced north limited the passing game. “You couldn’t throw the ball downfield,” he said. “You had to throw screens and short passes.” Within these limitations, he marshaled the Bears to two touchdowns against the wind, scoring both himself.
His first touchdown may have been a gift. He sneaked over from a yard out on fourth down – without the ball. “A guy grabbed my hand, and the ball went somewhere. I didn’t have the ball in the end zone. Jim Covert left tackle said it was lying beside him. . .It was probably a touchdown. I don’t know if it was or not.”
There was no doubt about his second score, a five-yard bootleg scamper to reach the corner of the end zone, with all the blocking going the other way. But it was his own invention, an instant’s improvisation on a play that was supposed to be a handoff to Payton over the left side of the line, with Suhey making the lead block. Just before the snap, Detroit’s free safety came up over center for a blitz. “I had a moment of indecision,” Steve related. “I needed to audible, but we were down to about four seconds on the 30-second clock. I said: `I’d better just keep it.’ ” He didn’t finalize that decision until he turned toward Payton, then pulled the ball back. “I might have risked a fumble if I’d given it to Walter,” he said. “We didn’t have anybody to block
the free safety.”
If there was one play Fuller wished he could take back, it was his lateral to Willie Gault in the third period. “Stupid,” he called it. He was scrambling, closing in on a first down, when his path was blocked by a Lion. He pitched a bit off target to a startled Gault, who couldn’t corral it. The Lions recovered on the Bear 33 and moved to a field goal. “I guess it was a Clemson flashback,” Steve said. “I had one guy on the corner, and I figured I’d `option’ him.”
He also blamed himself for botching a field goal as holder, allowing a snap to slip through his hands. “I should have caught it,” he said. “I tried to pin it on the ground. It hit the wet turf and scooted. I gotta handle those.”
Most of the afternoon, he was no more than a spectator to the rushing game that produced 107 yards for Payton, 102 for Suhey, he said. “The credit goes to the offensive line. . .Some of the holes were unbelievable.”
The afternoon’s major accomplishment was that the Bears were able to beat a team with a winning record while resting McMahon’s much-bruised body, the sore knees of Dennis McKinnon and Emery Moorehead and the damaged hamstring of Mike Richardson. “That’s going to pay some positive dividends down the road,” Fuller said. This is the first Bear team since the championship team of 1963, and perhaps before that, to have the quality depth to win while resting such quality performers.
Fuller expects to spend next Sunday watching McMahon play in Dallas.
“We’ll have all our artillery,” said McKinnon, who will start against the Cowboys. “It’s a matter of whether we want to kill somebody, and I think we do.”