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As Dusk was descending on the Beaver Cleaver town of Apple-ton, Wis., last Saturday, Chicago Bears linebacker Ron Rivera stood outside a restaurant at the corner of Walnut and College, waiting for a table. The Bears usually stay in Apple-ton the night before they play their annual game in Green Bay against the Packers, so the place was crawling with Chicago fans. This year the town seemed especially suited to the Bears, who've shed the arrogant and money-hungry personality they flaunted as 1986 Super Bowl champs and returned to being the selfless, blue-collar Bears of old.
"We're not trying to feature one defensive player, or a group of a few defensive players," said Rivera. "We're featuring a team defense now."
Leave it to Chicago, coming off a 6-10 season, to turn back the clock in a bid to climb back on top. On Sunday, the Bears punished the Packers—quarterback Anthony Dilweg, in particular—with six sacks, six forced fumbles and two interceptions. The final score was 31-13, and, in truth, it wasn't much of a game.
Although many of the faces have changed and that flamboyant arrogance is gone, distinct reminders of Chicago's halcyon days can be found on this season's team, which is 2-0. The offense is a lot like it was in the Walter Payton years. The Bears get by with an adequate quarterback, Jim Harbaugh, while their lifeline is a running back, Neal Anderson, who stretches and stretches the defense across the field before finally picking a hole made by essentially the same line that Payton ran behind for most of the '80s.
The defense—well, that's a different story. Nineteen players have significant roles, but no one complains about possibly being unable to cash in on incentive clauses in contracts because playing time is so widely distributed. And no one complains about the number of diverse schemes the defense has had to learn, because those schemes worked so well in shutting out the Seattle Seahawks 17-0 in the season opener and in holding Green Bay's high-powered attack to 13 points. The emphasis is on making no mistakes, allowing no big plays. Read. React. Pressure the quarterback into making quick decisions, but don't throw Buddy Ryan's kitchen sink at him.
Here's how an outsider assesses the 1990 Bears: "I don't think they're as big or as bad as they were," said Packer guard Billy Ard, a 10-year veteran, after Sunday's game. "They can't overwhelm you 40 plays in a row the way they used to. But they're smart. They're good. And they still have that knockout punch."
"What we had five years ago," says Chicago's wise old owl, middle linebacker Mike Singletary, "was a group of tremendous athletes. The attitude was, 'Let's get 'em,' and we usually could. We don't have that raw athletic ability anymore. What we have are guys with big hearts and guys who think."
Lambeau Field in Green Bay was a perfect stage for a thinking man's football game. Professor Lindy Infante, in his third year as the Packer coach, and his quarterback from Duke, Dilweg, got Green Bay off to an impressive start—a 36-24 season-opening victory over the Los Angeles Rams—in preparation for the 140th meeting between the Bears and the Packers. Infante's complex offensive system requires quarterbacks and receivers to exercise one of several options on each play, depending on how it develops, which makes Green Bay a difficult team to defense.
Dilweg became Green Bay's starting quarterback when the hero of the Pack's 10-6 resurgence in 1989, Don Majkowski, held out in a contract dispute until four days before the start of this season. Even though Majik was prepared to play against Chicago, Infante announced two days before the game that he would stick with Dilweg—whose base salary is $165,000, 11% of Majkowski's new $1.5 million salary—for continuity's sake. Infante's decision may have seemed questionable, considering that Majkowski had led Green Bay to a pair of '89 victories over Chicago, which had won eight straight games from the Packers.
However, the populace of Green Bay wasn't up in arms about who started at quarterback. The locals seemed to echo the sentiments expressed by a sign painted on a fence along Lombardi Avenue, right across from the stadium: INFANTE WE TRUST. "You lose sleep when you don't have a quarterback," Infante says. "I don't lose sleep over the decision because I know I've got two."