Urlacher keeps bruising tradition alive

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor


Associated Press

MIAMI - Teams keep score in different ways. The Chicago Bears will not always beat you. But they will always beat you up.
Few stories illustrate that better than the tale former linebacker Doug Buffone told on the eve of the Super Bowl.
"We'd just lost a close game to Detroit one year and I was really steamed. I'm throwing pieces of my uniform around the locker room and suddenly Abe," Buffone said, referring to former coach Abe Gibron, "shows up next to my stool and says, 'What are you so mad about?'
"I said, 'Abe, we lost the damn game.' So he says, 'Yeah, but we knocked 15 Lions out of the game.'"
This is what Colts quarterback Peyton Manning has to look forward to Sunday, a tradition that current middle linebacker Brian Urlacher has tried to live up to from the day he arrived in a tough town seven seasons ago.
It begins with the franchise's gruff founder, George Halas, and runs through guys named Nagurski, Atkins, O'Bradovich, George, Butkus, Ditka, Payton, Hampton and Singletary. It found its perfect expression in a 1985 squad that lost only one game, won a Super Bowl the following January and left dozens of chalk outlines in its wake.
"They did everything," Urlacher said. "They took it away, sacked the quarterback, intercepted passes - they were dominant. There have been games where we were dominant this year, but they were dominant all season.
"If we win the Super Bowl, you're going to see the comparisons, but until then, there really is none. And that's the only comparison there will be - if we win the Super Bowl. Because numbers-wise," he added, "they blow us out of the water."
The 1985 team had a considerable advantage not just numbers-wise, but in the number of outsized personalities and the sheer intimidation they brought to the table every week.
One look at middle linebacker Mike Singletary's wild eyes across the line of scrimmage hinted at the fury that was about to be unleashed. And even those lucky enough to avoid Singletary often wound up in the path of his outside tandem, Otis Wilson and Wilber Marshall.
"He was kind of like a viper," coach Mike Ditka said, referring to Marshall earlier this week. "He had great leverage. I saw him hit Joe Ferguson in Detroit once. I thought he killed him."
While it's easy to see how Chicago became home and hearth to so many vicious defenders over the years - rarely risking high draft picks on golden-armed quarterbacks or soft-handed receivers - why is a matter of some speculation.
Some accounts argue a punishing defense was the quickest way to find an audience and keep it in what was decidedly a workingman's town during the league's formative years; others say the cold, wind and snow that prevailed for much of the season made an offense that relied on the pass too risky a proposition.
Still others, like former Dolphins running back Larry Csonka, mentioned several times by his contemporaries on the Bears as the toughest guy they played against, think the barnstorming tours the early Bears teams embarked on set the tone for their toughness in later years.
"When the game started, they drew a line in the dirt somewhere, went at it, and may the best man win," he said. "As often as the Bears won back then, it became not just their trademark, but their philosophy."
Buffone subscribed to the same theory.
"Maybe because by the time I got there," Buffone said, "we already had Butkus and Gale Sayers and the coaches explained it to me this way: 'First we dismantle teams, then we run over them.'"
That formula worked well enough for Papa Bear, as Halas was known, since he claimed six NFL titles separated by a span of 42 years (1921-63). But Chicago may have stuck with it past the expiration date. A trend toward more wide-open football was already under way when the absorption of the rival American Football League in a 1970 merger boosted offenses like a second-stage rocket.
Ever the throwbacks, the Bears simply got nastier - without much success.
Butkus, arguably the best linebacker who ever played, arrived in 1965 and enjoyed only two winning seasons. Sayers, who got there the same year, didn't fare much better, departing two years earlier than Butkus because he blew out both knees. Walter Payton might have suffered the same fate - the losing, not the injury-shortened career - if the 1985 team didn't crystallize when it did.
It began to form in 1979 with the selection of Hampton and Al Harris (selected 1a and 1b) and stretched through the selection of William "Refrigerator" Perry in 1985. The Bears stockpiled enough backbreakers in between - Wilson, Singletary, Todd Bell, Dave Duerson, Richard Dent, Marshall and Shaun Gayle - to pick up the franchise's seventh and last championship in New Orleans in 1986.
Urlacher & Co. have stirred hope that a team relying largely on defense can go against the grain and win it all again, much like the Ravens in 2001 and the Buccaneers two years later. But because rule changes since the 1970s have increasingly handcuffed defenders, don't expect these Bears to deliver the same scorched-earth results some of their predecessors did.
"They got away with whatever they wanted back then," Urlacher said. "We get fined for looking at a guy the wrong way. You've got to be careful now. ... It would be awesome if we could (still) do whatever we wanted to do to the quarterback, clothesline players, choke players. That was great."
If only he knew how great.
"We were so bad," Buffone said, "that sometimes in the defensive huddle, we'd have a play called 'destroy,' the point being we'd pick out a receiver on the other team and drill him to take out our frustration. Back then, you could hit a guy anywhere on the field so long as the ball wasn't in the air. Once I flattened Frank Gifford something like 40 yards from the line of scrimmage. It might have been a record."
Csonka disagreed with the last part.
"I remember playing against Butkus in the old Orange Bowl and Bob Griese, our quarterback, was so scared of Butkus that he ran out of bounds and kept on running until he made it to the cinder track that used to ring the field.
"Butkus chased him every step of the way," Csonka added, "and flattened him, anyway."