Chet Coppock is a sports media legend who counts attending the last 63 Chicago Bears home openers among his many lifetime achievements. He has been kind enough to share his memories of the 1963 Chicago Bears World Championship season with you on ChicagoBears.com this season. This is the first of 11 installments that will post on Fridays throughout the year. We'll let Chet take it from here...
"The memories remain so rich, so vivid, so filled with excitement and drama. There are so many names, so many thrills to recall, that 50 years after the fact, I feel blessed, I feel uniquely privileged, that I was able to see this gridiron story unfold, gain energy and, finally, end in Championship glory. I love George Halas. To this day, the beloved "Old Man" remains my consummate football hero. What I would give just one more time to see this dynamic individual growling and prowling his way up and down the Wrigley Field sidelines.
In 1963, the Bears captured their last NFL title under Papa Bear's direction. The championship remains so much a part of the NFL"s first "Golden Era." Come fly with me. Join me as we relive that magic season. The wins over Vince Lombardi, the dramatic regular season victory over Detroit, and finally the head to head meeting with Allie Sherman and the New York Giants that left me with tears of joy.
The '63 Bears. They will always be my champions. The team which captured a 15 year old Chet Coppock, put him in a side headlock, and, quite simply, never let go. '63...The Bears.... Damn, they were special."
September 15, 1963: Bears 10, Green Bay 3
Is that you out there Bill George, Doug Atkins, Larry Morris, Mike Ditka, Richie Petitbon, Rosey Taylor, Bill Wade, Willie Galimore, Ronnie Bull? Has the "Old Man" really been gone 30 years?
Bears fans, we are about to embarked on a journey. A mission that seemed too improbable, to many unthinkable, but concluded with Papa Bear George Halas and his cast of characters with "character" putting a side headlock on a National Football League Championship.
A half century has come and gone since this magical mystery tour took place, 50 long years. Yet, the memories, while grainy on film, remain so colorfully vivid to those who were blessed to follow the mission.
|Bears back Ronnie Bull caught six passes for 48 yards to help the Bears defeat the Packers in the 1963 season opener. |
Click to view photos from the 1963 championship season.
As had been their long-time custom, the Bears checked into the old Northland Hotel in Green Bay late on the afternoon of September 14, 1963. The Halas men were less than 24 hours away from their season-opening bout at New City Stadium against Vince Lombardi and the two time-defending NFL Champion Green Bay Packers.
Side note: New City Stadium? Yes. The ballpark, which has undergone numerous renovations and sat just 39,000 fans at the time, would be rechristened as Lambeau Field in 1965.
What was the Bears' level of anxiety? Just what were their individual and collective thoughts as they made their way through the team meal and a final meeting before the club's 11:00 curfew? What was Halas thinking about? It had been 17 long years since the old man had won his last title back in 1946 with Hall of Famer Sid Luckman back of center.
My gut tells me that Halas knew his club was on the verge of something prolific, an upset that would send a message throughout the old 14 team-pre-expansion NFL.
Why? What gives me license to think that Papa Bear figured his guys were ready to welcome Green Bay back to the human race? Let's flip the calendar back one more year. The Bears, with Bill Wade firmly entrenched at quarterback, won 9 games in 1962.
But the nine wins were overshadowed, make that crushed, by two losses. The Bears hadn't just been licked by Green Bay in '62. The Pack had drop-kicked the Bears into Lake Michigan 49-0 and 38-7.
The coach, 68 years young, was an insufferable loser. The humiliations inflicted upon him and his Bears by Lombardi made Halas's skin crawl.
But Halas was also a street fighter. So, literally, the club's entire '62 offseason was spent on one drill and one drill only-- figuring out a way to beat Green Bay not once, but twice. Fire, combined with no small sense of anger, was burning within George Halas.
The old man told his young assistant George Allen to redesign the Bears' defense. Allen came up with the "buzz and rub" concept that's primary function was to thwart the vaunted "Packer Sweep" and create a pass rush that, in turn, would create havoc for Bart Starr. For the record, it was actually a very simplistic 4-3-4 that altered the primary responsibilities of middle linebacker Bill George.
Early on, there was no reason to believe that the new defense was going to make people forget Bronko Nagurski. For years, the Bears and Green Bay met every preseason in the annual Midwest Shrine game at old Milwaukee County Stadium.
Since both teams, at once, respected each other, but also hated each other's guts, the "Shrine" was generally played like the seventh game of the World Series. On August 24, just 22 days before the season-opening rematch, Lombardi got the best of Halas in a cake walk 28-7.
So, we arrive at game day. I had the good fortune to be in the ballpark with my dad to watch the Bears come up with their biggest win in years, 10-3, over Green Bay.
I was just 15 years old at the time, but I still recall the Bears picking off Starr four times. I can still visualize a Chicago defense that held the Packers offense to just 150 yards. 150 yards!
Chicago's front seven, very much a veteran group, stymied the Green Bay offensive line.
Joe Marconi, a former Los Angeles Ram, scored the Bears' only touchdown. The only touchdown required. The Chicago offense centered on Ronnie Bull. Ronnie, the Bears' top choice in the '62 draft, caught six passes out of the backfield for 48 yards.
Mind you, this was essentially the same Green Bay club, led by Ray Nitschke, Willie Davis, Herb Adderley, Jimmy Taylor, Jerry Kramer and Fuzzy Thurston that had knocked off the Giants the previous two years in NFL Championship games.
Those '63 Bears were guys who worked hard and partied like it was, well, 1999. Hall of Fame defensive end Doug Atkins set NFL records for winning martini drinking contests. Atkins was also known to call Halas at home at 4:00 in the morning to complain about the team's offense.
December 29, 1963 was still in the distant future. Championship rings were nowhere close to being dispensed but the Bears were back in business. Big business.
Next stop: Bloomington, Minnesota, and a date with Fran Tarkenton and the Vikings. 13 games to go.