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1985 Bears Coverage: Fuller finds only reward is frustration

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.

Fuller finds only reward is frustration

Kevin Lamb

Originally published Sept. 25, 1985

For Jim McMahon to become the Prince of Passes in the Bears’ Thursday night fairy tale in Minnesota, Steve Fuller had to turn into a frog.

They both couldn’t play quarterback. Coach Mike Ditka had started Fuller against the Vikings because McMahon hadn’t been healthy enough to practice the day before. Only when the Bears fell behind 17-9 was McMahon healthy enough to play.

“No, it wasn’t a slap in the face,” Fuller said of his removal in the third quarter. “It certainly was not a confidence-builder.

“In my situation here, there’s not a whole lot I can say about it.”

Fuller’s situation is backup quarterback. He understands it.

That doesn’t mean he has to love it. Even when Ditka said Fuller would start at Minnesota, he didn’t appear to be excited. As a backup quarterback, he said, “Situations that enable you to play are not good ones.”

But it’s difficult to imagine a worse situation than being yanked from a game, then standing on the sideline while your successor knocks off touchdown passes like stuffed animals in a carnival booth.

McMahon would throw a touchdown pass. A national television audience would watch the Bears celebrate. Then it would watch the play again.

Tough on Fuller

Then it would peek over to the sideline and see if Fuller had slit his wrists yet.

“I’m sure he felt bad,” Ditka said.

“Not about Jim’s success,” Fuller said. “If I was upset about it at all, it was that any way you looked at it, there appeared to be a lack of confidence in me.”

McMahon’s touchdown passes on his first two plays had nothing to do with that, Fuller said. Even if McMahon wouldn’t have rallied the Bears to their 33-24 victory, Ditka still replaced Fuller with someone he had said was too hurt to play.

Before the game, Ditka had said one reason for starting Fuller was the importance of expressing confidence in him. Now this?

“That’s right. It’s no good,” Ditka said after the game. “It’s hard to do these things. I understand it as much as anybody. I have to understand it.

“Yet I think Steve understands it, and I think he handles it better than a lot of people would.”

Still confident

But what about his teammates? Do they understand? Fuller had to work hard proving himself to the other Bears after McMahon’s injury last season.

“Their confidence in Steve doesn’t go down,” Ditka said. “No way. Not this football team.”

As center Jay Hilgenberg said, McMahon wasn’t the only difference in the second half. “We made some blocking adjustments,” he said, without being asked. “They were good plays, too. I have all the confidence in the world that if Steve had been in there, he would have thrown those touchdown passes.”

Fuller’s only failure was to move the Bears into the end zone. Ditka attributed it to rustiness, which surfaced on third-and-goal plays.

Another problem Fuller had was crowd noise. McMahon solved that somewhat by calling for snaps on quick counts.

“He played pretty darn well,” Ditka said. Fuller completed 13-of-18 passes for 124 yards, with one interception.