The Chicago Bears had the best defense in pro football in 1963. They did not have much else, but, as things turned out, the best defense brought them the NFL championship. There were a few innovations in that defense—at least in execution—which puzzled the other teams long enough to enable the Bears, with perhaps the most pedestrian offense in championship history, to go all the way.
The 1964 Bear offense will not shake the football world. Billy Wade still directs it with the gambling instinct of your maiden aunt Sophronia at the Wednesday Afternoon Bridge Club. Unless Coach George Halas revamps the plan of attack to include at least the threat of an occasional long pass, the rest of the West will tighten up its pass coverage and cut off the short passes.
The Bears lost one of their few game-breaking threats when Willie Galimore (along with teammate John Farrington) was killed in a tragic automobile accident during the off season. Jon Arnett came from the Rams as a replacement for Galimore, but it is doubtful that Arnett will fill the void.
The Bear defense is unchanged. Doug Atkins, a slumbering giant at defensive end, is still the best in the business. The rest of the Bear defensive line is also formidable. And the Bear linebackers complement this front four perfectly. There is one weakness in the secondary, at corner back, but the two safeties are so quick that they compensate for it.
Mike Ditka (right), the human fireplug who plays tight end for the Bears, is a rarity. He has the speed and the hands to catch passes, plus the sheer strength to bury a linebacker when he has to block. But with an offense geared to the short gain, the good deep receivers—Gary Barnes, Johnny Morris and Rich Kreitling—rarely get an opportunity.
Chicago's big weakness is in running. Rick Casares and Joe Marconi block well, but they are four-step fullbacks who never break loose; Ronnie Bull, at halfback, can get a first down on third and six or seven, but he is no game-breaker.
The Bear defense, more familiar now to the rest of the league, cannot hope to do as well as it did last year. The weak offense is no stronger. Other western teams have improved, and what was good enough for first in 1963 should suffice for fourth in 1964.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
The Green Bay Packers lost two games and the championship to the same club last year—the Chicago Bears. But the Packers played without Paul Hornung in both games and without starting quarterback Bart Starr in one. Both Hornung and Starr are healthy as the season starts; indeed, Hornung looks better than he has ever looked—which is something like saying that the Venus de Milo has sprouted arms.