1985 Bears Coverage: Inspired Bears pay back 49ers

SHARE 1985 Bears Coverage: Inspired Bears pay back 49ers
SHARE 1985 Bears Coverage: Inspired Bears pay back 49ers

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.

Inspired Bears pay back 49ers

Kevin Lamb

Originally published Oct. 14, 1985

SAN FRANCISCO – The Bears pulled the wings off the San Francisco 49ers yesterday. They reduced the defending Super Bowl champions to a fly in the hands of a bully.

They toyed with them. When they grew tired of teasing them with a deceptively close lead, they stomped on their last hopes with both of Walter Payton’s feet.

“They beat us handily,” 49er coach Bill Walsh said after the Bears’ 26-10 victory.

After deciding the issue, they flicked away the 49ers’ empty shells by letting 314-pound defensive tackle William Perry run the last two plays. Watching Perry run, the Bears on the sideline smiled the gleaming arcs of men who had just learned the meaning of life.

“We remembered to pack an offense this time,” tackle Jimbo Covert said.

They had forgotten it in the NFC championship game last season, when the 49ers beat them 23-0. “Everybody said, `When you come back, bring an offense,’” coach Mike Ditka said. “We brought an offense.”

They brought the entire ensemble.

Their passing game gave them a 16-0 lead in the first 16 minutes. They passed for 115 yards in the first quarter. Kevin Butler kept the scoreboard rolling with three of his four field goals.

Their defense held off the 49ers when the score was 16-10 for the entire third quarter. It had seven sacks, the most ever against quarterback Joe Montana, and allowed 183 yards, less than half the Niners’ average of 390. It didn’t give up an offensive touchdown.

Their running game put the game away. On a 13-play drive that took 7:33 in the fourth quarter, Payton gained 52 of the Bears’ 66 yards on nine of their 12 carries.

He carried two defenders the last three yards on his 17-yard touchdown around left end, which made the score 26-10 with 3:41 to play. He finished with 132 yards on 24 carries, both season highs.

“We challenged them with our offensive and defensive lines,” said Ditka, who gave game balls to both units. “That’s as good as we can play. We beat the best today.”

More likely, the Bears replaced the best. They have a 6-0 record and have thrashed each of the other defending NFC division champions. They lead their own division by three games.

They settled any doubt they’re the team to beat in the NFC.

“It’s only for a week,” Ditka said. “We’ve got another big game against Green Bay next week.”

But it was more than “just another game,” as Ditka also called it. The Bears had been stinging from the championship- game loss for nine months. “We undid a wrong,” Ditka said.

“When they beat us last year,” Payton said, “they didn’t show much courtesy or dignity. They said negative things about our offense. We thought about that all during the pre-season.”

Something to prove

The memory brought lumps to the defensive players’ throats, too. Coordinator Buddy Ryan has a ritual of running the players through wind sprints the day after defeats. But they didn’t practice after the championship game, so the sprints were the first thing they did when they reported to training camp.

“We had something to prove,” safety Dave Duerson said. But the offense had the most to prove.

“I made up my mind I was not going to come out and play it the way I did last time,” Ditka said. “We were going to establish something, make them fear something.

“I told the players, we’re not going to go run-run-run-and-punt again. We went out and challenged them.”

The Bears led 7-0 after 2 1/2 minutes. Jim McMahon passed for 24 and 34 yards to set up Payton’s three-yard scoring run.

“We caught them off balance,” center Jay Hilgenberg said. “We didn’t play cautious at all, and I think we had them guessing a lot.”

They did it without wide receiver Dennis McKinnon and tight end Emery Moorehead, injured starters who were replaced by Ken Margerum and Tim Wrightman. “To know we’ve got 45 guys who can do the job just gives you a confident feeling,” Duerson said.

Fast start

Wrightman caught two passes for 50 yards on the first two drives. The 49ers were playing zone defenses, and as Ditka said, “Tim finds the holes.”

The Bears scored the first four times they had the ball. The defense set up the last two drives. Wilber Marshall punched the ball from tight end Russ Francis’ hands and Dan Hampton smothered it, then Otis Wilson stole the ball from Wendell Tyler.

“I’m disappointed we didn’t score more points,” Ditka said, recalling the drives that ended in field goals from 34, 38 and 27 yards. “But you’re going to falter against any good defense. At least we knew Kevin would give us three points.”

To keep things interesting, McMahon threw an interception the fifth time the Bears had the ball. Ditka blamed himself for getting cute on third-and-one. McMahon looked bad on the play, too, hurrying a sidearm throw right to safety Carlton Williamson.

Defense’s turn

When Williamson returned it 43 yards for a touchdown, the game the Bears were commanding was suddenly 16-7. It was the defense’s turn in center stage.

The Bear defense shut down San Francisco’s offense as though it were a restaurant that served bad stew.

The first time the 49ers crossed midfield, they wound up with fourth-and-28 from their own 45. When the 49ers drove to the Bear 17 late in the first half, a sack and a false-start penalty made them settle for a field goal.

“When you get a lead, you get a pass rush,” said defensive tackle Steve McMichael, who led the charge with two sacks and a knockdown. He also was responsible for three of San Francisco’s 13 penalties, panicking guard Randy Cross into two false starts and a holding call.

“Anytime you do that to a guy who’s been in three Pro Bowls, you’ve had a pretty good day at the office,” said Dan Hampton, the defensive tackle who drew double blockers. “When you try to take away one part of our defense, the other guys are going to get you.”

Ryan set up the Bears’ defense to make Montana take more than his usual two seconds to throw. Cornerbacks Mike Richardson and Leslie Frazier played on the line to bump the 49er wide receivers, whose 78 yards were 50 less than their average. Their longest gain was 17.

“Our corners were great,” Ditka said.

“That threw their timing off,” Duerson said. “It kept Montana from throwing as soon as he dropped back three or five steps.” Which gave the pass rushers time to play tug-of-war with Montana’s legs.

49ers frustrated

“We got to him early and they were frustrated,” McMichael said. “When you think you have to do something special to make a play, that’s when you’re going to make mistakes and penalties.”

In the second half, the 49ers gained only 45 yards. They made three first downs – two of them on their first drive, which ended at fourth-and-23 after Wilson’s sack and two penalties.

After the Bears drove for Butler’s fourth field goal with 13:09 to play, the defense backed up the 49ers to fourth-and-27. The Bears took possession with 11:14 remaining on their own 34.

Now it was time for the running game’s act.

“The thing that was encouraging was, we needed to move the ball and we moved it,” Ditka said. Payton carried the ball six straight plays.

“Walter had fire in his eyes,” Margerum said.

“That was great, to watch that clock just keep ticking,” Duerson said.

“We tried to do something a little bit different,” Payton said, smiling. Imagine that. Giving the ball to Payton play after play was something different.

“I don’t care how well McMahon plays,” Hampton said. “Payton’s still the heart and soul of that offense. He showed it today.”

“I could have run on anybody the way our line was blocking,” Payton said. “A team of All-Pros from around the league couldn’t have stopped us.”

It was only the second time this year the Bears came from ahead to win. In their continuing search for new ways to win games, they haven’t forgotten the old standby.

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