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It will be many years before we see anything approaching the vision of hell that Chicago inflicted on the poor New England Patriots Sunday in Super Bowl XX. It was near perfect, an exquisite mesh of talent and system, defensive football carried to its highest degree. It was a great roaring wave that swept through the playoffs, gathering force and momentum, until it finally crashed home in New Orleans' Superdome in pro football's showcase game.
The game wasn't exciting. So what? Go down to Bourbon Street if you want excitement. It wasn't competitive. The verdict on Chicago's 46-10 victory was in after two Patriot series. Don't feel cheated. Louis-Schmeling II wasn't very competitive, either. Nor was the British cavalry charge at Balaklava, but Tennyson wrote a poem about it. This game transcended the ordinary standards we use in judging football. It was historic.
The events of the next few weeks and months will determine if this is the beginning of a mighty defensive dynasty (only one of the 11 Bear defenders who started Sunday's game is older than 28) or a culmination. The forces of erosion already were at work. Buddy Ryan, the assistant coach who crafted this defense, was close to the Philadelphia head coaching job when his work was done in New Orleans. With two minutes to go, the defensive players gathered around Mike McCaskey, the Bears' president, and practically begged him to do everything he could to keep Ryan. "Dan Hampton was our spokesman," strong safety Dave Duerson said. "He told Mr. McCaskey that if we lose Buddy Ryan we'll be a good defensive unit, but if we keep him we'll be in the Super Bowl the next five years."
Such is the hold that Ryan has on his players; his is a driving spirit that causes hard-eyed veterans like middle linebacker Mike Singletary to say, "Without him we don't have much. I feel honored to have been coached by him."
Money problems could inflict further damage. Right end Richard Dent, the Super Bowl MVP, is in a sticky salary situation. He could be gone, as Todd Bell and Al Harris were from last season's team. Others could follow. Win a title and the price of poker goes up.
O.K., let's not look for trouble. Mike Ditka's Bears have given Chicago its first title in any major professional sport since 1963, when Ditka himself played tight end for the champion Bears. And Ryan's defense, which virtually eliminates traditional positions, put together an astonishing string of conquests, a three-game playoff series that has never been duplicated.
Bears 21—Giants 0. Bears 24—Rams 0. Bears 46—Patriots 10. Total yards given up in the three games: 434. Average per game: 144.7. Average gain by opponent per play: 2.6. Third downs converted: 3 for 36. The Bears set a Super Bowl record by allowing the Patriots only seven rushing yards. They would have broken the Steelers' 11-year-old record of total yardage allowed (119), too, if Ryan hadn't pulled all but one starter with 9:43 left. The Patriots had gained 81 yards at that point. They picked up 42 more, but during that span the second-string Chicago defense outscored New England 2-0.
The Patriots had one moment of elation. On the game's second play, Walter Payton fumbled and New England recovered on the Chicago 19. "My fault," quarterback Jim McMahon said. "I called the wrong play. It was supposed to be a slant to the other side." New England quarterback Tony Eason threw three incomplete passes, and suddenly the Bear defenders were feeling very good about things. "We knew that if we got them in a passing situation we'd have things wrapped up," Singletary said.
Tony Franklin kicked a 36-yard field goal and New England led 3-0 with 1:19 gone, the earliest score in Super Bowl history. "I looked up at the message board," Singletary said, "and it said that 15 of the 19 teams that scored first won the game. I thought, yeah, but none of those 15 had ever played the Bears."
Chicago started the next drive on its 31, and seven plays, including a 43-yard pass to Willie Gault, got the Bears down to the Patriot 10, where Kevin Butler kicked the tying 28-yard field goal. It was a strange kind of drive. Fullback Matt Suhey, not Walter Payton, got the yardage on the ground. "I was a decoy, a rabbit," said Payton, who carried 22 times for 61 yards on the day. "They were putting two guys on me."