1985 Bears Coverage: It’s time to sign Bell, Harris

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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.

It’s time to sign Bell, Harris

Kevin Lamb

Originally published Nov. 13, 1985

QUESTION: Shouldn’t the Bears quit fooling around and sign Todd Bell and Al Harris?

ANSWER: If they don’t make a serious attempt, they’re leaving a big stone unturned in their drive to the Super Bowl. Waiting for the phone to ring is not a serious attempt. They have 11 days to dial.

The Bears have proved their points – that no player is bigger than the team and that salaries must be kept under control. Making the holdouts either crawl back or stay out serves no useful purpose. They drew a hard line on money. They don’t have to take the players’ pride, too.

It’s hard to weep uncontrollably for the players. This looks like a Bear team worth crawling back to. But they played out their options expecting to make up for last year’s relatively low salaries with a signing bonus, which the Bears ashcanned for veterans. They feel misled.

The Bears are taking a calculated risk. If they do anything less than win the Super Bowl, they’ll always wonder if Bell and Harris could have made a difference.

Q: How can the Bears qualify for the home-field advantage in the playoffs?

A: By having the best record in the NFC. The three division winners are seeded according to their regular-season records, using tiebreaker rules where necessary. The top seed for any game plays at home.

Q: What’s the weather likely to be for a playoff game in Chicago?

A: Not as bad as you might expect. The Bears would play at home Jan. 4 or 5, and if they win then, Jan. 12. The normal high temperatures for those days are 29-30, the lows 13-15.

In the last 10 years, it has snowed three times on each of the first two dates, never more than half an inch. Jan. 12 has had snow six of the last 10 years – as much as 1.9 and 2.3 inches.

But normals won’t matter if the day breaks with a minus-59 wind chill, as it did for the AFC championship game in Cincinnati Jan. 10, 1981. It was worse in Chicago that day.

Q: What’s the Bears’ record with Ditka wearing a tie?

A: He put it on for the first Philadelphia game in 1983, the week after he had Dave Duerson flatten Lion kicker Eddie Murray. Since then, the Bears have gone 26-9.

Q: Did the Bears intentionally rough the punter at the end of the first quarter Sunday so the Lions would have to punt into the wind?

A: No, but Lion coach Darryl Rogers wanted to decline the penalty. Against the wind in the

second quarter, he preferred the punt to the Bears’ 8-yard line over the first down. But referee Tom Dooley didn’t give him the chance to decline.

It was another example of apparent carelessness that is alarmingly normal in NFL officiating. Just watch how often the ball’s placement changes with respect to the hash mark after incomplete passes or penalties. Football is the hardest game to officiate, but the league only fosters arrogance and negligence by shielding officials from media scrutiny.

Q: Why didn’t the Bears activate Brian Baschnagel instead of Keith Ortego?

A: “Don’t make a big deal out of it. You’d be wrong,” Ditka said. Apparently, he was cautioning against the conclusion that the move signaled an end to Baschnagel’s career.

As it was explained to Baschnagel, the Bears didn’t want to use one of their free moves from injured reserve to the roster. The alternative was putting a player through waivers, and they were afraid someone else would have claimed Baschnagel.

Using a move on Baschnagel would have left them with three free moves, but they would not have had a free move for a player who went on IR before the final cutdown. They could be saving that move for safety Jeff Fisher, whose position is less deep without Bell.

“It was disappointing, and I didn’t like it, but it was a tactical move,” Baschnagel said.

Q: Why didn’t William Perry play more Sunday on goal-line downs?

A: Someone had to shuttle plays to the huddle, and Ditka said he doesn’t want to completely eliminate fullbacks Matt Suhey and Calvin Thomas from the goal-line offense.

Perry was in for three of seven goal-line plays. Ditka said he blocked the wrong man once, “but he blocked two guys on the play. If the tight end would have blocked his guy, we would have scored.”

Q: Why were the Bears allowed to receive the kickoff at the start of both halves?

A: The winner of the pre-game coin flip chooses either to receive the opening kick or to have the wind at its back. The Lions chose the wind. The coin-flip loser has the choice for the second half. The Bears chose the ball.

Q: Was Steve Fuller’s errant pitch to Willie Gault a planned play?

A: No. That’s not a bad idea, scrambling from the pocket and pitching back to Gault. But it’s a bad idea on a windy day after Fuller passed the first-down stick. Both he and Ditka called it “stupid.”

Q: Would the Bears really get rid of the Honey Bears?

A: Never underestimate the extent to which a corporation can misjudge public opinion. The Honey Bears may have been saved by the outcry of fan support, which the Bears apparently didn’t expect when they planned to eliminate cheerleaders. The Bears brass does care what people think of them, even if it doesn’t always look that way.

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