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The Chicago Bears turned back the clock in Texas Stadium Sunday, way back, past their old Monsters of the Midway days, past Bulldog Turner and George Musso and Bronko Nagurski, back to an era when men played football on rocky patches of ground and battled with fists and leather helmets.
They beat the Cowboys 44-0, the worst defeat Dallas has suffered at Texas Stadium or any other stadium. They clinched their division championship and ran their record to 11-0, and they did it without their regular quarterback, Jim McMahon, who watched the game in civvies, thanks to a sore right shoulder. The Bears defense rushed in wild, frenzied waves and knocked out Dallas quarterback Danny White twice, and held his replacement, Gary Hogeboom, to six completions in 22 heaves. The defense sacked the pair of them six times and scored 14 points of its own and shut down the Dallas running game and, hey, there's no end to it.
The pregame angles were swept up like yesterday's sawdust. An emotional contest for the Cowboys (aren't they all these-days?), a payback for the nasty, punch-filled exhibition meeting in August, a chance for Dallas to exert further mastery over a team it had beaten six straight times, a chance to dust off the old Flex defense principles and stop Walter Payton and put the pressure on Chicago quarterback Steve Fuller.
All those sensible notions vanished under an assault wave that made it look as if the Bears were playing 15 men against 11, and 63,855 fans (no-show count: zero) watched in horror and even showed compassion as their team was overrun.
"We said when we left after the preseason game, that they'd better have that little cart gassed up to carry the people off," said defensive end Dan Hampton. The remark seemed frighteningly prophetic in the third quarter when White was stretched out on the ground and the cart was slowly making its way across the field. It was KO No. 2 for Danny. In the second quarter Otis Wilson, a 232-pound sixth-year linebacker, had knocked him cold on a blitz, and now it was Wilson who got him again. Wilson picked himself up from the turf, after flanker Mike Renfro had cut him at the knees, and crashed into White. When White, who had heard his share of boos, finally disdained the cart and walked off the field, unaided, and into the tunnel leading out of the stadium, his neck wrapped in a brace, the fans applauded, a slow, gathering acclaim for an athlete who had gone down in a hopeless cause.
The Cowboys simply couldn't figure out a way to get everyone blocked. The Bears stunted their defensive linemen in the first half and got great penetration inside. They lined up both outside backers, Wilson and Wilber Marshall, on the same side and sent both of them in. Occasionally they would blitz Dave Duerson, the strong safety, or Mike Singletary, their All-Pro middle linebacker, and White and Hogeboom spent the afternoon surrounded by dark jerseys.
Lots of teams blitz heavily—the Steelers, even the Cowboys, with their assault team of defensive backs—but it isn't so much what you do as who does it. The Bears have the greatest collection of defensive talent—and the best defense—since the old Steel Curtain teams at Pittsburgh: Hampton, nicknamed Danimal, the Bears' counterpart to Dallas's Randy (Manimal) White; Richard Dent, one of the great speed-rush defensive ends; Steve McMichael, a sawed-off barrel-chested tackle with lightning moves inside; the great trio of linebackers; free safety Gary Fencik, the upwardly mobile Yalie who turns savage when he hits the field; and cornerbacks Mike Richardson and Leslie Frazier, who have labored under a steady diet of man-to-man coverage because of all the blitzes, and who have emerged as very solid cover guys. And of course there's 307-pound William Perry, the Fridge, the comedy relief, the court jester in the House of Borgia.
Oh, it's a dynamite group, all right, and it makes a 16-0 record—the first unbeaten season since the league went to 16 games in 1978—a real possibility.
Thirteen years ago the Dolphins went 14-0 with a spectacular offense. The defense was sound enough, but it didn't take your breath away. Last year the same formula gave the 49ers a record for regular season wins—15. The Bears can do it the other way around. McMahon and Payton have been potent factors this year, but against the Cowboys, Chicago put the game away in the first half while Payton was being contained and McMahon was watching it all from the sidelines.
The Bears did it with pressure, the pressure of a defense turned loose to get to the passer without regard for things like rush lanes. Buddy Ryan, who coaches those Bear defenders, once crafted a very fine pass rush when he was with the Super Bowl Jets 17 years ago. He tells a story about those days: