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1985 Bears Coverage: Gault's speed filled a need

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.

Gault’s speed filled a need

Kevin Lamb, Joel Bierig

Originally published Sept. 30, 1985

If Willie Gault had been a split second slower, he said he might not have made the play that turned around the Bears’ 45-10 victory over Washington yesterday. “I got to the hole right before it closed up,” Gault said of his kickoff return early in the second quarter.

Once he was through the hole, only two Redskins had a chance to stop Gault. They didn’t, and his 99-yard kickoff return – the longest in Soldier Field history, cut Washington’s early lead to 10-7.

“He was a catalyst,” coach Mike Ditka said. “He was a catalyst last week, too when his 75-yard touchdown catch was the play that began the Bears’ comeback victory.

“Maybe it’s the fact that he dropped a couple of balls in the first two games. Maybe I’m learning something, too. I’m learning not to jump all over him.”

It was only Gault’s fifth return this season, but he said he thought he would break one soon after a 39-yard return at Minnesota.

“I saw Dennis Gentry and Shaun Gayle make blocks,” Gault said, “and I saw a bunch of guys on the ground. I knew I had to get to the hole pretty fast.”

In the open field, he relied on a technique he had learned at Tennessee, where he returned five kickoffs for touchdowns. He runs straight at the potential tackler, freezes him, and outruns him toward the sideline.

Gault, running on the right side, beat kicker Jeff Hayes a little past midfield and cornerback Barry Wilburn at the Redskin 29.

Gault, a former world-class sprinter and hurdler, guesses he still could run 100 meters in 10.3 seconds without training. But his kickoff return used up 19 seconds.

“You’ve got to take into consideration I had to move a couple of times and juke a couple of times,” Gault said, laughing. “I guess I’m getting real slow. I’ve got to go back and work out.”

OVERTIME: A week ago Saturday, with the Bears getting a rare weekend off, defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan said, “I spent all day looking for blitzes that would work.”

He was helped by the popularity of the Bears’ “46” defense, the 5-3-3 alignment they used most of the game. Houston had used a version of it against Washington. Studying that film, Ryan decided on blitzes up the middle.

Because the Bears began the game in their “46,” it was the first time in his 11-year career Mike Hartenstine missed a start without being injured. William Perry replaces Hartenstine at right tackle on the five-man line.

MANLEY TALKS: Dexter Manley and the Washington Red skins didn’t “get” Walter Payton and Jim McMahon yesterday.

What they got was a 45-10 loss, forcing Manley to swallow pride, if not words. “What I said was taken out of context,” Manley insisted, despite a Sun-Times tape recording to the contrary. “What I really meant to say was take him out of the game plan.”

Manley filled reporters’ notebooks and recorders after the game.

On Payton: “Walter’s still the best player. The guy got six yards, but he’s still the best.”

On the Redskins’ effort: “There’s no doubt in my mind all 45 guys were coming to play. The effort was there. But then we lost our punter, and all of a sudden everything changed dramatically.”

On the Bears: “Chicago’s a great football team. I said that all along. They played great all the way around and we didn’t make plays.”

On the Bear offense: “It just goes to show you they have weapons all the way around the board with Gault and Henderson or whatever his name is. What’s his name – McKenzie?”

McKinnon. Dennis McKinnon.

KICKING HIMSELF: Red skin punter Hayes’ pulled thigh muscle, which helped set up the Bears’ go-ahead touchdown, was even a good break for former Bear Dave Finzer, who was released in camp. He’s being strongly considered to replace Hayes.

The Bears came out of the game with no serious injuries, and should have at least one of their missing regulars for next week’s game at Tampa Bay. Tackle Jimbo Covert couldn’t play merely because he had lost too much strength keeping his back immobile all week. The prognosis for guard Kurt Becker and safety Dave Duerson is less certain.

McMahon escaped danger, although he threw a block and made a head-first slide.

FEARSOME: Redskin quarterback Joe Theismann said the Bears have “the best front four in football. Those four guys, plus the blitzing linebackers, are a scheme that presents tremendous problems. Take absolutely nothing away from the Chicago Bears. They’re a great football team.”

“Somehow, some way, something’s going to turn around and make this thing right,” said Theismann. “We’ve been very fortunate in the years I’ve been here. In games, as in life, I think it’s cyclical. What goes around comes a round. I’m hoping it will get around to where it belongs in a hurry.

“No guys are quitting or throwing in the towel. That’s not the case. We’re fightin’ and fightin’ and fightin’, and right now we just can’t catch a break. And today we ran into one tough, hot football team.”

KUDOS: In praising the Bear defense, Theismann didn’t bury the Redskin running game, which netted 192 yards. “We probably ran for more yards on ’em than anybody will all year,” Theismann said. “And believe me, it wasn’t because they were dropping back into zone coverage. I give credit to our guys up front and some great individual running efforts.”