Two stunning hits shaped the Bears' 12-10 victory over the Green Bay Packers Sunday and reflected the intensity of a pro football rivalry that is at once ugly and beautiful.
The first was a blatant foul in the second quarter by Packer nose tackle Charles Martin, who ambushed Bear quarterback Jim McMahon after an interception and slammed his sore right shoulder into the Soldier Field turf. It got Martin ejected and soon led to the Bears' only touchdown on a punt blocked by Shaun Gayle and recovered by Dennis Gentry on a wave of emotion that only this combat sport can create.
"The guys didn't appreciate it," Bears' defensive end Richard Dent said of the foul.
"I guess he ain't in no position to win the Nobel Peace Prize for intelligence," Bears' defensive tackle Steve McMichael said of Martin.
The second hit was a neck-rattling tackle by Bears' middle linebacker Mike Singletary, who separated Packer running back Gary Ellerson from the football and his senses with 6:20 to play.
The fumble was recovered by Bears' safety Dave Duerson on the Packer 34, and six plays later, Kevin Butler kicked a 32-yard field goal with 2:37 left to bring the Bears from a 10-9 deficit.
Butler had missed a 46-yarder earlier into the same swirling 13-mile-an-hour wind. It was his fourth straight miss over two games, but he responded with his fourth winner of the Bears' shaky 10-2 season.
The Bears can clinch the National Football Conference Central Division title by beating Pittsburgh next week, but they continue to live on defense alone.
"We weren't going to have another chance," Butler said. "The defense already gave us enough. If I missed that one, it probably would have been the final chapter."
"I'm very thankful we have our defense," said coach Mike Ditka.
Five minutes before Butler did it, Duerson and Singletary had been victims of a 46-yard touchdown pass from Packer quarterback Randy Wright to tight end Ed West that had put the Packers on the brink of an upset.
The touchdown was the only conventional score of a game in its 133d chapter, same plot. As usual, quarterbacks were rendered useless early by Chicago-Green Bay tradition of wind, rain, defense, injury and old-fashioned ineptitude.
Combined, McMahon and Wright completed only 22 of 61 passes and led 59,291 fans to wonder why coaches Ditka and Forrest Gregg insisted on such folly.
"We said we were going to come out and run and we didn't," said Bears' center Jay Hilgenberg.
"I think Mike Ditka's game plan was to try and embarrass us," said Packer cornerback Mossy Cade.
Ditka finally yanked McMahon then yelled at replacement Mike Tomczak for mixing up a signal from the sidelines and throwing an incompletion before Butler's kick.
"I thought he audibled, but the play came in wrong from the sidelines," Ditka said. "I wanted a running play right up the middle. We looked like dumbos."
Walter Payton gained 85 yards in only 17 carries and reached his 10th 1,000-yard season. But the Bears called more passes than runs, and McMahon wound up scrambling for almost as many yards (64) as he gained passing (95). Ditka said McMahon was re-injured by Martin's body-slam.
"I thought it affected his throwing," Ditka said. "He never let the ball fly and that didn't happen all week in practice."
FROM THE ARCHIVES