Chicago sports media icon Chet Coppock shares his memories of the 1963 Chicago Bears World Championship season with you on ChicagoBears.com this season. This is the tenth of 11 installments that will post on Fridays throughout the year.
December 29, 1963: Bears 14, Giants 10
"Halas achieves Championship glory."
The old warrior was playing on guts and courage. His left knee had earlier been turned to Jello. Yelverton Abraham Y.A. Tittle had one last throw left in his 37-year old body, a body that had been treated like a bean bag on what was quite simply a Wrigley Field skating rink.
There really was no New York receiver within 10 yards of the ball when it landed. It gave former Bears' first rounder Richie Petitbon one of the easiest interceptions in his career and left the crowd in a state of bedlam.
The Bears were World Champions for the first time in 17 years.
Two weeks earlier the Bears had clinched a Western Division Championship with a stunning 24-14 victory over George Wilson and the Detroit Lions.
Vince Lombardi and the Packers had been left in the dust. Vince and his prolific collection of Green Bay athletes would spend an offseason thinking about a year that turned on two losses to the Bears, the only two setbacks the Pack endured.
As for the Bears, the team's defense was more than entitled to strut. The club led the NFL in 11 of 19 defensive categories. They were second in eight others while allowing just 144 points. What does that mean? Let me give you a small sample.
Chicago held Johnny Unitas and Baltimore without a touchdown pass in two head-to-head wins over the Colts and held Green Bay to just 10 points in two meetings.
Very simply, this club is one of the more painfully underrated teams in NFL history.
No, the offense wasn't a point a minute air show. It was a unit designed to control the football and avoid turnovers and it played its role to perfection.
We move to December 29, 1963. The Bears facing a New York club that had scored 446 points over 14 games. Tittle had thrown 36 touchdown passes with a completion percentage of 60 percent.
The NFL had embraced television but still wasn't quite certain it could just give its product away. So, the Bears and Giants were blacked out locally as fans scurried to Milwaukee, South Bend and closed circuit locations throughout the Chicago area to see the Bears put in a bid for the club's eighth world championship.
Hay was spread across the Cubs park in an effort to soften the rock-hard turf. Blowers were going 24 hours a day. Nevertheless when the two clubs kicked off shortly after 12 noon on "Championship" day, the south end of Wrigley Field was already in shadows and footing was like trying to water ski across the Mojave Desert.
|The cover of the 1963 championship game program. Click to see photos of the 1963 championship season.|
The Giants struck first. Bill Wade, unable to find an open target, scrambled up the middle where he was met by a pair of New York tacklers. The ball popped loose and former Bear Erich Barnes came up with the recovery for New York.
It didn't take long for Tittle to find the end zone. Several plays later, Y.A. found New York glamour boy Frank Gifford in the end zone to give the Giants a 7-0 lead. Gifford beat Bennie McRae on the play. Bennie had been beat - by Giff and the frozen surface. Honestly, it's the only big play I can recall McRae giving up all year.
The Bears would counter before the first period closed. A screen pass by Tittle was picked off by Larry Morris (Game MVP) and returned deep into Giants red zone. Morris, who was something less than fleet, always joked that he was, "scared to death the first 30 yards that I was going to get caught and the second 30 that I WOULDN'T get caught." The Bears capitalized on the turnover when Wade scored from a yard out to tie the game at 7.
New York's Don Chandler booted a 13-yard field goal in the second quarter to give New York a 10-7 halftime lead.
But, stop the music. New York suffered a massive blow before the break. Tittle, throwing downfield to Frank Gifford, was hit on the left knee by Morris. I can still see a limping Y.A. being aided off the field by his teammate and pal Hugh McElhenny.
I don't think anybody in the ballpark thought Tittle would return to game action. It seemed more likely that Y.A. would be headed to Northwestern Hospital for an overnight stay and maybe a surgical blade. To his everlasting credit, Tittle came back and played the full second half.
The single most critical play of the game? This has always received my full and complete support. The Bears opened the third quarter by kicking off to McElhenny, a future Hall of Famer. Hugh found a seam and was headed to the house, but Rosey Taylor, the fleet-footed free safety, came up with a touchdown-saving tackle that kept the Giants off the board. While the Bears continued to harass Tittle, there would be just one score during the final 30 minutes.
Ed O'Bradovich, step forward. The big kid out of Proviso East High School sniffed out a Tittle screen pass intended for Joe Morrison. O'B came up with the pick to give the Bears superb field position.
Upstairs in the Bears' coaches box, Luke Johnsos finally called a play he'd been waiting to use all day. I won't bother with elaborate terminology. Simply put, Luke called for a play that had Wade "look" Giants middle linebacker Sam Huff off the play while Mike Dikta ran a quick in route. The play worked to perfection and set up Wade to find the end zone with his second TD off a quarterback sneak.
The score would stand. Bears 14-Giants 10. In the fourth period, the roars of the crowd grew more and more intense as Ronnie Bull burned time off the clock while carrying the football ten times on consecutive possessions.
Tittle was left numb. the Bears' defense would intercept him five times. The last coming on the Petitbon pick in the end zone.
It was a different NFL in those days. There was no end zone dance by Richie. There was no trophy presentation at midfield.
The Papa Bear himself, left the building quicker than Elvis Presley. The beloved old man had a theory which really makes sense if you think about it.
Coach Halas didn't believe in shaking hands with a rival coach when a game was over. George would be very cordial before the kickoff, but Halas always figured that a handshake after the final gun was a waste of time since one coach was going to be furious.
Papa Bear was embraced by long time sidekick Phil Handler as he quickly made his way to the warmth of the Bears dressing room.
The only real histrionics were provided by O'Bradovich. Eddie, a study in exuberance, tossed his helmet in the stands. Eddie was fined 250 bucks by the old man. A blow, sure. Did Ed protest? No.
O'B will tell you, "What was I going to say or do? Papa Bear made the NFL."