Incredible? Yes. Fantastic? Indeed. Unbelievable? Nope. You'd better believe it by now.
For the sixth time this season, the Chicago Bears yesterday found themselves struggling furiously down to the wire with the outcome very much in doubt.
And, for the fifth time among those six cliffhangers, the Bears somehow saw to it that the balance swung in their favor. They won a 16-15 thriller over George Allen's Washington Redskins, and the story of how they won it will long be retold among Bear fans.
They won it with a 40-yard burst over the middle by Cyril Pinder, who was washed out of Illinois in the slush fund scandal. Straight as a rocket, Pinder streaked through the center of the Redskin defense to a fourth-quarter touchdown, the Bears' longest run from scrimmage this season.
They won it with Bobby Douglass' scrambling pass for the ensuing extra point to, of all people, Dick Butkus after a high snap from center made a conversion kick by Mac Percival out of the question.
And they won it by sneering at the master rifleman, Sonny Jurgensen, who relieved Bill Kilmer at quarterback for the Redskins in a final desperate effort to salvage victory and stood by helplessly as Curt Knight, who had kicked five previous field goals, was wide to the left on a 46-yarder which would have swung it around for Washington.
Butkus, blood streaming from a gash above his left eye, lined up in the backfield along with fellow linebacker Doug Buffone to block for Percival's extra point attempt with the score tied at 15 following Pinder's spectacular caper.
When center Gene Hamlin's snap to Douglass, the holder for Percival, forced Bobby to leap for the ball, Butkus lumbered into the end zone, frantically waving at Douglass.
The Bear quarterback scrambled to his left, carefully evaluated the situation, then heaved the ball over Willie Holman to Butkus, who made an over-the-shoulder catch and fell to the ground.
Still lying on the AstroTurf, Butkus elatedly hurled the pigskin into the air and scrambled to his feet to challenge an official who had dropped a yellow penalty handkerchief.
"I wanted to make damned sure he knew I had reported in," explained Dick, who wears a linebacker number and thus must check in with an official, along with Buffone, whenever he comes into the backfield as a blocker for extra points.
With Butkus hovering over him, the official quickly retrieved his handkerchief and signaled the successful conversion.
Butkus, who had gone to the sideline bleeding after blocking on a punt return two plays before Pinder's touchdown and was worked over furiously by two doctors and a trainer on the sideline, said he "just snucked into the end zone and started waving" when Hamlin's snap went awry.
"It was too late to go back and block for Bobby," said the star linebacker. "I did the only thing possible. I didn't know how deep I was in the end zone. I just turned around and waved, hoping Bobby would see me."
Percival, whose three field goals had kept the Bears in the ball game, said that when he saw Douglass leap for Hamlin's center snap, he turned to the Bear quarterback and yelled, "You're on your own."
More than 11 minutes remained when Butkus cradled Douglass' pass in the end zone, and they were 11 tense moments for the Bears. Washington had the ball for three different series as Jurgensen, making his first appearance of the year, relieved Kilmer.
Sonny got the Redskins to the Chicago 38-yard line with 16 seconds to go after passing 14 yards to Clifton McNeil and 7 yards to Tommy Mason. Then Knight's 46-yard attempt, which appeared perfect when it left his toe, was swept off to the left by the friendly Lake Michigan breeze.
The total of eight field goals tied the National Football League record, and the 11 attempted field goals [Percival missed twice prior to Knight's late failure] also tied a league standard.
The victory, the Bears' sixth in nine outings, moved them into second place in the rough-and-tumble Central Division. They now have won last-minute thrillers from Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Detroit, Dallas and Washington. The only time they have failed to work their late inning magic was against Green Bay last week.
Yesterday's suspenseful triumph, however, could prove costly. End Dick Gordon, the league's leading pass receiver, was sidelined late in the opening quarter with a knee injury when he was tackled after making a one-handed catch of a pass from Douglass.
Gordon suffered a sprained left knee. He was kept overnight at Illinois Masonic Hospital. His availability for next Sunday's game against Detroit will not be known until later in the week.
Douglass' performance was his finest as a pro. The southpaw slinger from Kansas surely must have won over even his severest critic.
Bobby not only completed 15-of-33 passes for 214 yards, but was the leading Bear rusher with 88 yards in 10 carries. And, most important of all, Douglass did not lose his cool against a ripsnorting Redskin defensive line which may be among the best in the business.
"Bobby is a Fran Tarkenton with muscles," said Holman in the aftermath of the Bear victory on a springish 71-degree day in Soldier Field.
Washington's offense, led unspectacularly by Kilmer and hurt by the absence of Larry Brown and the loss of Charley Harraway with a knee bruise after he was tackled by Butkus in the second quarter, was shut out except for Knight's field goals by the aroused Bear defense.
"We proved out the Don Shinnick philosophy today," chortled Buffone. "Shinnick [Bear defensive coach] always says, 'Let the other guys kick field goals all day. As long as you keep them out of your end zone you'll win.' "
The Bears started out as if they were determined to give the game away. The same team which has made a trademark of opportunism and lack of errors in this amazing year did everything wrong in the early stages.
For instance, when Knight missed a 44-yard field goal attempt in the opening quarter, the Redskins were given new life when officials discovered the Bears had 12 men on the field. The penalty set up the first of Knight's five placements, a 30-yarder, four plays later.
Another Chicago error led to another Redskin score minutes later when Ron Smith, declining to signal a fair catch on a Washington punt, fumbled and the ball was recovered by Paul Laaveg on the Bear 39. A 12-yard field goal by Knight followed.
Douglass then took the Bears on a 75-yard drive to a field goal which consumed more than six minutes. Don Shy was switching from fullback to halfback and back to fullback on alternate plays, a system the Bears used all day in order to get Pinder and Jim Grabowski into the lineup in a regular sequence.
On a third down play, Douglass scrambled to his right, reversed to the left and scrambled 15 yards to the Redskin 5 to set up Percival's 15-yard field goal.
But Percival's short kickoff after the field goal gave the Redskins field position and Kilmer, hitting Roy Jefferson for 14 yards, quickly put Knight within range of a successful 37-yard boot.
Washington struck again, with Kilmer hitting the old Packer, Boyd Dowler, on the sideline for 23 yards at the Chicago 34. Eight plays later, after Mason took a pass to the 11 and Harraway jammed to the 3, only to get racked up by Butkus, Knight kicked a 9-yarder.
It was 15-3 four minutes into the third quarter when Kilmer's 9-yard passes to Mason and Jefferson set up Knight's 27-yard field goal. On the first play after Knight's kickoff went out of the end zone, Douglass and Wallace hooked up on the longest play of the day, a 58-yard pass to the Redskin 22 which set up Percival's 42-yard field goal.
The Bears cut the Redskin margin to six points at 15-9 when Douglass scampered 30 yards to set up a 9-yard field goal by Percival with 14:11 remaining in the final period.
The Chicago defense forced a punt and the Bears took over on their 40 when Mike Bragg's kick rolled dead. It took the Bears exactly two plays to put the first and only touchdown of the game up on the scoreboard.
First, Douglass passed to Jim Seymour, who made the catch over the middle for 20 yards at the Washington 40. Then Douglass sent Pinder sprinting over the middle on a play designated in the Bear playbooks as "fly mouse."
Allen, the one-time assistant to George Halas making his first visit to Chicago as coach of the Redskins, was seen to grimace as Pinder crossed the goal line. But that was nothing compared with the look on Allen's face seconds later.
Cooper Rollow was the sports editor for the Chicago Tribune when writing this storyCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times