In a little less than three hours on a cloudy, drizzly Chicago Sunday afternoon, the Bears went from a question mark to an exclamation point, from a team that had its fans scratching their heads—how can you lose all those great stars and still survive?—to one that had them bursting with pride and talking Super Bowl. That's what a 34-7 victory will do, especially when it's over the Miami Dolphins, a team Chicago had never beaten.
Going into the game, the best anyone, including Chicago coach Mike Ditka, would say about this puzzling Bears team was that it was interesting. "We're like we were in 1984, the year before we won the Super Bowl—a team trying to find itself," said Ditka. "If we do find ourselves, we could raise hell. If not, then we're just a group of guys going out and playing hard on Sunday."
Jim McMahon was more positive. Two days before he quarterbacked the Bears to their opening-day victory, he said, "In my seven years here this is the best offense I've ever played on."
A put-on, right? Walter Payton is gone. So is Willie Gault, perhaps the fastest wideout in the game. All-Pro left tackle Jimbo Covert is down until at least this Sunday with a bad back; his spot was taken by John Wojciechowski, a strike replacement player from last season. The best? C'mon now.
"It's the deepest and most balanced," McMahon said, "and when Jimbo comes back, the line will be the best because it'll be the most experienced. Walter was great, but the offense was lopsided in those days. Willie Gault? When he was traded to the Raiders, I knew we'd be a better team. He always wanted to go out to the West Coast and be an actor. Well, for five years he was an actor playing a football player. Now he's out there with the real actors. Believe me, our group of receivers is better now."
Depth? Balance? Those are coaches' words. Yes, we all know that those qualities are important, but the Bears used to send chills up your spine because they were wild and erratic. The defense blitzed like mad and attacked from all those crazy formations. Now it's disciplined—another coaches' word.
Dolphin quarterback Dan Marino wasn't sacked on Sunday, and he felt a lot less pressure than he did three years ago when he beat Chicago in a 38-24 shootout that was the Bears' only defeat of the season. But this time he was held to nine completions (of 22 attempts), the fewest in his NFL career, and his lowest yardage (113) as a starter. Chicago didn't blitz. It relied on coverages and the overall scheme, which is very un-Bearlike. Both standout blitzing linebackers are absent. Wilber Marshall went to Washington, and Otis Wilson is out with a knee injury.
Neal Anderson is a nifty runner, but those furious gallops of Payton's are a thing of the past. So is the deep streak pattern to Gault. McMahon completed none of the three long throws he tried against Miami. The only pass plays of real length—35 yards to Dennis McKinnon, 22 to Dennis Gentry—came on a crossing pattern and a dump-off, respectively. In each case the receiver took the ball and then outran the secondary.
How about McMahon himself? For a while he was the ultimate run-and-fling quarterback. Remember that game against the Vikings three years ago? He let it all go: took on those linebackers, banged helmets with his own linemen, stuck it to the league office, his coach, the writers, anybody. Who the hell cared? What added to his mystique was that, given the way he threw his body around, the shadow of doom was always there, the threat of the crippling injury. And he has had his share of injuries—more than his share—involving practically every part of his anatomy.
At 29, McMahon is an older and wiser quarterback. He moves in the pocket to buy time; his rollouts are precise and calculated. With a left shoulder that could go out at any moment, he's not about to challenge any defenders with 50's on their jerseys.