by | Jan 6, 1986 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

CHICAGO — Dee-lightful, Dee-licious, Dee-lovely, Dee-fense. The thud of a quarterback being slammed to the ground. The crunching of pads on a fumble pileup. Such are the sounds they dance to at Soldier Field these days, and they were dancing Sunday, and they are dancing still.

For when the gun sounded, it was 21-0, Bears over the Giants, a two-fisted shutout in this city’s first NFL playoff game since Lyndon Johnson was president.

It was the Bears wrapping themselves like a blue and orange cobra around the New Yorkers and squeezing the life out of them.

It was Bears lineman Richard Dent breathing in the face of quarterback Phil Simms. Horizontally. And Dent’s teammate Otis Wilson exclaiming afterward, “We cut everybody off, we covered everybody, we could do no wrong!”

It was the Windy City over the Big Apple, three touchdowns to nothing. And it was more. Something only a Bears or Giants rooter could tell you. For despite all the magazine covers and the rock videos that preceded it, this was a game of Escape Your Cruel Fate — which for the Giants and Bears has always meant leaving the playoffs heartbroken.

In the last two decades, these two teams had played a combined eight playoff games. Neither ever made it past the conference championship. Both were talking big now. The 15-1 Bears were everybody’s odds-on favorite. But the Giants had destroyed the 49ers — last year’s Super Bowl winners — the week before. Somebody would disappoint. Somebody would leave his city face-down at the bar early this morning, mumbling, “I ain’t never watching those bums again. Never. I swear.” Kicks weren’t so swift For the first 30 minutes, both teams were in the running. As a football game, this was a great Greco- Roman wrestling match. Force against force. Little action. And no feet allowed.

There were three missed field goals, two by Chicago, one by New York. The only points in the entire first half came off a play that qualifies for Bloopers, Foul-ups and Bleepers:

Giants punter Sean Landeta — who made a dubious name for himself earlier in the week by scalping playoff tickets, complete with his autographed picture
— went to punt near his goal line and whiffed. Foot goes up. Foot comes down. Ball trickles away. He says he grazed it. Big deal. The Bears pick it up and run it in five yards. Touchdown. Sell a ticket to that, Sean.

That was it: 7-0. Had the Giants been able to put anything on the board from a first-and-goal at the Bears’ 2, it would have been even closer. But they threw three straight incomplete passes, then missed a field goal. A 19-yarder. Hit the upright. Hello, New York? Destiny calling.

Still, there was an uneasy feeling throughout the stadium as the teams trotted off at halftime. Had the Bears grown too big for their spandex britches?

Not to worry, said the home team. As their Ivy League- educated safety Gary Fencik put it: “We knew they couldn’t win if they couldn’t score.”

And to think, some folks doubt the value of a college education.

Of course, Fencik proved to be prophetic, for the Bears’ defense simply took over in the second half. It did not allow a single first down in the entire third quarter. Simms got plenty of close-up looks at the artificial turf, and Landeta got plenty of opportunities to improve his punting average after his first-half strikeout. Didn’t keep their eyes on the ball At the same time, Bears quarterback Jim McMahon was discovering a new offensive weapon: the Giants’ defensive secondary. Which, in a word, was god- awful. OK. Maybe two words.

Time after time, Giants defensive backs — most notably Elvis Patterson — declined to look at the ball coming in, instead choosing to focus on the receiver’s belt buckle. This accounted for most of the long passes, including one of two passing touchdowns.

But then a safety would have been enough points in this one. As Fencik said, no score, no worry. “Their offense wasn’t so hot,” Giants coach Bill Parcells said afterward. “But they are the best defensive team in football.”

Shut em up, shut ’em down.

And so the Giants go home, leaving New York with the same old bitter taste in its mouth.

And the Bears go on. They are queer art, this Chicago team. Funky yet brutal. One foot in glitter high heels, the other in a construction boot. Yet this Midwestern city, which has always prided itself on its working-class backbone, has allowed all the Hollywood — Super Bowl shuffles and Refrigerator commercials — because on Sundays, the guys still come out and play the black-and-blue defense that makes the lunchpail crowd smile and slap their fists into their palms.

They did it again on Sunday. Dee-lightful, Dee-licious, Dee- lectable Dee-fense. Which for the Giants could mean but one thing. Dee-feat. Watch the dancing Bears. Their beat goes on.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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