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On Top Of The Pack
Rick Telander
September 24, 1984
The Bears and Packers squared off in a vintage brawl, and when it was all over, Chicago, led by a demon defense, two tough QBs and Walter Payton, was still undefeated
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September 24, 1984

On Top Of The Pack

The Bears and Packers squared off in a vintage brawl, and when it was all over, Chicago, led by a demon defense, two tough QBs and Walter Payton, was still undefeated

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The net result of Chicago's first-half efforts was two Bob Thomas field goals, due largely to penalties and the team's inability to get a touchdown on first-and-goal at the seven early in the game. For McMahon, who scrambled two more times for nine and then 22 yards, there was more pain. When he came to the sideline midway through the second quarter, "he was losing all his color," said Ditka. "That's when I made the change."

Into the game went Bob Avellini, the veteran backup. Avellini completed 11 of 17 passes for 133 yards and led Chicago to its game-winning field goal in the fourth quarter. The Packers had been leading 7-6, and it seemed both teams had lost the ability to score and were, indeed, content merely to fight. There were five flags thrown for unruly behavior. Fencik got one of those, for kicking Packer tackle Karl Swanke. "Yeah, I kicked him. I kicked the——out of him," Fencik said. "I'm not proud of it. But in this game sometimes you get into that gray area."

For Dickey, who completed 11 of 23 passes for 142 yards, the gray area was everywhere. The Bears' defensive tackles, Dan Hampton and Steve McMichael, sacked him three times and crashed into him on most of the other passing plays. After the game McMichael, a 6'2", 263-pound weightlifting fiend, felt so moved by Dickey's stoicism that he went up to the Packer quarterback and praised him simply for standing in there.

"I was uncomfortable, and as the game wore on I was more uncomfortable," Dickey said, while peeling off layers of padding to reveal a body that has been all but used up.

If there was beauty in the game, it came from the floating grace of Packers' wide receiver James Lofton, whose four catches for 89 yards comprised over half of Green Bay's total offense, and from the shocking blasts of Payton's runs.

Payton deserves even more study than he's gotten. He's a treasure. Sunday was his 17th game against the Packers. He's no different now than he was in 1974 as a rookie, except he has more moves. Two weeks ago against Denver he broke a 72-yard TD run, the longest of his career. Can a childlike lust for action keep one perpetually childlike? Do Walter Payton and Pete Rose share some exotic strands of DNA?

It's been suggested that Payton's stiff-legged gait is the key to his longevity, because it keeps his heels off the ground, which in turn keeps his knees from taking blows while his feet are rooted to the turf. To run this way takes well developed lower-torso muscles, and as Bears trainer Fred Caito says, "Walter has tremendous gluteal strength." In other words, Payton has a big, strong butt.

But that doesn't explain how he can run over three linemen at a time, or throw a football 60 yards, or think it's funny to sneak up on somebody and pinch his thigh till he hollers uncle. It should be enough, one supposes, just to watch the man run and to know how happy he is to do it so well.

Payton is a given; the Bears' offensive line is strong; the receivers are improving. The key for Chicago is the defense. It has already produced an over-achieving middle linebacker, Mike Singletary, who may be the best in the league. Known as Samurai, for, he says, "the noises I make out there," Singletary seems to knock out an average of one runner per game.

And having a rough, tough quarterback goes well with the city of big shoulders, too. After the game McMahon sat stiffly in the locker room, drinking an ale, wearing sunglasses. Under his chair was another bottle of ale, and in his hand was a bottle opener. Someone asked him why he had played in the game at all. He shrugged. "They don't pay me to sit on the bench," he said.

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