August 7, 2015

1964: Bears Rally to Defeat College All-Stars

The 31st annual College All-Star Game in Chicago on August 7, 1964 featured the home-town Bears, NFL Champions of 1963, against the usual crop of outstanding players coming out of college.

Chicago, which was coached by “the Papa Bear” George Halas, had combined dominating defense and a conservative offense to reach the top the previous year. QB Bill Wade (pictured at right) was a competent field general and had skilled receivers in TE Mike Ditka and flanker Johnny Morris. However, there was also a shadow of tragedy due to the deaths of HB Willie Galimore and end John “Bo” Farrington in an auto accident during training camp. The players wore black arm bands in their honor.

Otto Graham was coaching the All-Stars for the seventh consecutive year and had led the collegians to two wins during that time, including the previous year against Green Bay. All-Star standouts included quarterbacks Pete Beathard from USC and George Mira of Miami, Ohio State flanker Paul Warfield, and two Arizona State backfield mates, HB Charley Taylor and FB Tony Lorick, on offense. The defense included Minnesota DE Carl Eller, linebackers Dave Wilcox of Oregon and Wally Hilgenberg from Iowa, and Oregon safety Mel Renfro. There was some controversy when Coach Graham commented that Taylor appeared to “lack desire” during the practices leading up to the game, and there was concern about the condition of the highly-touted Mira’s sore arm.

There were 65,000 fans in attendance on a 79-degree Friday night at Soldier Field. With Pete Beathard behind center, the All-Stars advanced 27 yards in four plays following the opening kickoff, but Beathard fumbled and MLB Bill George recovered for the Bears at the All-Star 46. The pro champs were unable to take advantage of the break as they gained six yards in three plays and Roger LeClerc was short on a 47-yard field goal attempt.

The All-Stars were unable to get beyond their 16 on the next possession and the resulting punt gave Chicago good field position at the All-Star 43. Bill Wade completed passes to split end Gary Barnes and Mike Ditka but, with first-and-goal at the three yard line, HB Ronnie Bull gained a yard and Wade’s pass into the end zone was intercepted by CB Jerry Richardson from West Texas State.

The collegians moved effectively in response as Beathard completed passes to Paul Warfield and split end Chuck Logan of Northwestern. Tony Lorick contributed a 20-yard run as well. Beathard threw to Charley Taylor for a 29-yard gain to the Chicago 15 and, while the All-Stars were unable to reach the end zone, Ohio State’s Dick Van Raaphorst booted a 14-yard field goal for the game’s first points.

The Bears came alive on offense and nearly scored when Wade connected with flanker Johnny Morris for an apparent 31-yard touchdown, but Morris was called for offensive pass interference. However, on the seventh play of the series, they did get a TD on a pass from Wade to Ditka that covered 13 yards. Bob Jencks added the extra point and Chicago was ahead by 7-3.

The All-Stars again had to punt following their next possession but HB Billy Martin muffed the kick and Taylor recovered for the collegians at the Chicago 17. Two plays later, George Mira picked up a fumbled snap and pitched the ball back to Taylor, who then unleashed an option pass to Georgia Tech TE Ted Davis for a 14-yard touchdown. Van Raaphorst converted and the All-Stars took a 10-7 lead into halftime.

The Bears went 80 yards in 11 plays to start the third quarter and effectively take control of the game. The big play was a pass from Wade to Morris that covered 39 yards to the All-Star one. Two plays later, Wade scored from there on a quarterback sneak and, with Jencks adding the PAT, Chicago was in front by 14-10.

On the next series, QB Jack Concannon of Boston College fumbled and DE Doug Atkins recovered for the Bears and Wade immediately capitalized by connecting with Barnes for a 20-yard TD. Jencks added the point after and in less than two minutes the pro champs had gone from a three-point deficit to a 21-10 lead.

The teams traded interceptions before the All-Stars, with Mira (pictured at left) back in at quarterback, advanced to the Chicago four. However, the Bears held and the collegians came up empty.

In the fourth quarter, a Beathard pass was picked off by CB Bennie McCrae at the All-Star 39, and the Bears effectively put the game away when backup QB Rudy Bukich threw to HB Charlie Bivins for a 30-yard touchdown.

Down by 28-10, the All-Stars attempted trickery with both Beathard and Mira lining up together in the backfield. Advancing 80 yards, and with Beathard taking the snap and lateraling to Mira, the collegians managed to get one last TD on a five-yard toss to Taylor. Van Raaphorst converted but there were only 25 seconds remaining in the contest. The Bears ended up winning comfortably by a final score of 28-17.

Chicago had the edge in total yards (371 to 289) although the All-Stars managed to gain 142 yards on the ground. Both teams turned the ball over four times apiece.

Bill Wade completed 15 of 23 passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns. Ronnie Bull led the Bears in rushing with 35 yards on 9 carries.

George Mira completed 8 of 18 passes for 70 yards and a TD and rushed for 56 yards on four carries. Pete Beathard was five of seven for 75 yards but gave up two interceptions. Tony Lorick ran for 38 yards on six attempts and Charley Taylor (pictured below) contributed seven rushes for 36 yards, caught two passes for 34 yards and a TD, threw a touchdown pass, and recovered a fumble. The player who had been subject to Otto Graham’s barbed comment prior to the game was named All-Star MVP.

The win by Chicago gave the pro champs a 20 to 9 edge in the series, with two ties. It was the fifth victory for the Bears, against one defeat and a tie, in what was their final appearance in the game. They dropped to sixth place in the Western Conference with a 5-9 record in ’64 and did not return to the postseason until 1977.

Charley Taylor went on to a Rookie of the Year season for Washington and, shifted to wide receiver two years later, put together a career that made him the NFL’s all-time pass receiving leader at the time of his retirement (649 catches) and gained him enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. George Mira had far less success, spending most of his career as a backup for the 49ers (and later the Eagles and Dolphins) although he was the starting quarterback for the Birmingham Americans, who won the only World Football League championship in 1974.