SI Vault
Paul Zimmerman
January 09, 1989
In the mists of Soldier Field the mistake-prone Eagles were beaten by the Bears—as best as anyone could see
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January 09, 1989

The Game Was Lost In The Fog

In the mists of Soldier Field the mistake-prone Eagles were beaten by the Bears—as best as anyone could see

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So, what about the fans who paid money for a game they couldn't see? How about the people who paid a bundle for their skyboxes, or the people watching the pseudogame on TV? When a pass was thrown into the fog, if the guys came out of it still running in the same direction, it was a completion. If they were running the other way, it was an interception. Was any decision considered with the fans in mind?

"That wasn't up to me," Tunney said. "I was merely supplying information."

Now let's be realistic. How do you suspend an NFL game? When would you replay it—the next morning, when the players are sore and aching? "It would have been tough, real tough." said Bears lineman Steve McMichael.

Maybe the NFL could have pushed the game back a week and played it while the AFC was having its title game, and then played the NFC Championship match during the open weekend before the Super Bowl. But that would have given the AFC champion an extra week off going into Super Bowl XXIII and put the NFC representative at what the league likes to call "a competitive disadvantage."

When Joe Browne, the NFL's director of communications, was asked about these considerations, he answered patiently, as one would handle a question like "How does Santa really know if I've been a good boy or a bad boy?"

"What do you think the fans would have preferred?" said Browne. "Do you think they'd have liked sitting there for a couple of hours while we waited for the fog to lift so we could pass down a decision? And if the game was suspended, then they'd have to cancel plans and come back again. And what could we have told them? You couldn't decide right there when the replay date would be. No, I really don't think it would have been fair to them." (Twenty-four hours later, after discussions with commissioner Pete Rozelle, Browne said that if the game had been suspended, it would have been played the next day, Sunday.)

And what was the mood in the stands? "It was party time," said Sally Ranft, a Chicago physical therapist who sat in Section 125, Row 2, of the mezzanine, from where the game was invisible. "We listened to the play-by-play announcements from the field, and when they announced something good, we cheered. We crowded around anybody with a little Watchman TV. It was kind of like being somewhere when all the lights go out."

Some fans started leaving in the third quarter; others made signs, such as WHAT THE FOG IS GOING ON? But the prevailing sense was that these folks would take the Chicago win, even though they hadn't seen half of it. "Oh, definitely," said Janice Nelson, an airline programmer who sat in Section 125. "We're willing to sacrifice for our Bears."

The underlying reason that the game wasn't suspended, of course, was TV. The idea of the network rearranging its programming schedule was just too awful to consider. As it happened, most of the people on the field agreed. Neither coach wanted the game suspended. "The fog didn't beat us, the Bears did," said Philly coach Buddy Ryan. The players didn't want it stopped, either, although Cunningham said his occasional long passes were pure guesswork. "He put 'em up there, and the good Lord took them into the fog," said Chicago quarterback Mike Tomczak, who admitted that his visibility was "no more than 20 yards."

Down 17-9 at the half, Cunningham had to play catch-up against a Chicago defense that played zone in the first half and then shifted to man-to-man, crowding the short receivers and taking its chances with anything deep into the fog. Cunningham did complete one deep fogger, a 65-yarder to tight end Keith Jackson. "Then I looked for him again," said Cunningham, "and he'd completely disappeared."

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