Wednesday, December 5, 2018

THE MAN THE OTHER PLAYERS FEAR: The 1970 Chicago Bears

LOOKING BACK
By TJ Troup
Credit: Time-Life
This coming Sunday on the 9th of December the Rams travel to Soldier Field to play the Bears. The 9th of December is also the birthday of David "Deacon" Jones and Richard Marvin Butkus.

Oh yeah, as a man who relishes watching movies it is also the birthday of Kirk Douglas. If you ever have the chance try and find a way to watch Kirk and Burt Lancaster in "The Devil's Disciple"—one of the best films ever that no one hears about.

Today the saga is about the 1970 Bears. Have lots to share, and yes by this time we all know my bias (will be buried in navy blue & burnt orange). Are you ready for the background?

Here we go—the defending champion Bears of 1963 will win 33, lose 34, and tie 3 over the course of the next five years ('64-'68). There are changes in the Windy City as my coaching guru George Allen leaves to take command of the Rams. Halas steps down, and his choice to coach the Bears is Jim Dooley.

In my book "The Birth of the Modern 4-3 Defense" each team for the seven years researched is discussed in detail concerning coaching, personnel, and strategy. Using that formate lets head to Chicago and see why the 1970 Bears are one helluva fascinating team.

First, the coaching staff. This will be Dooley's third year at the helm and keeps his job though he went 1-13 in 1969 with the league rushing champion (Sayers), and the NFL Defensive Player of the Year (Butkus). Ed Cody is in his sixth year coaching the offensive backs. Sid Luckman is in his last year as an advisor. Jim Ringo does an admirable job with the offensive line in his second year, and Bob Shaw in his second year does a fine job with the receivers.

Don Shinnick coaches the linebackers in his first year on staff, and he sure has some talented players to work with. Perry Moss is the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Abe Gibron will fail as a head coach, but he sure did a fine job with the defensive line in his sixth year. Notice that a secondary coach is not listed above. Possibly they spent time with Shinnick, yet will surmise that Dooley attempted to form a cohesive unit with this group (he fails badly).

There are seventeen men that play for the Bears in 1970 that are in their last or only season in Chicago. The draft does bring in a couple of players that help, yet due to trades the first player selected who actually contributes is George Farmer (54th pick in the draft). George Allen was a superb defensive coach, yet his greatest contribution to Halas was his ability to judge talent, and make trades. When he leaves the front office stumbles blindly on, and makes poor decision after poor decision.

The offense of the Bears shapes up as follows: the offensive line of Randy Jackson at left tackle, Howard Mudd at left guard, Bob Hyland at center (trade from Green Bay to replace the retired Mike Pyle), right guard Jim Cadile, and right tackle Wayne Mass. Overall a solid group, but no one stands out or is deserving of Pro Bowl recognition.

When Mudd is injured he is replaced by rookie Glen Holloway (235th pick in the draft), and he does a workmanlike job as inexperienced as he is. Randy Jackson also struggles with injury and rookie Jeff Churchin tries to fill the breach.

Lugging the leather is suppose to be a Chicago Bear strength and the men who carry the ball are Ronnie Bull, Ross Montgomery, Don Shy, Craig Baynham, Mike Hull, and Ralph Kurek. Most of these men are past their prime, never had one, and would be cut from any other team in the league.
Oh, a name was left out? Yes, Mr. Gale Sayers returns for his sixth season, and after four games is injured and finished for the year (watching him chase Alan Page to the end zone on the Viking Hall of Famers 65-yard fumble return was painful).

Bob Oates was an outstanding writer for both the Los Angeles Times and Street & Smith's magazine. Quoting Mr. Oates in the 1970 issue: "(A)ny team with a Gale Sayers has a running team and the Bears still have Sayers, who in the last two years has kept them one or two in NFL rushing. With Howard Mudd now at guard in the offensive line, Sayers and the Bears will run more efficiently than ever."

Well Bob, the Bears gained just 1,092 yards total rushing in fourteen games. There is pathetic, and then there is PATHETIC. Take away the three longest runs of the season; Montgomery 38, Shy 45, and Bull 28 and Chicago gains just 981 yards on 350 attempts. This equates to 2.8 a carry.

Bobby Douglass in his second year does not play much, yet his performance in the victory over Buffalo is eye-popping. He throws four touchdown passes but watching the film of the rocket he throws to Jim Seymour in the end zone shows the power in his left arm. Jack Concannon does not run near as often as years past, and still misfires into coverage, but this is by far his best year. He actually shows signs of consistency and accuracy. Should we give credit to Coach Moss, or possibly "state street Jack" has matured?

Whatever the reasons, the Chicago Bears for the first time since 1965 have a decent passing attack. The injury to Bob Wallace limits the tight end position, as his replacements (Hester and Coady) are plodding pass catchers on a good day.

Jim Seymour shows promise, and rookie George Farmer has his moments, but the key is six-year man Dick Gordon. Brad Schultz in his book "The NFL, Year One" states "Dick Gordon was having a breakout year at wide receiver, and would eventually lead the league in catches (71) and touchdown s(13) on his way to the Pro Bowl." Film study shows him a capable route runner, with decent hands who accelerates out of his cuts and finds open areas on a variety of patterns. Gordon flashes by a number of quality corners to score. He is by far the Bears offensive MVP.
Mr. Joe Zagorski has written the definitive book on the decade of the '70's ( The NFL in the 1970s: Pro Football’s Most Important Decadeand on page 28 states "(P)erhaps the most unpredictable performance of 1970 came from Chicago Bears wide receiver Dick Gordon."

The Chicago Bears have had a long history of hard-hitting defense entering 1970, but surrendered 339 points in 1969—Ouch! There is proof from both the stats and film study that Chicago played improved defense in '70.

Let's take a look at who took the field on that side of the ball. When the Bears won the title in 1963 they had the best secondary in the league. The foursome of Dave Whitsell, Bennie McRae, Rosey Taylor and Richie Petitbon not only worked well in cohesion, they ALL could and did make the big play.

The aging Whitsell heads to expansion New Orleans and plays standout football in '67 and '68 but no corner lasts forever, and his eventual replacement at right corner is Joe Taylor. Joe always gives an effort, and is a solid player, but he struggles during the '70 season and is replaced often by Butch Davis (his only year), and Ron Smith.
Left corner Bennie McRae in his last year just does not play well. Earlier in his career, the swift, tough undersized former hurdle champion was a key component in Dooley's attempt at a nickel coverage called the "Dooley Defense". McRae would align as an outside linebacker at 186 pounds and would stop sweeping runners in their tracks, and pick off short passes. Bennie does none of this in 1970. Though not on the level of Herb Adderley or Barney—he gives the Bears everything he had for nine years. His time is done.

Rosey Taylor earned a Pro Bowl berth in 1968 but was traded to San Francisco during the middle of 1969 for Howard Mudd. Only Jim Dooley could explain why he traded a quality defender like Taylor away?

How good was Rosey? When San Francisco wins their first division title in 1970 the Len Eshmont award winner was Mr. Taylor. Since Dooley has traded this speedy, tough tackling valiant warrior; he must have a quality replacement right? Oh, Dick Daniels is not going to make any all-star teams? In fact, this is his last year in Chicago and is often replaced by athletic Garry Lyle at free safety.

Daniels misses tackles, and is out of position on deep passes way too often. Lee Calland could not keep a starting assignment in either Minnesota or Atlanta. Calland is released by Atlanta on October 29th, 1968 and signed by the George Allen Rams. Calland is then traded to Chicago for veteran strong safety Richie Petitbon.

Calland never suits up for the Bears, and is off to Pittsburgh to play for a 1-13 team, while Petitbon gives the Rams two savvy seasons. Richie did not have one of his better years in '68, and the blown coverage in the devastating loss to Green Bay to close the season might be laid at his doorstep? Possibly Dooley and Richie did not see eye to eye? Dooley "gave" this outstanding player away for nothing.

The starting strong safety for the Bears in '69 was castoff George Youngblood, and he is possibly the worst starting strong safety in the league. So, who starts in '70 you ask? Phil Clark is stiff in coverage, pedestrian slow in pursuit, and an average tackler at best.

The best defensive back on the team is Ron Smith. He starts at right corner to begin the year and also sees plenty of action at strong safety. This group finishes 25th in the defensive passer rating category with a mark of 79.5 (league average is 65.6). Since the Bear defense of '70 is improved; somebody must be doing a helluva job.

The right defensive end is veteran wild man Ed O'Bradovich, and he still gives an effort on every play. A solid pass rusher, who pursues well, and fights left offensive tackles every down. The right defensive tackle comes in a trade with Cincinnati in the form of Big Bill Staley. An adequate pass rusher, who mans the fort well on running plays.
George Seals was a quick, strong offensive guard who is moved to defensive tackle. Seals sheds blocks well, pursues with a vengeance, and can and does crush the interior pass pocket. His forced fumble sack of Bob Berry in Atlanta was one of the best plays by a Bear defender all year. Since we have men like Olsen and Greene in the league; Mr. Seals gets no recognition, but he sure played strong football in 1970.

The NFL did not have a "most improved player award", but if they did Willie Holman would have been a finalist for the award. Carl Eller, Deacon Jones, and Claude Humphrey all play left defensive end, and are in the Hall of Fame. Willie Holman got more sacks (14) in 1970 than any of them! Every technique is textbook, and he and Seals are outstanding on the end/tackle stunt.
Chicago finished third in the league in sacks with 42 (at least 32 by this quartet). The Bears in a trade with Green Bay acquire Lee Roy Caffey. He is very fast for a big man, experienced, and played championship football for Lombardi when he felt like it. Benched for his lackadaisical play at times, the Bears need a right linebacker, and Caffey should help right? Though he plays solid football at times the first half of the campaign in his only year in Chicago he is replaced often by undersized rookie Ross Brupbacher (100th pick in the draft). Ross is learning his lessons quickly and will go on to give Chicago some strong seasons.
Doug Buffone is a terrific storyteller and in his long career, he saw plenty to tell about. Doug was also a quality left or strong side linebacker. He played the sweep well, and when asked to blitz he came with purpose. His main strength was in zone pass coverage where his instincts and experience limited opponents. Buffone intercepted four passes in '70 to lead the team. Some of the plays he demonstrates athleticism and sure hands. He worked extremely well with the middle linebacker of the Bears.
The magazines of this era usually had feature articles on the best quarterbacks or running backs (there were plenty to choose from), but in November of 1970 Sport magazine did an article on Richard Marvin Butkus. The title of the article by Gary Cartwright is my title for this saga. Though could go hours with why he is the best of his generation, and probably of all-time—let's focus on 1970.

He is continually around the ball carrier and arrives in a bad mood bent on destruction. His blitz of Norm Snead to finalize the Bear victory over Philadelphia is a classic. His range on zone coverage is incredible when you figure how big he is. Excellent angles on his pass drops, and soft sure hands.

Opponents gained 1,471 yards rushing against Chicago. Detroit and Minnesota ground out yards with punishing rushing attacks, yet the longest run of the year against the Bears was just 23 yards. The Chicago front seven led by Butkus were the best in the league in run pursuit. Rather than go through all fourteen games; will end this saga with the final game ever in Wrigley Field.

Green Bay won eight of the ten games in Wrigley in the decade of the '60's. The Packer victory over the Bears earlier in the year in Green Bay was another of veteran Bart Starr's ability to lead his team down the field when it counted most (Packers won 20-19). Since the Bears began the year 2-0 they have now won just twice in their last ten games.

Today on December 13th would be different as the offense and defense both contributed. Green Bay goes three and out, and Concannon drives the Bears 89 yards to score (all 89 yards came on pass plays). Butkus sacks Starr, and the Packers again punt. Concannon gains 54 yards on his two completions and he hooks up with Farmer for 42 yards and the score.

Jack has begun the game 5 of 5 for 143 yards and two touchdowns! Late in the first quarter, Dale Livingston puts Green Bay on the scoreboard with a 32-yard field goal. On that drive, Starr is injured and is replaced by Patrick. The only score in the second quarter is Concannon running 15 yards to score. Hall of Famer Willie Wood pilfers Jack's first pass of the second half, but the Bears recover a Carroll Dale fumble to avert disaster. Mac Percival misses a 44-yard field goal attempt, but get the ball right back on a Dick Daniels interception. The short drive to score is Dick Gordon's league leading 13th touchdown catch of the season.

Late in the 3rd quarter, Green Bay advances to their own forty-seven, but the Chicago pass rush led by Willie Holman registers two sacks, and Anderson again punts. Linzy Cole of the Bears fumbles and the Packers move right down the field and score on a Donny Anderson 7-yard run. Chicago responds with a 69-yard scoring march as Concannon gains 69 yards on his four completions.

Though Chicago leads 35-10 there is never going to be a Packer team that does not give its' all in a game against the Bears. Doug Hart partially blocks Bobby Joe Green's punt (one of only three punts Green had in his 14-yearcareer) and the Packers begin on their own forty-nine late in the game with Rick Norton now at quarterback.

Though the youngster is sacked twice on the drive, the Packers find the end zone one last time on a 29-yard toss from Norton to Hilton. The Bears close the season with a road victory over New Orleans to finish 6-8.

The challenge in evaluating any team is not only looking at the statistics but studying game film. A Bear team that scores only three rushing touchdowns all season and is outgained all year brings about questions of just how good are they? The Bears scored only 37 points in the 3rd quarter all year which begs the question of how good was this coaching staff at half-time adjustments? Chicago also lost the turnover battle for the year, yet somehow managed to win six games.

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