November 17, 2010

1963: Bears Dominate Packers in Key Western Conference Showdown

The main headline in the Chicago Tribune on November 17, 1963 read “Nation Awaits Bears-Packers Today”, and there was no question that the contest at Chicago’s Wrigley Field between the host Bears and visiting Green Bay Packers was significant.

Head Coach Vince Lombardi’s Packers had won the Western Conference the previous three seasons and went on to win the NFL Championship in 1961 and ’62. Seasoned and solid on both offense and defense, they were 8-1 heading into the showdown at Wrigley Field, having lost the opening game to the Bears in Green Bay by a 10-3 score. The offense, however, had sustained two key losses – one prior to the start of the season when star HB Paul Hornung was suspended by Commissioner Pete Rozelle for gambling, and the second in the sixth game when QB Bart Starr suffered a broken hand. 32-year-old veteran QB Zeke Bratkowski had been obtained from the Rams, but it was John Roach, in his third season as the backup, running the offense for the fourth straight game at Chicago.

The Bears, coached by the “Papa Bear”, 68-year-old George Halas, were also 8-1, having been upset by the 49ers in Week 6. The offense, led by QB Bill Wade, was conservative and unexciting, but the defense, coached by George Allen, was excellent against both the run and pass. The line was anchored by All-Pro DE Doug Atkins; the linebacking corps of Joe Fortunato, Bill George, and Larry Morris was considered the best in pro football; and the defensive backfield featured All-Pro safeties Roosevelt Taylor and Richie Petitbon (Morris pictured above tackling Roach).

There was a capacity crowd of 49,166 in attendance on a pleasant day. The Halas game plan was to control the ball and smother Green Bay’s offense, and that is what happened. The tempo was set in the first quarter.

The Packers received the opening kickoff and gained a first down on two five-yard runs by FB Jim Taylor, but were shut down thereafter. Jerry Norton’s punt traveled only 27 yards, giving the Bears good field position at their 40 yard line. They drove to the Green Bay 22, with FB Joe Marconi starting off with a nine-yard run and TE Mike Ditka catching a 16-yard pass from Wade, and Roger LeClerc kicked a 29-yard field goal.

The next Green Bay possession resulted in a 38-yard punt which, combined with a 15-yard penalty for a personal foul on OT Forrest Gregg, put the Bears on the Green Bay 47. The resulting possession ended with a 46-yard field goal by LeClerc to extend the lead to 6-0.

Packers CB Herb Adderley returned the ensuing kickoff from three yards deep in his end zone to the 35, but fumbled when hit by Chicago end Bo Farrington and LeClerc recovered. Wade passed to split end Angelo Coia for 14 yards and then fleet HB Willie Galimore (pictured at right) raced 27 yards for a touchdown. The score stood at 13-0 at the end of the first quarter, and for all intents and purposes the outcome was decided.

The Bears had another chance to score in the second quarter after Joe Fortunato recovered a fumble by Roach at the Green Bay 33, but LeClerc missed a 19-yard field goal attempt after Chicago drove to the 12.

In the first possession of the third quarter, the Bears went 68 yards, highlighted by a screen pass from Wade to Marconi that gained 28 yards to the Green Bay 43. The drive was finally stopped at the 12 and LeClerc kicked another field goal to extend the margin to 16-0.

The teams traded punts, and then Roosevelt Taylor (pictured at left) pulled a Roach pass out of the hands of flanker Boyd Dowler at the Green Bay 43 and returned it to the 35. However, the Packers defense stiffened and LeClerc missed another field goal attempt.

Bratkowski entered the game at quarterback for the Packers, but on the first play of the fourth quarter he was intercepted by CB Dave Whitsell, leading to a successful LeClerc field goal of 35 yards. With the clock running down to nine minutes, Bratkowski went to the air again but missed WR Bob Jeter twice on long passes, and the Bears took over on downs after four incompletions.

LeClerc missed a 49-yard field goal attempt, but after HB Tom Moore ran for 18 yards, Bratkowski was intercepted by CB Bennie McRae, who returned it 46 yards to the Green Bay 5. Wade faked a pass and then ran five yards for a touchdown on second down.

The Packers finally scored with just over four minutes left to play on an 11-yard run by Moore following a 64-yard pass play from Bratkowski to split end Max McGee, but other than salvaging some pride, it was meaningless (it was also the first touchdown the Packers had scored in two games against Chicago that season).

Following Green Bay’s touchdown, the Bears ran the clock down. Fittingly enough, the last play was Taylor intercepting a Bratkowski pass and Chicago came away with a convincing 26-7 win that put them alone in first place.

The Bears threw just 14 passes but ran the ball 57 times for an impressive 248 yards while holding the vaunted Packers running attack to 71. It was a great job of ball control to complement the domination by the defense, which constantly broke through to disrupt running plays, shutting down the famed Green Bay power sweep on several occasions before it could get under way. Perhaps most significantly, the Packers turned the ball over seven times while Chicago suffered no turnovers at all.

Bill Wade (pictured above right) directed the offense well and, in keeping with the game plan, didn’t throw often – he was good on 6 of 14 passes for 92 yards, and while he threw no touchdown passes, he also gave up no interceptions. He also ran the ball four times for 28 yards and a touchdown. Willie Galimore was the top rusher with 79 yards on 14 carries, including the one score. It was a group effort by the stable of running backs – Joe Marconi added 52 yards on 14 attempts, FB Rick Casares 44 yards on 11 rushes, and HB Ron Bull had 30 yards on four carries. Mike Ditka and Angelo Coia caught two passes apiece, with Ditka gaining the most yards (32 to Coia’s 26, while Marconi had 28 on his lone reception). Roger LeClerc (pictured below left) was another key to the club’s success, making good on four of seven field goal attempts.

Green Bay’s quarterbacks were a combined 11 for 30 and suffered five interceptions. John Roach was successful on 8 of 20 passes for 92 yards with two intercepted. Zeke Bratkowski was able to complete only 3 of 10 passes for 86 yards with three picked off (Bart Starr was active for the game but his only action was as holder on the lone placekick). Tom Moore was the leading rusher with 50 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown. Jim Taylor, after gaining the quick 10 yards to start the game, was held to only 13 yards the rest of the way and ended up with 23 on seven attempts. Thanks to the long reception late in the game, Max McGee was the leading receiver with three catches for 93 yards.

“They just beat the hell out of us, both ways, offensively and defensively,” said Coach Lombardi afterward.

Phil Handler, the Bears’ offensive line coach, was given the game ball in recognition of the inspired line play that allowed the Bears to run effectively and control the ball.

While the Bears tied their next two games, they didn’t suffer any losses the rest of the way and finished in first place with an 11-1-2 record. Green Bay also didn’t lose again, including one tie, to come in second at 11-2-1. The season series sweep by Chicago made all the difference – it was the first time since Lombardi’s first year in 1959 that a team had beaten the Packers twice in the same season. The Bears went on to defeat the New York Giants to win the NFL Championship – it was the sixth league title for Halas, who led the team to its first 42 years earlier.

The Bears finished at the top in total defense, including the rare distinction of being best against both the run and the pass. They allowed a league-low 144 points, intercepted an NFL-best 36 passes, and also were at the top with 57 sacks. The offense, by contrast, ranked 10th overall of the 14 NFL teams – but with only 25 turnovers (which, since the defense had 54 takeaways, gave Chicago a +29 differential), they minimized the mistakes and controlled the football enough to reach the top.