I was thinking about going back and breaking down the NFC Championship Game to see what wisdom is left to be gleamed from that disaster, but I have neither the heart nor enough beverages to look back at that one. So file this one under "wishful thinking" instead. Imagine this: the Packers come into Soldier Field after winning the last game between these greatest of rivals in a dramatic fashion. The Bears, with question marks all over their offense, were looking for redemption, and the Bears' strong-armed quarterback was still a work in progress. However, solid defense and amazing special teams were keeping the Bears in playoff contention. The stakes for this game? Only one team can emerge from the game with their playoff hopes still alive. If this sounds familiar, it should: those were the stakes on December 7th, 1980. A week after the Bears made a miraculous comeback against the Lions on Thanksgiving, the Bart Starr-coached Packers came into town having not allowed an offensive touchdown to the Bears in three games. The last matchup was a 12-6 overtime win for the Pack, a game they pulled off when their kicker scooped up a blocked field goal attempt and ran it in for a touchdown. But, with the Bears' momentum picking up faster than a Dave Williams kick return, Neill Anderson and Buddy Ryan's team was ready to do battle against Packers Lynn Dickey, James Lofton, and Eddie Lee Ivory. Follow me below the fold for all the juicy details of the biggest blowout win for either team in the series between these franchises.
The fans at Soldier Field and at home had every reason to think this one was going to be a defensive grind: the last game between these ground-and-pound teams was a low-scoring affair, and heavy rains made the Soldier Field astroturf look more like a slip-and-slide. Expectations came true in the first quarter, as the Bears were able to produce good yards on the first drive - including a neat 15-yard play-action third down pass from Vince Evans to Dave Williams - but stalled on the edge of Packers territory and punted it away. Lynn Dickey faired just as poorly on his opening drive, producing good yards with Gerry Ellis and Eddie Lee Ivory on the ground until a easy third and one became a disaster third and six after a delay of game penalty and a great tackle in the backfield by a lesser-known #54, Tom Hicks. The teams traded punts back and forth again, but with time winding down in the first quarter, the Bears were finally going to draw some blood.
The drive started barely past the twenty, but with Walter Payton lining up in the backfield, field position can change quickly. The Bears moved up the field with solid runs by Payton and #2 back Roland Harper, and with a first down on their own 45 and everyone thinking run, it was time for play action. Evans wound up and threw a 51 yard bullet to a streaking Ricky Watts to put the Bears into the red zone. From the 16, consecutive runs by Payton, Harper, and Evans moved the ball down to the five. Delay of game, however, moved the ball back to the ten. From here, with the Packers still thinking run, Evans threw over the top to TE Robin Earl, who came mere inches short of the goal line. With second and goal from inside the one, everyone knew what was next: Walter Payton made his trademark leap over the pile to put the first points of the day on the board, giving the Bears a 7-0 lead at the start of the second quarter.
When it rains, it pours, and as the rain came down harder and harder, the Bears kept getting points. The Packers' next drive was stopped literally in its tracks by Allan Page, who laid the wood on a Packers receiver to force three and out. With the ball back on their own 37, Vince Evans started the drive with another big play action pass, this one to James Scott for a 21 yard gain. After Payton picked up another first down on the ground, the Packers came up with what should have been a drive killer: a nine yard sack on first down that moved the Bears back to their 42 and left them with second and 19. But it was James Scott again on third down, reeling in an easy 36 yard bomb after his cover man slipped on the slick astroturf. Now back in a first and goal and the Packers not knowing what to expect, Evans made the easy call. He pitched to Payton to move the ball from the 7 to the 3, and LG Noah Jackson made a huge block on second down to give Walter a walk-in touchdown on the next play. 14-0 Bears.
The offense was rolling, but it was time for special teams to get in on the action. After Dan Hampton was able to force another Packers punt after a 6 play, 11 yard drive, the Packers punting unit came in. The snap, however, came in way over the head of the kicker, bouncing and rolling its way to the 1 yard line. While the Packers punter was sliding around the field trying to get on top of the ball, Eric Decker of the Bears made a slide for the ball and grabbed it on the ground as he glided into the end zone. The refs, however, correctly noted that the Bears could not advance the ball after recovering, so while Decker was denied the six points that were his due, Noah Jackson set another huge block, this time for Roland Harper. Another walk-in Bears touchdown, putting the margin at 21. The Packers would get their first and only points of the day on their next drive, with Lynn Dickey finding James Lofton in tight double coverage to make the score 21-7. But their quick drive left the Bears with 2:17 left on the clock.
Evans seemed content to run off the time and hit the locker room ahead by 14, but after converting one first down with two strong Payton runs and a sneak to get the extra inch, it was time to take some chances. The Packers knew Evans was going to pass and blanketed his receivers in coverage, setting him up to face third and ten. With the ball still on the Bears 36, the Packers thought they could stop the drive with a well-timed sack. Evans, however, was able to see the blitz in time and hit slot reciever Brian Baschangel to move the abll all the way to the Packers 28. After a quick swing pass to Payton and another completion to Baschnagel to move the ball down to the four, it was looking like the Bears would keeping nailing the Packers coffin shut. Vince Evans found a wide open Baschnagel one more time to put six more on the board, and after the extra point, the Bears were now standing at 28-7 with :24 left in the half. Otis Wilson made a nice special teams tackle to force the Packers to set up at their own 25, but Lynn Dickey would get his chance. He found Gerry Ellis on the screen to move the ball down to their 45, and a bad pass interference call moved the ball into field goal position at the Bears 29. The last-second kick, however, was blocked by the Bears, keeping the Packers from closing the margin.
The Bears were rolling, and despite the now heavy rain, the stands were rocking as the second half began. And the fans got exactly what they wanted on the first Bears drive of the half: strong running from Walter Payton, with 24 yards on this drive alone (and 130 on the day), and some amazing passing from Vince Evans, who fooled the entire Packers defense on first and goal from the nine by finding Robin Earl in the end zone to put yet another touchdown on the board. To their credit, the Pack were able to block the extra point, but the score still read 34-7 with 25 minutes left to play. Dickey was able to mount a bit of a drive on his next possession, but with nothing going the Pack's way so far, things were bound to go wrong yet again. Right after a huge run by Ellis to move the ball to the edge of the red zone, Gary Fencik came in with a nice pick to ice Green Bay for good and add some icing to the Bears cake.
As if the game wasn't already out of hand, Vince Evans still had some points to put on the board. After Walter Payton lulled the Packers into thinking the Bears were content to run out the clock, Evans found Ricky Watts one more time, this time hitting him with a 53-yarder in stride for yet another touchdown to make it 41-7 in favor of the home team. The Bears stuck the Packers deep on the next kickoff, and after a three-and-out, the Bears were set up to score again on the Green Bay 40. Now it was time to run out the clock, but Walter Payton was an expert at getting what he wanted, namely, touchdowns. After an 18 yard scamper set the Bears up in the red zone, he took a run off-tackle left, made a few of his trademark strides past Packers defenders, and found himself in the end zone once again on the 14 yard beauty. The margin moved to 48-7 after that one, and while the defense had been playing well all day, you got the feeling they were feeling left out with all this scoring going on. Thinking discresion was the better part of valor, Starr benched Dickey in favor of backup QB David Whitehurst. Starr might as well have put a giant target on the fresh quarterback with Buddy Ryan calling the defensive shots, and with Allan Page bearing down on him, he threw an easy pick to Len Walterscheid, who ran it back to give the Bears defense as many points as the Packers offense. 54-7. The Bears would go on to score one more time and make the final margin 61-7 (they missed the last extra point), but at this point in the game it started to look like the preseason, with both teams resting their big starters in this blowout.
The most impressive part of this game, at least to me, was that Soldier Field was still full to the brim despite the downpour.. Say what you will about the Bears continuing to run it up after the game was completely out of reach, but you cannot fault the Bears faithful who stayed for the whole sixty minutes. Then again, if I was at the game, they would have to forcibly remove me at the end of the game - I would still be demanding more Packers carnage after a win like that! Let's hope what we see this weekend is more like that fateful December day and less like the January one that is still fresh in our mind. As always, thanks for reading, and see you back here next week.