After the game, when Ryan headed for the locker room in his typical sprint, Plank was the only man he said anything to. "He told me, 'Come on into the locker room,' " Plank said. "So I did."
Someone asked Plank whom he had been rooting for and he looked a little embarrassed.
"Very mixed feelings," he answered. "You find yourself pulling for individual people more than for anything else."
A few of the Bears who had missed Ryan in the locker room after the game caught up with him at the Eagles' team bus parked outside Soldier Field. Fencik, his arm around Ryan's shoulder, had walked him out of the tunnel. A few days before the game he had tried to put the whole thing in perspective, the hype that surrounded the contest, the crush of out-of-town media that created a playoff atmosphere in early September, the tension-filled practices that Bears coach Mike Ditka conducted.
"I've been laying low all week," Fencik said. "The media buildup has been unbelievable and I don't want to add to it. It's very tough trying to put your feelings into perspective about a game like this." Two years of bitterness between Ditka and Ryan had laid the groundwork, a feud that served as a dark undercurrent to the euphoric days of the Bears' Super Bowl season of 1985. When Ryan got the Eagles' job, the bitterness surfaced, and Ditka spoke openly about his sense of relief that Buddy was gone. Then the feud went into a dormant period. But when the schedule was released, Sept. 14 was circled in red, because now the two coaches could have it out in the only arena that counted.
The problem was that it was more a handicap race than a true test.
The Eagles had been blown out by the Redskins 41-14 in the first week of the season. Their offensive line had been overrun, and if Washington could do that to them, my god, what was going to happen when they faced the Bears?
The fact that Chicago had lost its starting quarterback, Jim McMahon, and was going with Mike Tomczak, a free-agent rookie last season, didn't cut much ice, especially with the oddsmakers. They posted an abnormally high opening spread of 18 points, which was only bet down to 16 by game time. A mere win wouldn't do it, it had to be annihilation.
"I'm looking for that perfect game," Ditka said on Wednesday. "Zero, zero, zero—points, TDs, yardage."
"Especially this week?" someone asked him.