November 27, 2010

1955: Cardinals Hand Bears Key Defeat in Major Upset

The Chicago Bears were 6-3 and had won six straight games as they took on their cross-town rivals, the Chicago Cardinals, at Comiskey Park on November 27, 1955. George Halas, the owner and in his third stint as head coach, had announced that this would be his last season on the sideline and the club was focused on winning one last title for “the Papa Bear.” They were in first place in the Western Conference, a half game in front of the Rams, a club they had beaten twice.

The Cardinals were 3-5-1 and had lost their last two games coming into the annual intercity contest with the Bears. Under first-year Head Coach Ray Richards, the club had some outstanding talent in HB Ollie Matson (pictured above) and defensive halfback Dick “Night Train” Lane, but was by no means considered a match for its rival. They were 16.5-point underdogs coming into the game.

There were 47,314 fans in attendance in a heavy snowstorm, and even though it was the Cardinals’ home field, many of those were Bears fans, judging from the cheers for the Bears’ players during the pregame introductions. The turf was soft and muddy due to the weather conditions and the lights were turned on during the first quarter.

The tone for the game was set early as the Cardinals took the opening kickoff and drove 73 yards in 13 plays for the first score. QB Lamar McHan threw a pass intended for end Gern Nagler that was deflected but grabbed by end Don Stonesifer, who completed the play for a 28-yard touchdown.

The Bears took possession and were forced to punt. Matson received the kick at his own 23 yard line and returned it 77 yards for another Cardinals TD. Before the opening period was over, rookie HB Dave Mann scored on a 19-yard run to open up a 21-0 margin for the Cards.

The lead was extended to 27-0 in the second quarter after FB John Olszewski ran for a 41-yard touchdown. While PK Pat Summerall missed the extra point, it hardly mattered. The Bears finally got on the board when QB George Blanda ran for a one-yard TD, but were in a deep hole at 27-7 as the first half ended.

Any hopes that the Bears might climb out of that hole ended when they fumbled the ball away in their first two possessions of the second half. Summerall kicked field goals of 12 and 40 yards, and Mann contributed a long touchdown dash of 61 yards to add to the rout at 40-7 after three periods.

Matson and Stonesifer finished off the scoring in the fourth quarter, with the Hall of Fame halfback plunging in for a TD from a yard out and the end catching a seven-yard pass from McHan. The Bears scored an inconsequential touchdown in the last minutes as third string QB Bob Williams connected with end John Hoffman on a 23-yard pass play. The final score of the stunning upset was 53-14.

The Cardinals gained 301 yards on the ground, averaging 5.7 yards per attempt, and 175 passing for an overall total of 474, to 211 yards for the Bears. Dave Mann (pictured at left) led the club in rushing with 108 yards and two TDs. The Cards also led in first downs, 20 to 12, while the Bears turned the ball over five times (four interceptions, one fumble) to just two suffered by the Cardinals.

The Cardinals also led with 9 penalties, to four by the Bears. While tempers flared occasionally, a fight broke out near the end that caused two Bears and a Cardinal to be ejected.

The Bears, who were the top rushing team in the NFL, gained only 25 yards on the ground, with 186 through the air. QB Ed Brown, normally a reliable thrower, missed on all seven of his pass attempts. It was the worst beating the Cardinals had inflicted on the Bears since 1929, when Ernie Nevers scored six touchdowns.

“When you’re a Cardinal, part of the job is beating the Bears,” said veteran Charley Trippi, a Hall of Fame halfback in his prime who was finishing his career as a punter. “We beat them at their own game, with good blocking and good tackling.”

The loss proved devastating to the Bears’ postseason hopes – they dropped behind the Rams, and while they won their last two games to end up with an 8-4 record, LA did likewise to win the Western Conference title at 8-3-1. The Cardinals went 4-7-1 and tied the Eagles for fourth in the Eastern Conference.

Ollie Matson led the NFL in punt return average (18.8 yards on 13 returns) and, with the touchdown against the Bears, was the only player in the league to return two for scores during the season. His 1325 all-purpose yards (475 rushing, 237 receiving, 245 returning punts, 368 returning kickoffs) ranked second.

Dave Mann ran for 336 yards on 85 carries and caught 16 passes. He also ran back kickoffs as he totaled 609 all-purpose yards and handled much of the team’s punting (in addition to Trippi).

Don Stonesifer (pictured below) led the Cardinals in pass receiving with 28 catches for 330 yards and five touchdowns.

As for George Halas, while he did indeed step down as head coach (while continuing to run the club from the front office), it did not prove to be a permanent retirement. He returned to the sideline in 1958 and won another championship in ’63 before finally retiring for good after the 1967 season.