BLOOMINGTON, Minn.—It will not turn up in a coaching manual as an example of perfect football, but the 47,426 Minnesota fans in Metropolitan stadium will never see their Vikings suffer a more spectacular defeat than the 45-37 lacing the Chicago Bears hung on them today.
Two quick touchdowns at the outset and two more in the final 2:18 brought the Bears their second consecutive triumph, after the lead had changed hands six times in the second half.
Sayers Is Hero
Hero of the conquest was Gale Sayers, the bouncy Bear rookie from Kansas, who went over for touchdowns, all in the second half. His third one, scored at 12:42 of the fourth period, came on a 96-yard kickoff return after Minnesota had taken the lead for the third time.
With 52 seconds left, he put the game out of reach of Fran Tarkenton and the Vikings by blasting through tackle for 10 yards on the first play following rookie Dick Butkus' interception and 35-yard return of a Tarkenton pass.
The rival defenses were completely at the mercy of the attacks. With one exception (Butkus' interception), neither team ever gained possession of the ball after the latter part of the third period through any manner other than a kickoff. Once Minnesota cut its deficit to 17-16 on Fred Cox's third field goal, seven touchdowns went on the board, five in the fourth quarter.
Butkus in big play
Sayers got all the praise and most certainly a claim on Rookie of the Year award. But the most important play from a Bear standpoint undoubtedly was Butkus' interception.
Throughout the second half the Bears were either behind by six points or ahead by one. At this moment they were leading, 38-37. The Vikings didn't need a touchdown to win when Hall brought the kickoff back 29 yards to the 27.
All that was necessary was a field goal. They had two minutes to get in range. Range for Cox can be anything from 10 yards to 50. He had already kicked two placements from the 28, one from the 40 and twice kicked off beyond the end line.
Tarkenton had moved up to the Vikings' 40-yard line, where it was first down and a minute to go, when Butkus gathered in the ball and went thundering and puffing back up the field. When he landed flat on the 10-yard line the contest had been decided. Sayers' 10-yard explosion off tackle on the next play merely boosted the margin.
Bull Surprise Starter
In addition to his kickoff return and his 10-yard charge in the final minutes, Sayers scored on 18- and 25-yard passes from Rudy Bukich. Ronnie Bull, a surprise starter at fullback, opened the scoring with a 34-yard run and Johnny Morris got the other Bear touchdown on a 14-yard pass.
The Bull and Morris scores came 36 seconds apart in the sixth minute of play and Sayers' last two were separated by 1:20 in the gathering darkness. As one-two punches, they surpassed anything in sport since Joe Louis turned to golf.
In between, the Bears had another excellent chance to score, set up by one of Tom Hall's two fumbles, this one on a punt. But when Bill Wade, relieving Bukich for a few minutes, attempted to send Sayers wide on third down from the 1-yard line, the rookie lost four yards. All the Bears could salvage from the opportunity was a 12-yard field goal by Roger Leclerc, which sent them to the intermission leading 17-13.
Sayers had a more prominent hand in this aborted drive than the four-yard loss, however. In keeping with the general bizarre overtone of the contest, he passed 27 yards to rookie Dick Gordon to put the ball on the 3-yard line. But first he had to take a long pitch-out, fall down and scramble back into half upright position.
Tarkenton, the scrambler from Georgia, was held in check pretty well in the first half, but he broke loose always at critical times, in the second half as fast as the Bears re-established a lead, he led the Vikings back on top.
He tallied one of the Viking touchdowns on a rollout from the 1-yard line that fooled everyone but Butkus and scrambled enough to set up a 4-yard scoring run by Tommy Mason. A 40-yard spring by fullback Bill Brown went for a touchdown in the third period. Brown spun when hit going inside tackle and broke away from Bennie McRae and Jim Purnell when McRae elected to block the former Illini instead of tackling him.
Mason's other touchdown, which put the Vikings ahead 37-31, resulted from an interference penalty called on Dave Whitsell when he and Rosy Taylor were covering end Paul Flatley at the goal line on a long pass. The penalty gave the Vikings a 31-yard gain and a first down on the 4.
They Had a Hunch
Minnesota obviously was Sayers conscious from the outset. What blitzing (red-dogging) it did originated on the flanks to keep the Kansas comet inside. As a result, Bukich operated, for the most part, in the open with good protection. He completed 9-of-19 pass attempts for three touchdowns.
Tarkenton, meanwhile, with all of his scrambling, much of which is planned and far from spontaneous, failed to connect for a score. His longest completion was 38 yards to Flatley in the third period. It was followed by Brown's 40-yard scamper that brought the Vikings 78 yards and a touchdown in two plays, and a lead for the first time.
At this point, developments almost as pleasing as the victory began to unfold for the small contingent of Chicagoans perched above the 50-yard line in the upper deck of the Vikings' new $1.4 million left field stand. The Bears settled down to fight back. They were going to have a rally three times before heading home, but to their credit they did it in a major league manner with a minimum of mistakes and pleasing verve.
Vikings Lose Third
It was the Vikings' third defeat in five starts. Since being organized in 1961, they never have passed the fifth game of the season with a winning record. Their disappointment must have been as great as the Bears' elation at having found another dangerous running combination in Sayers and Bull.
Sayers picked up 64 yards in 13 attempts and Bull got 92 in 10. Significantly, they posed a breakaway threat on every play, a threat that had a marked effect on the Viking defense.
The result was that the Bears are now seeing better days ahead. Even if it turns out to be only a mirage, it's a wonderful feeling.