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 second of 11 installments that will post on Fridays throughout the year.
September 22, 1963: Bears 28, Minnesota 7
I don't want to overstate the issue, but Michael Keller Ditka, the pride and joy of Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, has always been somewhat unique. That's Ditka: the tight end, the assistant coach, the head coach, the football analyst, the TV huckster and the restaurateur.
I had the good fortune to see every home game Ditka played at Wrigley Field during his six years with the Bears and what I witnessed was a degree of ferocity matched only by Dick Butkus. I still recall a block that Mike put on Baltimore Colts' defensive back Bobby Boyd in 1962 that I really believed had left Bobby for dead. Frankly, Boyd looked like he had been given a love tap by an 18-wheeler.
Click to view photos from the 1963 championship season.
To this day I remain convinced that Ditka, who was chosen NFL Rookie of the Year in 1961 and caught 114 passes his first two years in the league, could have been an All-Pro at five additional positions besides tight end. Mike was born to play all three linebacker spots, strong safety and fullback. He is the most complete player in Chicago Bears history.
Ditka was front and center on the marquee when the Bears, fresh from their season-opening win over the Packers, travelled to "the Met" in Bloomington, Minnesota, to face Norm Van Brocklin and the Vikings the second week of the 1963 season.
Quarterback Bill Wade found Ditka twice for scoring strikes as the Bears stuck a needle in the Vikes 28-7. Chicago unraveled Minnesota in the fourth quarter scoring 14 points while the Vikes were left pancake flat.
You have to understand that for a fair share of veteran Bears this win held unique significance. Let me tell you a quick story. Minnesota, pro football hungry, had tried in vain during the 1950s to land an NFL club before finally agreeing to join the long-gone American Football League in the summer of 1959.
The decision by Vikes' chief Max Winter caught the eye of George Halas as he sat behind the desk of his downtown office at 173 W. Madison Street. The coach knew the Twin Cities were fertile football ground, so he gathered up his NFL troops and threw the new league a left hook in late 1960 when Minnesota was offered a ticket to join the NFL. Winter quickly told the AFL to get lost.
Sounds cozy, doesn't it? Well, there had to be a hitch. The Vikings, a collection of rookies and castoffs, clobbered the Bears behind energetic quarterback Fran Tarkenton, 37-13, in Minnesota's opening day, 1961 NFL debut.
Halas was left seething. Outraged. Furious. However, his anger may well have been matched by Ditka. The rookie out of Pitt became so burned up late in the ballgame that he decked another ballplayer. That wouldn't be worth the time of day if the guy Mike socked hadn't been his own teammate, Ted Karras. Hey, that was Ditka.
Back to 1963. The Bears upped their scorecard to 2-0 on the strength of a defense that allowed Minnesota to pile up 326 yards, but find the goal line just once. Meanwhile, interceptions by kicker/linebacker Roger LeClerc, a notorious Cubs park boo bird target, Bennie McRae and Davey Whitsell, a southern fried bantam rooster, made life miserable for Tarkenton. The "pick" was becoming a way of life for the Halas men. In two games versus Bart Starr and Tarkenton, Chicago had come up with seven interceptions, a trend that would continue season long.
Wade, the Bears quarterback, and a guy who openly complained about the club's conservative offensive approach, completed 23 of 32 passes good for 253 yards and three touchdowns. Wade wanted to be Johnny Unitas, he wanted to play long ball. But the Bears coaching staff, in particular Luke Johnsos, the club's offensive coach and a long-time Halas lieutenant, knew the formula. If the Bears were going to outlast Green Bay, they would have to rely on a wicked, turnover-oriented defense and an offense that protected the football.
The Cubs were nearing the close of an 82-80 campaign, their first plus .500 season since 1946. The White Sox, trying to repeat the pennant success of their '59 season, were to close the year at 94-68. The Sox had just one problem, a perennial problem. They spent the year looking up at the New York Yankees.
Eyebrows in Chicago were beginning to raise. There was a sense that something tumultuous was taking place with the "Monsters of the Midway." But take note, there were still 12 games left on the schedule, including a rematch with Vince Lombardi.
But it was clear a tone had been established.