"A good memory for plays is essential for a quarterback, but it isn't everything. If that were the only thing, anyone with a memory and a reasonable arm could be a quarterback. The trick is to know when to use a play—for example, when to repeat a successful play. The repeat time varies with the team you play. A smart, veteran defense like Green Bay's adjusts quickly. If a play works once maybe you come back to it against the Packers one more time, but probably not a third.
"The Colts are also quick to read a repeat. I remember watching movies of a St. Louis-Baltimore game where the Cardinal quarterback was working a little flat pass into the linebacker's area whenever he saw the corner linebacker coming on a blitz. He burned them a couple of times and then pushed his luck and tried a third time. This time the Colts dropped a tackle off into the danger area, and the tackle intercepted the pass. From the stands it probably looked like a freak interception by a lineman, but it was the logical result of a bad repeat-play call."
Bukich has also put much thought and preparation into his plans for the future beyond pro football. He has spent six off seasons teaching in high schools in Illinois and Los Angeles. Recently he has worked as a television sports commentator for an ABC station in Chicago. "Football is not my career," he says. "I will take a long look at the situation after this season and decide how much longer I want to play. It will not be many more years, because the time has come for me to consider the long term. I am getting behind on my work toward the Ph.D. I have come to the point where I cannot keep that up and play football too. If we have a good season, then maybe I'll play one more year."
Be assured that Bukich is thinking diligently about football at this moment, not education, and do not be surprised if he is the very best quarterback in the league. There was nothing flukish about his performance in 1965, when he ranked first statistically. He had only nine of 312 passes intercepted, testimony to the accuracy he has acquired in his mature years. (Not long ago a Bear coach watched Bukich on the practice field throwing at a goalpost from the 50-yard line. "He hit it three times in a row," the coach said. "That's good enough for me.") Rudy's average gain passing was second only to Johnny Unitas', which means that he did not compile his statistical record merely on short, easily completed tosses.
Billy Wade, who probably would not have threatened Bukich anyway, underwent an operation for torn ligaments in his knee in the off season and, though he can play, he apparently has not made a complete recovery. Rakestraw, the youngster, is still an untried apprentice.
Bukich begins the season with two elements indispensable to an outstanding passing record—a fine set of receivers and an offensive line that excels at pass-blocking. "I'm a pocket passer," Bukich says, "and that great line gives me plenty of time to unload the ball."
In Johnny Morris, the little Chicago flanker, and Mike Ditka, the massive tight end, Bukich has two of football's best targets. Morris stands only 5 feet 10 and weighs just 180 pounds, but he is a very sophisticated receiver. "Give me one of those big old boys like Boyd Dowler of Green Bay every time," a veteran defensive back said last year after spending a long afternoon watching Morris pull down passes in his territory. "I can go with them. But this guy has got too much quick."
Ditka, of course, is the best tight end in the league, both as a blocker and as a receiver. He is built like a tall fireplug (6 feet 3, 230), but he has surprising speed. "He doesn't just block linebackers," says Don Currie, the former Packer now playing for the Rams. "He buries them."
Dick Gordon, the spread end, brings additional speed to the Bear receiving corps. Sayers, besides being an exceptional runner, is also an extraordinarily sure-handed pass catcher.
On his trickier days Bukich not only throws to Sayers but lets him pass—left-handed—too. This diverts little attention from the halfback's magical legs. He is the born runner that comes along once in a generation. "When I'm carrying the ball," the former Kansas All-America says, "there isn't any play going through my mind. When I come to a tackier I don't think, 'Now fake one way and cut the other.' My feet just go. I don't think about it at all. I just do it, and I don't really know how. Where my feet go, I go."