And then there's the Bears' defense, which, it can now be said, is for real. Going into the game it ranked first in the NFL in rushing defense and total defense and second in passing defense. Coming out it was on top in all three. Defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan's "46" one-linebacker alignment, so called because former Bear headhunter Doug Plank wore No. 46, and which features a startling array of stunts, blitzes and coverages, seems impenetrable. In three games the Bears have given up just 174 yards on the ground—Green Bay got only 32 in 19 carries—and have allowed but 29 pass completions in 79 attempts.
"We've been using it seven years," says Ryan of the 46. "But we always had an Achilles' heel—a rookie or two." And it was the rookies who failed? "Rookies fail everybody, don't they?" says Ryan.
The Bears are now 2-0 in their division and have won their first three games for the first time since 1978. They may fade, of course—in '78 they lost their next eight in a row—but it seems unlikely. "Good teams win games like these," said head coach Mike Ditka.
But for a full appreciation of the game one had to go back to the previous Monday, when Bears quarterback Jim McMahon met the Chicago press to discuss the hairline fracture he'd suffered in his right hand, his throwing hand, the day before. A third-year man out of Brigham Young, McMahon has become a gritty team leader, a resourceful scrambler and thrower who can roll out of a pocket or into a saloon with equal ease. He'd broken the hand while completing a 61-yard touchdown pass to Willie Gault in the Bears' 27-0 win over Denver, getting crushed to the turf by defensive end Rulon Jones and bruising his back at the same time. The back hurt so much, he said, he didn't think much about the hand.
Would he be able to play against the Packers? McMahon, holding a beer in his left hand, said he didn't know. He wouldn't be able to practice, would he? McMahon took a sip of beer, and acknowledged that this was so. "It breaks my heart," he said.
A similar story was developing in Green Bay. Lynn Dickey, 34, the soul of the Packer offense and perhaps the most battered quarterback in NFL history, had a deep bruise on his lower back, the result of a sack by safety Mike Davis in a 28-7 loss to the Los Angeles Raiders the previous Sunday. Would Dickey be able to play against the Bears? In his career he'd played with almost everything else, including a steel rod in his left leg and a spinal headache. But he could barely bend at the waist now, and the bruise wasn't responding to treatment. He had tried to throw on Wednesday and couldn't go deep at all. Dickey indicated it was a day-to-day thing.
On Saturday, Dickey sat by his locker with a towel around his waist, and on his lower back was a black circle drawn by a doctor with a marking pen. "In the center of that is where it hurts," said Dickey. "That's where I'll get a shot."
But could he play? Dickey thought for a moment. "We're one and one," he said. "They're two and oh. To let them get one on us here...I just don't feel I can pass this up." He smiled almost dreamily. "It's like what our trainer, Domenic Gentile, and I always say: 'What's one more torpedo in a sinking ship?' "
Late that same night McMahon sat in a whirlpool at the Howard Johnson's in De Pere, Wis., staring blankly ahead. His back was against one of the water jets, in his left hand he held a beer. McMahon is an outstanding athlete—nobody on the Bears can touch him in racquetball, for instance—and he's got muscles you don't normally see on a quarterback. But maybe as he sat there he was thinking about Dickey and how he himself is going to feel after 10 more years in the league.
The next afternoon both Dickey and McMahon started, of course, each having been given painkilling injections. McMahon ignored the pain that lingered in his hand and led the Bears up and down the field, throwing short passes when necessary but mostly giving the ball to Payton and Suhey. He scrambled early for 11 yards, and when he did, his teammates cringed.