SI Vault
Edwin Shrake
November 08, 1965
The running of a swift, sensational rookie, Gale Sayers, and a belligerent defense lifted Chicago to the upset of the year over unbeaten Green Bay, the other party in pro football's rowdiest bonebreaker of a feud
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November 08, 1965

The Bears Unpack 'em

The running of a swift, sensational rookie, Gale Sayers, and a belligerent defense lifted Chicago to the upset of the year over unbeaten Green Bay, the other party in pro football's rowdiest bonebreaker of a feud

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Playing against the Bears in Chicago has never been anybody's idea of a frolic except, perhaps, for a few masochists who might enjoy learning to walk again. There is something about the slopes and beams of Wrigley Field, the scraggly ivy on the red brick wall, the sight of the apartment towers over by the lakefront and the presence of George Halas, marching the sidelines like an emperor, that arouses in the Bears a dedication matched only by the people in the stands. It is probably not much worse than playing against the French in Paris on Bastille Day. Unless, that is, the visiting team is the Green Bay Packers, in which case the fever rises all over town and few escape being touched by it.

"A Bear-Packer game does not have to be crucial, as this one has been labeled, to attract the morbid among us," wrote Harry Sheer in Chicago's American on Saturday. " Bears and Packers grow up in an environment of hate and suspicion of the enemy. A wound stripe from a Bear-Packer encounter becomes something to cherish, right through the years of Social Security.... This is the game where you learn what it must have been like in the days of the Neanderthal man."

Lest one lose perspective among such confessions of hostility, what Mr. Sheer was talking about was a football game, though there were few people in the Midwest last week who would have called it by so simple a name. In truth, it is seldom an ordinary game when the Bears and the Packers play, as they now have 94 times. The two teams—one from a sprawling, smoky city flushed with conventioneers roaring along Rush Street, and the other from a small dairy and farming town—are tied for the most NFL championships with eight each, and they are close enough in geography to work up a fine anger about it.

The Packers have won two league and three division championships in the past five seasons. For the Bears, the only glory in a decade came in 1963 when they won the Western Division and then beat the Giants for the championship with a team that was accorded scant respect save for its defensive ability.

That 1963 team had Bill Wade at quarterback, whereas this current Bear team has Bill Wade on the bench. Whether that is a matter of good fortune is still open to argument, but the Bears did have undeniable luck in 1963. They had almost no important injuries, and they had the knack—as many championship teams have had—of being able to win on their off days, of running into an opponent who was a bit sloppier. In 1964 the Bears fell off to a 5-9 record, and the talk of their new, simplified defense was an echo that no one listened to. The fault that showed up was the one that had been there all along but had been overcome by defense and destiny. Other than throwing the ball to Mike Ditka, the tight end who is built like a buffalo but can move like a rabbit, or to little Johnny Morris, the NFL pass-catching record holder, the Bears had no offense. When Halfback Willie Galimore and End John Farrington were killed in a car crash before the 1964 season began, that finished the Bears.

The start this year was no better. After three games—all on the road, away from the homey comforts and inspirations of Wrigley Field—the Bears were 0-3. They still had no offense and their defense had degenerated (it gave up 52 points to San Francisco). But, ah, that third game. Something special happened in that third game.

With the score 20-0 against him at the half, Halas asked Bill Wade to sit down and he put in Rudy Bukich. That could not be construed as exactly a desperation move, for Bukich completed 62% of his 160 passes last season and threw for 12 touchdowns in the final four games. But Wade was the championship quarterback and Bukich had been merely someone else in uniform during his career with Washington and Pittsburgh before he joined the Bears. With Bukich, Halas summoned a fullback named Andy Livingston, a young man who is 6 feet and weighs 234 pounds and ran the 100 in 9.7 before he tore the muscles of one leg away from his pelvis in a high school game in Mesa, Ariz.

Livingston is hardly a Harvard man. He got his high school diploma while earning credits at a junior college. He became a dropout because of an appendicitis infection that required four operations. Halas heard about him from a former Bear halfback and acting on an impulse born of urgent need, sent him a plane ticket after the deaths of Galimore and Farrington.

Livingston was 20 years old when he played that second half against Green Bay. Obviously, he had no business being there. So he ran seven times for 70 yards and caught two passes for 37 yards. The Bears moved for 309 yards in that second half, outscored Green Bay 14-3 and have been looking back at everybody since.

"This could be the start of something," Halas said after that game. It was. The Bears beat the Rams, the Vikings and the Lions in a row. Their big, fast middle linebacker, Dick Butkus, began to shed his rookie mistakes. Weak-side Linebacker Larry Morris, who had missed all the exhibition games as well as the opener, returned in good health. Morris is of tremendous importance to the Bears because he removes worries about technical niceties from the 6-foot-8, 255-pound defensive end, Doug Atkins, and lets Atkins play his favorite game, which is smothering quarterbacks and knocking down runners. And the Bears found themselves one more runner—and maybe the most vital one to the success of the team—if runner is enough of a word to use for Gale Sayers.

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