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Superb Bears in Super Bowl
The Bears are in the Super Bowl.
Cut it out and paste it up. Roll it around your tongue. Say it once, twice, as many times as it takes to wrap it around your mind.
The Bears wrapped Eric Dickerson and the Los Angeles Rams around their big fingers Sunday in a smashing 24-0 victory for the National Football Conference championship.
They left determined and favored to wrap a Super Bowl ring around their fingers when they play the New England Patriots, the American Football Conference champions, Jan. 26 in New Orleans.
In a season full of one-upsmanship, the shutout was one point better than the San Francisco 49ers' 23-0 victory over the Bears for the NFC title a year ago. The Bears, who beat the New York Giants 21-0 last week, will enter Super Bowl XX as the only team ever to record two straight playoff shutouts.
They wanted the Miami Dolphins again to erase the only blemish on their record. But the Patriots will serve the purpose for which the Bears seem destined.
In another subdued locker room where a few cigars were the only signs of a victory celebration, Ditka turned to Robert Frost for explanation and further inspiration.
"There's a poem, something about we've come many miles but still have miles to go," said Ditka. "I don't want to sound like I'm not happy about what happened today, but we're on a mission and it won't be finished until we're finished in New Orleans."
The snow that started to swirl around Soldier Field late in the game was only confetti sprinkled by George Halas.
"He sent the sunshine, the snow, the touchdowns, everything," said Ditka.
A gusty 25-mile-an-hour wind blew only in the faces of the Rams and always at the backs of the Bears. It had to be a Windy City wind the way Bears' quarterback Jim McMahon threw only strikes and Rams' quarterback Dieter Brock threw only balls.
McMahon ran for one touchdown when he was supposed to pass and passed for another touchdown to Willie Gault when the Bears were supposed to run.
He threw against the wind and with the wind and through the wind in a performance marked by utter defiance from the time he substituted a headband that said ROZELLE for his outlawed "adidas" headband.
"You don't understand how well our quarterback threw the football," said Ditka of McMahon, who completed 16 of 25 passes for 164 yards.
McMahon's primary target was Walter Payton, who gained only 32 yards rushing but added 48 yards on 7 receptions. He also wore a ROZELLE headband instead of his ROOS headband that National Football League commissioner Pete Rozelle doesn't like to see.
"Eleven years of climbing mountains and all the sweat finally paid off," said Payton. "I wish this was the Super Bowl."
The routinely awesome defense stuffed Dickerson from the first play, when free safety Gary Fencik moved to the line of scrimmage in another one of coordinator Buddy Ryan's unpredictable schemes.
Dickerson fumbled twice and the Bears recovered the second to set up the 22-yard touchdown pass to Gault that made it 17-0 in the third quarter.
McMahon called the play and executed it perfectly, rolling to his left and hitting the streaking Gault in the back corner of the end zone.
"The coach sent in a draw play I didn't agree with, so I called my own," said McMahon.
Ryan had predicted at least three fumbles by Dickerson.
"Only had two. If they would have run him more, he would have had three," said Ryan.
"Two out of three ain't bad," said William "the Refrigerator" Perry, who waved two fingers that looked suspiciously like a victory sign in Dickerson's face.
Dickerson carried only 17 times for 46 yards as the Rams were forced to let Brock play catch-up after the first 10 minutes, when the Bears took a 10-0 lead.
Brock looked like a man caught in a house of moving mirrors. The defense chased him until he finally coughed up the ball on a sack by Richard Dent and watched linebacker Wilber Marshall run 52 yards for the final touchdown.
It was a fitting punctuation for a defense that simply refuses to show mercy. Dan Hampton sat in the middle of the field and raised both arms over his head to hail the end of decades of frustration for a city and a franchise. The celebration had started midway through the fourth quarter, with uncharacteristic hugs and smiles on the sideline and in the huddle. The crowd of 63,522 chanted "Super Bowl" and Ditka congratulated players one by one.
By the time it was over, the Bears were starting to get serious about their next stop, but not before Ditka told them he had never seen a defense dominate so totally.
"It was the first time we had seen glassy eyes," said safety Dave Duerson. "The Iron Guy softened up."
Nobody else did.
Defensive tackle Steve McMichael, still seething at Ryan for yanking him early in the fourth quarter to rest his ailing knees, snapped: "We've got to work our butts off for two weeks. Then it will be time to party for six months."
"I don't think we're ready for the season to end," said Hampton. "We still have a lot to prove and that will be proven two weeks from today. You don't see a lot of screaming and hollering and going crazy."
For Fencik, it was "a satisfying feeling. But this year we expected to win. It is different from previous years, when we were just here. Every week has reinforced our confidence. It's a matter of if we're playing the way we're capable of playing, we can beat anyone."
The fans might have been skeptical, but most of the Bears have never played on a losing team.
The Bears beat the Patriots 20-7 in the second game of the season in what the Bears consistently described as their absolute best defensive performance in a season in which they have held 13 of 18 opponents to 10 points or less.
The Patriots were in Bears' territory for a total of 21 seconds, including the 90-yard touchdown pass to Craig James that ruined the shutout late in the game.
Against the Rams, the Bears didn't leave much room for improvement.
Hampton was asked when the Bears gained control of the line of scrimmage. "Kickoff," he said.
By midway through the first quarter, Hampton could see defeat in the Rams' faces.
"I can tell by looking in their eyes whether they want to play or not. I knew they weren't really sure they wanted to be in Chicago playing us. It's not their fault," said Hampton.
It wasn't their fault that the Bears' special teams more than held their own against the best special teams in the league.
Fencik clapped when the Rams won the toss and elected to receive, a decision Rams' coach John Robinson said he regretted.
"I felt so confident our defense could put them in the hole," said Fencik.
When Kevin Butler kicked deep, high and away from Ron Brown and Bears' linebacker Cliff Thrift nailed Barry Redden at the 18, the Bears soon turned the field position into the 10-0 cushion.
On first down, Fencik nailed Dickerson for no gain in the hole and the tone was set.
Ryan had Fencik moving up from his deep weak safety spot and Duerson moving back at strong safety to confuse the Rams and keep them from running effectively to the weak side. Fencik ended up with seven solo tackles to tie middle linebacker Mike Singletary for the team lead.
"That's the way we had it set up to stop the run," said Ryan. "Why do you think Fencik led the team in tackles all year?"
The defense also used their regular "46" defense and a nickel and short-yardage alignment with tall Tyrone Keys substituting for Perry or Duerson. Keys batted down one of three passes the Bears tipped to keep Brock's 10-for-31 day miserable.
Ryan also threw in a "Jet" defense with linebackers Marshall, Singletary and Otis Wilson bunched in the middle.
"We beat New England about four or five years ago with that and used it a little bit against Detroit this year," said Ryan. "TCU used it to beat Oklahoma when I was coaching high school in Texas."
Fencik said Ryan used a lot of zones to protect deep when Fencik was at the line of scrimmage.
"We weren't being careless," said Fencik. "We presented a lot of different fronts. When they think they have the hang of one, we're in another. "I knew if I had a good game, I'd be sore."
McMahon got the ball for the first time at his 44. A 20-yard pass to Emery Moorehead and a 19-yard pass to Gault got the Bears going. On third and 9, McMahon dropped back against six defensive backs and ran 16 yards for the touchdown behind a block by Dennis Gentry.
Two bad passes by Brock and another stuff of Dickerson gave the Bears the ball at the Rams' 49.
McMahon hit Payton for 19 yards and Tim Wrightman and Gault for 13 more to get Butler in range for a 34-yard field goal.
There was still 4:26 left in the first quarter when the scoreboard flashed: "The Bears would like to thank all our fans for their support in the 1985 season."
The only thing missing was "Drive carefully."
The Rams' longest drive of the day was 27 yards on their final possession. On half of their 16 possessions, it was three downs and out. They averaged 2.2 yards a play.
The Bears stopped Dickerson by standing up his blockers and waiting for Dickerson to commit. Then they hit him before he could hit a gap.
"You can draw up all the X's and O's you want, but you've got to hit people. Get off the block and make tackles. It's simple," said Hampton.
The Rams completed one bomb, to wide receiver Michael Young, only to have it nullified because Young was forced out of bounds on the pattern by cornerback Mike Richardson.
Fencik was surprised the Rams rarely used three wide receivers in their offense. He suspected they feared the pass rush.
"We were happy because we could double their receivers then," said Fencik.
The Rams got a break with a minute and a half left in the half when a punt took a freakish bounce off a prone Reggie Phillips for a fumble. But with time running down, Brock passed to Dickerson for a first down at the 5-yard line, where Fencik made the tackle, and the Rams were unable to get an official to call time out before the clock struck zero.
Dickerson's fumble, which was caused by Wilson and recovered by Richardson early in the third quarter, set up McMahon at his 48. Again he took advantage of the field position. He threw a perfect pass to Gault on one third down, and when Ditka decided to go for it on fourth and 6 from the 35, McMahon rolled out and fired a 13-yard strike to Payton.
"They were putting good pressure in the pocket, so we went with the sprintout," said McMahon.
It put the ball on the 22. On second down, McMahon nixed Ditka's call for a draw and found Gault ahead of cornerback LeRoy Irvin. Gault had run a corner route after faking inside.
"He thought I was going to cut across the field, but I didn't," said Gault.
"Biggest play of the game," said McMahon. "They don't always work when I call them, but Mike congratulated me on a good call."
"The way we were playing defense, it didn't matter what we scored," said Ditka.
"I'm so happy for the fans who sat out on a lot of cold days when we weren't so fun to watch," said Singletary.
"We don't mean to cause no trouble. We're just doing the 'Super Bowl Shuffle,' " said Fencik.
The heck they don't cause trouble. How is a Dixieland band going to play the 'Super Bowl Shuffle'?