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Original Issue


Under Mike Ditka, the unlikely coach picked by George Halas himself, the Chicago Bears have become a throwback to the storied past

Honestly now. Has anyone ever seen William Perry and Humphrey the Whale together in the same freshwater end zone? Has any living human spotted Jim McMahon or any member of Devo in the same hair salon or sound studio at the same time? What about Michael Benning McCaskey or Steven Douglas McMichael? McCaskey (Yale '65, Peace Corps—Ethiopia '67, Harvard Business School faculty '82) is the president of the organization. Through the pinstripes and button-downs he can be heard actually referring to himself as "the CEO." Well, that's what he is. On the other hand, McMichael (University of Texas, various biker taverns) has crawled back to defensive tackle after several excursions to the brink of civilization. McMichael is the one who upon being presented with a campaign pin in a locker room by a visiting politician said thank you very much and then stuck the pin in his bare chest. Who are these people, really? And who, frankly, is Mike Ditka, this intensely balled fist of a fellow with the darting, close-together eyes and the wing-tip hair bristles, who growls and stalks the sidelines and flings the game plan around before turning all furry and cute and cuddly just like a...well, like a bear?

O.K. So it is no mystery that these are indeed the Chicago Bears—the Bears of 13 and one, with two shutouts, several wipe-outs and only that Monday-night Noise Bowl loss to Miami marring their record—scions of the Monsters, denizens of the Dan Ryan and plunderers of much of the NFL, not to mention most other walks of commercial and marketing life.

The strange and terrific thing about the Bears is that in just a few months, or almost as long as it has taken their perpetually injured quarterback, McMahon, to grow his hair back and return to the lineup (mutually exclusive events, according to an informed source), they seem to have transcended the Monday morning sports sections and become not so much a mere football team as a pop art happening.

Stir these up and then try to prove too many cooks spoil the broth: Monsters of the Midway...Papa Bear...Sweetness...the Black 'n' Blues Brothers...a Punk Rock QB...a heartthrob yuppie DB...a coach who calls himself "nuts" but hasn't broken his hand smashing a locker or howled at the moon once in the last few minutes...somebody named both Mongo and Ming the Merciless...somebody else named Danimal...and, of course, last but certainly most, America's first cabbage patch appliance...the F-F-F-F-F-FRIDGE! (As in P-P-P-P-P-PORKY!) The Bears' training lair nestles snugly amid the ancient-moneyed, Tudored elegance of Lake Forest, Ill., where the movie Ordinary People was filmed. Ordinary? "Too many deer around here," Mongo/Ming McMichael says of beautiful wooded Lake Forest. "I got to kill 'em off before they take over."

This asymmetrical divergence of bizarre Bears is the wondrous legacy of the old sentimental teddy himself, George Halas. Papa Bear once employed a trainer who determined whether the Bears had ankle injuries by kicking them and a security guard who checked curfew-breakers by feeling for heat on the players' car hoods. The guard was known as Silver Bullets. Forget all that. The disparate variety of Bear offspring now ranges from Halas's squeaky-clean Ivy League grandson, McCaskey, who disapproves of cheerleaders and mascots but runs the show, to Sweetness himself, Walter Pay-ton, who has an NFL-record nine straight 100-yard rushing games and is finally being acclaimed as possibly the best all-around player ever. Then there is outside linebacker Otis Wilson, who says, "Knock out the quarterback? That's the thrill. That's what I play for, man," and then wonders why he doesn't make the Pro Bowl. (Uh, Otis, players vote on the Pro Bowl.) Or what about admirable Perry, his nibs the Refridge, an already internationally famous fat cherub whose replica doll will be in your stores soon, mom. Though, tragically, not in time to try to fit under the Christmas tree.

Back in the ice age Halas and his defensive assistant, Clark Shaughnessy, never saw anything on the same wavelength. Shaughnessy refused to talk whenever Halas entered the defensive meetings. Now, Bearja vu in Chicago. Ditka, the current head coach, and Buddy Ryan, the defensive coordinator who was in place before Ditka arrived, sometimes seem like sworn enemies; they couldn't agree on tastes great/less filling, much less whether Perry is an amazing discovery or just a fraudulent lard bucket. Bear players will fight at the drop of a helmet. Each other. Bear crosscurrents even merge in the same body. Middle linebacker Mike Singletary, the most valuable defensive player on the team, maybe the most valuable in all the game, is a quiet, serious student of football. Singletary wears tortoiseshell glasses and his Christianity on a navy-and-orange sleeve. Nonetheless: "Growing up, I remember watching the Bears on TV. It was great. Mud and blood flying."

The fact is, the Bears' viciousness is somehow lovable, their bickering symptomatic of their charm. They actually have become an endearing national pet—America's Tease—through the fundamental magic of tradition, hard work, a central, heartland location, nostalgia, ethnic backgrounds (Ditka! McMahon! Van Home! Otis, Willie, Tyrone!), countless eccentric characters and a 13-1 record. Ironically—but another plus—these Chi-Socks continue to play as if they were 6-8.

In a year when a celeb quarterback's leg is ripped out of his flesh in prime time and there are few individual stars (Gerald Riggs? Didn't she take Martina to three sets in the Maybelline Classic?), the Bears have been the star. Moreover, while absolutely saving the NFL from itself, the Bears have been spectacular fun. This is not a small matter. What was pro football's last fun team, the '69 Jets? It was, unless you found the Steelers' Arrowhead Holmes firing a shotgun at unsuspecting motorists quite hysterical.

Flash stat: The Chicago Bears are 4-0 in games in which a 308-pound defensive tackle has rushed for one yard or more and taken the whole stadium downtown.

Flash quote: While the Green Bay and Chicago teams engaged in some midyear verbal mudslinging, Bear wide receiver Dennis McKinnon said, "We call them the Green Bay Quackers."

See, Mr. Rozelle, the NFL doesn't always have to be Agnes of God.

"We just may be the biggest collection of zealots in history," says 6'5", 267-pound defensive end Dan Hampton, the Danimal. "But don't go comparing us with the old Raiders, Hendricks and Alzado and those clowns."

But zealots can be fighters, missionaries, lobbyists, fiends. Which is it, Danimal?

"The Raiders still use intimidation by dropped flags and kidney punches and cheap shots," says Hampton. "We play whistle to whistle and nobody sees us hitting guys in the face. We don't like that image. Monsters of the Midway. Yeah, O.K. We play like monsters, but we're congenial monsters. We say thank you and use napkins and stuff."

Defensive pillaging in Chicago is hardly a novel development. When last the Bears won the NFL championship, in 1963, the Chicago defensive unit so overshadowed its offense (on which Ditka was the tight end) that when the ball changed hands, Bear defenders snidely ordered their teammates to "hold 'em this time." Last year, after the Bears' 23-19 playoff victory over the Redskins, in which Chicago played hog butchers to Washington's storied hogs, if not to the football world, Skins QB Joe Theismann said that facing the Bear defense was like "being on a freeway at rush hour without a car."

Nevertheless, the key game so far in 1985 has been the very first one when, behind Tampa Bay 28-17 at the half, Chicago's offense exploded and showed the defense it could hold its own. The Bears won 38-28, and the offense has averaged nearly 29 points a game since. In retrospect the Buccaneers should have toasted themselves with champagne; in the middle of the season it would take six Bear opponents combined to score 29 points.

During that time, until the Dolphins neutralized the Bears' vaunted pass rush in their 38-24 win over Chicago on Dec. 2, the imposing Bears defense put together 13 consecutive touchdownless quarters, among other spectacular numbers, which is precisely what it had to do to attract the attentions of a nation gone absolutely crazy with Fridge Fever.

Ironically enough it was two "accidents" on the offensive side, live on Entertainment-Tonight Football, which originally, indelibly drilled the Bears into the American psyche. One was Ditka's use of the 308-pound William Perry on goal-line bursts—initially nothing more than a vengeful response to San Francisco's offensive guard Guy McIntyre carrying the ball in the 49ers' 23-0 blowout of the Bears in last season's NFC championship game. When Ditka touché'd the 49ers with the Refrigerator in a get-back 26-10 rout, the coach called the gimmick "food for thought," food being the only word Perry needed to hear. Immediately he began ramming for TDs and catching them and picking up Payton to try to throw him into the end zone as well. If Fridge had been a kangaroo, he could have hidden Sweetness in his pouch.

As the Bears' new Galloping Roast made a household name out of a household appliance, the ensuing commercial carnival resulted in Perry's agent, Jim Steiner, wearing fast-food pins on his Halston sports jacket and Perry himself raking in, to paraphrase the Dire Straits lyrics, "money for nothin' and chick[en]s for free." And to think Perry was, at the time, just a second-string guy from the defense who had gone over.

There is some suspicion that the Bears' erstwhile quarterback, McMahon, may also be a defender at heart, owing to the method by which he seeks out punishment, particularly from his own mates, who willingly head-bash him after scoring plays. An appreciative Ryan says, "Jim is like a defensive guy. He'll spit on you." As if his leather pants and Jack Nicholson shades affixed with a glitter gold chain weren't counterculture enough—McMahon stuck a fork in his eye in a childhood accident so the glasses are legit—here came the rebel signal caller one night wearing a railroad-spike Commando haircut, moussed back. Where are you, Bobby Layne? And you, Yelberton Abraham Tittle?

Alas, this swagger look was the simple outgrowth of a preseason training camp mishap in which McMahon chopped his own hair too short and then enticed the camp barber, Willie Gault, to undo the damage. "I knew he was ready for the insane asylum," said guard Kurt Becker of his roommate, McMahon. Gault, who is known to drop a pass now and then, let this one slip right through his fingers, whereupon his victim soon turned into a cult figure.

Previously McMahon had been known as the Catholic kid who went to Brigham Young, swore, drank and chewed all the wrong, non-Mormon things, passed for 9,563 yards and 84 touchdowns and said his fondest memory of Provo was "leaving it"; the rookie who climbed out of a limo at Halas Hall on draft day with sun rays reflecting off those glasses and onto a beer can; the fragile yet reckless torpedo always out to prove he could headbutt with anyone rather than dive out of bounds or go to his knees. So it was simple fate that McMahon, who was sidelined for the third game of the season with a back injury, who sat up in the practice-field bleachers with Joe Namath instead of practicing, who hadn't even read the game plan, kept badgering Ditka to put him in. And fate again how he ultimately came off the bench—bad leg, bad back, bad attitude, bad eye and extremely baaad hair and all—to throw three touchdown passes in less than seven minutes and turn a 9-17 Bear deficit into a 33-24 victory.

Back then, on Sept. 19, the defense was yet to deliver. The Fridge was yet to be plugged in. Viking coach Bud Grant referred to the winners as "an up-and-coming team." Nobody but nobody realized what had happened. Yet the Bears had already landed. "I tried to cut my own hair once," Ditka said.

To say that Ditka sees every Chicago Bear as the embodiment of himself would be stretching a point. Iron Mike would never hunt rattlesnakes, for example, as McMichael does. Or run with the bulls at Pamplona, as Gary Fencik has. Or frequent a Boy George/Culture Club concert, as Hampton has done ("Clock of the Heart is one of the greatest songs of all time," says the Danimal). But Ditka drafts and trades for and teaches and motivates only those players who are Bears, which automatically makes them one of him. Ask Ditka to name his most cherished accomplishment over his indomitable 25-year football career and the answer is not winning or competing, the Super Bowls (two as a player, three as an assistant coach) or the All-Pro teams, but this: "I am proudest of being a Bear."

A Bear is fair, smart; rough, tough; unyielding, unforgiving. A Bear works, tries, persists, never gives up and plays hard, oh, so very hard. "Bear down Chicago Bears" goes the fight song. A Bear "gets a chip on his shoulder in June and doesn't get it off until January," Ditka warns his players. (Preferably, Jan. 27 in 1986, the day after the Super Bowl.)

It was because he was a Bear that in 1961 Halas drafted Ditka, a mean, ornery All-America end out of Pittsburgh. Halas just happened to be a mean, ornery end himself. It was because he was a Bear that Halas brought Ditka, limping from degenerative arthritis in his hip, back to coach in Chicago in 1982. Halas's own bad hip forced him to retire from coaching at the age of 73. Goodness knows, it was because Ditka was a Bear that Dallas coach Tom Landry had picked him up late in his career, a washed-up relic who could barely make it downfield. But Landry hoped a Bear would show some tough to the laissez-faire Cowboys, and after Ditka worked his weary body "into the best shape of my career," virtually remaking his legs, the Cowboys won the Super Bowl.

Ditka would stay in Dallas as player and coach for 13 years—throwing clipboards at work, tearing up decks of cards at play, raging at officialdom everywhere. "Are you a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes?" he once screamed at a zebra after running onto the field. "No? Well,——you,——you,——you." Did Ditka always show tough? He was the man who had to tell Bob Hayes, the best Cowboy receiver in their history, that he was gone because he couldn't block down-field. Ditka was a Bear.

Ditka was a Bear even at Aliquippa (Pa.) High when, as a scrawny 135-pound sophomore, he got kicked off the practice field for his own protection. Immediately Ditka was cleaning the locker room latrines and pounding out push-ups with such effort at home "you could hear the house rock," remembers his father, Mike Sr. The family was originally from the Ukraine, the grandfather's name was Dyzcko. Two uncles changed it to Disco, but Mike's dad went with the tougher-sounding Ditka.

"I wasn't always the best, but nobody worked harder," says Ditka. "One-on-one. You and me. Let's see who's tougher. I lived for competition. Every game was a personal affront. Everything in my life was based on beating the other guy."

At Pitt sometimes it didn't matter if the other guy was on his side. Ditka was a manic practice player who once charged blindly into a solid steel blocking sled, knocking both himself and the sled cold. It got so the Panther coaches couldn't scrimmage Ditka during the week; he played every Wednesday as if it were Saturday. In Ditka's senior year, Pittsburgh went 4-3-3 with two of the losses by one point and three home games ending in brawls; the Panthers were seven points away from 9-1, 19 away from a perfect season. Ditka became so frustrated that year that he once punched out two teammates in a huddle.

Pitt's Chuck Reinhold, a safety on Ditka's team, confirms he once missed a tackle on Michigan State's Jason Harness, enabling the Spartans to tie the Panthers 7-7 at halftime. "C'mon, we can get 'em," Reinhold pep-talked in the Pitt locker room. "Whatta you mean, we?" Ditka demanded, slamming his teammate up against the lockers. "If you don't miss the——ing tackle, we're not in this——ing fix!"

The Panthers called Ditka Pinhead after his crew-cut Marine look. (The current Bears call him Redhead for the color Ditka's perm solution turns his hair under the shimmering preseason sun—actually a Day-Glo orange.) But Ditka was a progenitor of more than hairstyles. "At Pitt we draw $80,000 into the stadium every week," he said 25 years ago. "We [players] should get at least $30 a month for toothpaste and clean shirts."

In three solid years as a both-ways starter in college, Ditka caught 45 passes, but he made a much greater impact on the defensive side. As the NFL Rookie of the Year for Halas and the Bears, he caught 56. "The disgrace of the NFL is that they never had him play defense," says Beano Cook, then the sports information director at Pitt and now an ABC-TV college football commentator. "Ditka could do anything. Jeez, he played basketball for Pitt. On the road at Kentucky, Mike went through the screens."

Well, almost anything. At Pittsburgh the behemoth tight end carried the ball twice with the result of minus-16 yards. As a Bear Ditka once got penalized for aiding his fullback Rick Casares on a running play. Back to the porker, uh, future. What goes around, refrigerates around. Maybe Ditka does see Ditka in each and every Bear.

Certainly he is no stranger to accomplishment or controversy. There was Ditka's first game as a Bear when guard Ted Karras took a swing at him for uncomplimentary remarks. Karras was a Bear guard. But Ditka went on to beat out Fran Tarkenton for Rookie of the Year. There was the 1963 season when Ditka helped Halas to his last NFL title and the '64 campaign when he caught a then tight-end record 75 passes. But three years later Ditka threatened to jump to the AFL Houston Oilers. In a nasty contretemps with Halas, Ditka railed at Bear "morale problems" and in an immortal line accused Papa Bear of being so cheap "he throws nickels around as if they were manhole covers."

After Halas banished the prodigal to the Eagles in 1967, Ditka got kicked out of an exhibition game for fighting and later was suspended for bad-mouthing Philadelphia coach Joe Kuharich, who had led the Eagles to a much deserved 0-10 record. "I have one physical problem, a big mouth," Ditka said. But there was another problem; few others understood that Ditka would always be a Bear.

Landry understood. Landry rescued Ditka, his reputation, his career, everything. The hard-edged rabble-rouser from Western Pee-Ay found the Cowboys not to be the staid, true-blue, next-door-neighbor types he had figured on, after all. Walt Garrison, Dan Reeves, that Southern bunch were "kick-ass, raise-hell, good guys," says Ditka, "and I fit right in."

But then Landry, football's resident stoic, Christian liver, rescued Ditka from all of that, too.

Whether Ditka found religion on his own or out of respect for Landry or as the perfect career move is moot now. The point is that in 1978, troubled and unhappy, Ditka changed his life around to the extent that, the rumor went, the entire Cowboy juggernaut reverted to a prissy whimper. "Before, he just went off the deep end about everything," says Landry. "Tennis with Mike used to be interesting—as long as his racket stayed in one piece. He still burned with competition. He'll always be a Bear. But spiritually...only Christ could change somebody as radically as Mike was changed."

In the Windy City, meanwhile, the Bears had all gone to the devil. Since Halas retired as coach in 1968 the Chicago franchise had drifted into the maelstrom: two winning seasons in 13. In 1980, after his only son, "Mugs," then the president of the Bears, died of a heart attack at 54, Halas took back the reins of power. He was 85. But rules were flouted, players bitched and coaches scratched their heads. Halas had been credited with thinking up the man-in-motion T formation, initiating game films, team bands, radio play-by-play broadcasts. He had signed Red Grange. George Halas, by God, had invented pro football. He wasn't about to hang around waiting for the hearse.

"It was always the offense and the defense around here, never the team, never a commitment by the organization to get anywhere," says Fencik, the Yale yuppie who was among the loudest complainers. Halas had seen enough. These malingerers and no-accounts might have been football players, but they weren't Bears. He needed a Bear.

Subsequently, Ditka the new coach needed all of whatever marvelous powers coalesce from a combination of Christianity and Bearistics to survive his first week, much less his first season—the strike year, 1982, in which the Bears finished 3-6. Chicago columnists took Ditka apart. A Halas-Ditka tandem was like Orville and Wilbur Wright returning to run the FAA. The Bears were eliminating the termites by burning down the house. Aggression, determination, delivering pain—yeah, you want Ditka. Smarts? You might as well hire a lamppost on Rush Street. That sort of thing. HIRING DITKA WOULD BE MADNESS read one headline even before the fact.

Ditka—Landry's analysis about the changes in Mike's character notwithstanding—didn't disappoint. Temper tantrums. Screaming jags. Dueling headphones. "I'm sure some of the players thought I was nuts," Ditka says of those days. What they did fear was that the coach would put somebody on waivers right there on third-and-12. In 1983, after two straight overtime defeats on the road, Ditka smashed a locker and broke his right hand. "Do me a favor," Ditka announced to the team the following week. "Go out and win one for Lefty."

Wait a minute, guys. Maybe we got a funny dude here, a human being rather than a werewolf.

At about this same time Ditka took to wearing a tie on the sidelines, "to calm myself down," he said. Oh. Now he was, as Fencik points out, "the wild man in the tie." Outraged fans held up signs proclaiming Soldier Field DITKA'S HAUNTED HOUSE. On Halloween day '83, Halas died, leaving the Bear power structure to the 39-year-old McCaskey, a former college professor and management consultant. Trick or treat. Ditka was not observed doing handstands. Yet, by sheer will, motivational persuasion and the force of his personality, Ditka pressed on, changing things. "I think I'm going to learn the names of the offensive players," veteran safety Doug Plank said. "We might even cheer each other."

Oh, yes, and Ditka got rid of a whole lot of people—deadweights to whom picking up a paycheck meant more than being a Bear. "Did he sweep the house?" says Hampton. "Let's just say if Mike had used a vacuum cleaner he would have needed an extra bag."

Moreover, Ditka finally settled on McMahon as his quarterback. McMahon had started the 1983 season being flattened 16 times in 13 quarters while Bear supporters hardly noticed which color Ray Bans he showed up in each week. But maybe it was because he had started that way and kept getting back up that Ditka gave McMahon the ultimate promotion. Whatever, he was the ninth quarterback the Bears had used in their last 57 games; Chicago finished 1983 winning five of its last six, including a thoroughly convincing 13-3 victory over the high-tech offensive genies from San Francisco.

There have been a couple of huge Bear wins in the '80s, but that one might have been the most significant. "That and the Raiders last year," says Ditka. "They showed us we could play with these good, traditional playoff contenders and beat them."

And beat them up. Ah, the Raiders. Those clowns. On a cold November afternoon last year in Chicago, the L.A. Oaklanders came slashing after McMahon and knocked him out for the season with a lacerated kidney. In response, the enraged Bears sacked Raider quarterbacks nine times, smashed Marc Wilson out of the game, smashed David Humm out, smashed Wilson out once more. So brutal was the Bear onslaught that Al Davis was seen covering his face with his hands. Just breathe, baby. The Bears won 17-6. All those mastodons of good cheer must hope against hope for a rematch next month in New Orleans, maniac-on-maniac.

Last season the Bears kept gnawing away at the division championship. And stalling about a new contract for Ditka. When McCaskey kept him dangling too long, Ditka sincerely wondered aloud if he was wanted. A three-year deal wasn't negotiated until Jan. 2. "When things get turbulent, I ask, 'What is the continuum, what is my compass?' " says McCaskey, who speaks as he authors (The Executive Challenge: Managing Change and Ambiguity, Pitman, 1982). "Mike was my grandfather's choice as coach," McCaskey adds. "I wanted the future coach to be my choice. I needed time."

If the Bears had missed the playoffs, would Ditka have been rehired? Opening his bonus check envelope on a postseason airplane flight, Ryan, the defensive coordinator, said, "Pretty good for saving the a——'s job."

"I like differences. I like all these characters hopping around," says McCaskey, patting the bronze sculpture of his Grandpapa Bear in the president's office of Halas Hall. The CEO remembers the old man preferred it that way, too. As a kid McCaskey stood a few yards away as Halas raged along the sidelines. He remembers Bulldog Turner and Bill George and heard stories about the original Decatur Staleys of 1920, whose team picture is soon to be mounted on the wall. McCaskey also remembers Doug Atkins, who used to lounge on a tarpaulin, refusing to practice, and who once locked Halas up in a room so he could have his undivided attention for a shouting match.

"The fact Mike and I have disparate styles is not a problem. I'd be unhappy if there wasn't some disagreement around here," McCaskey says. "Mike's disputes with Buddy are also long as there's mutual respect."

The Ditka-Ryan thing is played down by the participants, but it is common knowledge around Chicago and the league that Ryan, whom Halas kept on at the behest of the players while he released most of the previous coaching staff, regards Ditka as less than a brilliant coach. "Does McMahon audible most of his touchdown plays?" Ryan is fond of inquiring. "At least that's what they tell me."

A weathered, pipe-smoking Oklahoman who wears tractor-equipment caps and raises thoroughbred horses at his Kentucky farm in the off-season, Ryan, 51, knows how good he and his defense are. "When they hired me, they wanted a messiah," he chuckles. Ryan is a disciple of Weeb Ewbank. He handled the defense for the Namathian Jets—and the scouting and drafting as well. With Chicago he is not involved in the latter pursuits, which has led to his finding grave fault with several Bear rookies over the years.

Ryan said Wilson didn't know "strong side from weak side." He called Marshall a "spoiled crybaby," Singletary "stupid" and Perry, of course, "a wasted pick." That's when Ryan wasn't calling the players by their numbers, which he infinitely prefers to names, anyhow. So Ryan set his own table for developing the fearsome "46"—named incidentally after the number of the retired kamikaze, Plank—and now he takes pride in pushing "55 and 58" (Wilson and Marshall) for All-Pro and "50" (Singletary) for NFL Player of the Year.

For his part Ditka might have gotten rid of Ryan long ago—"I don't ask him [anything]," Ditka snapped at a recent press conference. "I tell him"—if Ryan wasn't so danged brilliant at what he does, so revered by the Bear defenders. "Buddy is our coach, not Ditka," says one Bear defensive player.

Well, ah, Ditka's strong suit not being love and affection, he does excel in that most sensitive and important coaching faculty (especially at the pro level): motivation. "The man does get us to play," says the same Bear.

Moreover, how really ignorant could Ditka possibly be, game-plan wise? The Bears went through six quarterbacks last year, forcing Ditka to practically reintroduce the single wing with the amazing Payton carrying the load. This season the Bears have called halfback passes and reverses and tight-end-in-motion plays as if by rote; they line up in the shotgun formation as much as any team. (The man who lobbied for the shotgun at Dallas was none other than Ditka.) When McMahon recently missed three games with a shoulder injury—he returned as a starter in the 17-10 win over the Colts on Sunday—journeyman Steve Fuller and rookie Mike Tomczak put 88 points of the Bears' 104 total on the board. And that's 72 more than the holy defense contributed. Then, always, there's Ditka's ingenious monument to history, the Fridge. Or as Ditka's wife, Diana, calls him, Fridge-a-Bear.

The truth is, Ditka has grown in the job. He has mellowed and matured—even Ryan accepts that, saying, "He doesn't lose poise on the sidelines anymore." The only negative this season was his arrest on a drunken driving charge on Oct. 14. He was convicted. "That was a mistake," says the coach, who had been picked up coming home from O'Hare Airport following the Bears' victory at San Francisco. "I'm still very embarrassed. But it will make me a better person. What hurts is that those high school kids I speak to about such things must figure me a hypocrite. That hurts."

Such setbacks aside, what kind of pressure is there at 13-1? "Pressure is when you're 2-12," concedes Hampton. Still, Ditka's most glorious achievement in redirecting the Bears has been to simply let them be themselves. He created an environment in which an outlandish cast of loose, idiosyncratic meteors could seek out one another, collide and splash right to the heart of one of the more tediously reserved institutions in American life. "The National Clone League," Hampton calls it.

"We've always had closet-case characters in Chicago," explains Fencik. "But the NFL markets teams, not individuals, so people didn't know us. We also lost quite a bit. Then along comes Ditka, backed up by his great career and his respect, that tough-guy mystique—he's one of the more bizarre characters around—and all of a sudden it's as if we were sprung free. The season has been one long coming-out party."

So now, on any given Sunday...Speedburner Gault may spend hours primping before the mirror to look exquisite, then go out and continue to catch balls with his chest....Receiver Ken Margerum may fly to an open area of the field and thus miss a block, whereupon, obscenely upbraided by Ditka, he may scream back, "I know what the——I did wrong!"...Dave Duerson and Wilson may start barking like deranged hounds. "We're Dobermans. Singletary's the pit bull, McMichael is a Saint Bernard with rabies, Fencik's a poodle," says Duerson.... Singletary may read Bible scripture before breaking another running back in half....Payton, the former dance contestant on Soul Train and inveterate practical joker, may set off a fire alarm....Fencik may rush off to his TV shows to practice being Bob Costas or George Bush....And Hampton and McMichael may search out the raunchiest motorcyclist establishment they can find to bust up, uh, to shoot some pool. "We don't fight them pardners much anymore," says Mongo/Ming/McMichael. "Some of 'em are packin' guns."

As for McMahon, the rock 'em, cold-cock 'em, spittin' macho quarterback, McMichael thought he was weird. One day in his rookie season McMahon was eating his lunch in the locker room when McMichael sat down and began harassing him: taunting, picking at the rookie's food, jabbing him with utensils.

"You better quit or you'll get hurt," said the rookie, laughing.

And with that, Ming the Merciless picked up his helmet, looked quizzical and smashed himself in the face with it three times. Violently. Whup-whup-whup. Just like that. Then Ming looked over at McMahon and, puzzled beyond belief, said: "How you figure?"

So the Chicago Bears can't possibly continue to wreak carnage on the entire NFL and dominate the Super Bowl, the talk shows and the Zoo Parade as well?

Bonk! Smash! Crunch!

How you figure?





THE-BLACK-N-BLUES-BROTHERS: The Bears' offensive line leaves opponents dazed, and when he sheds his shades and all his injuries, McMahon leaves them dazzled.



[See caption above.]



Payton, who has had a record nine straight 100-yard-plus games, has never been better.



Ditka was a no-holds-barred Bear as a tight end for Halas in the '60s.



When Ditka foundered in Philly, Landry brought him to Dallas, where he flourished.



Margerum, the speedy wide receiver from Stanford, is one of McMahon's handiest men.



Singletary delivers on defense and on the sidelines, too.



McMichael's exhausted opponents are usually the ones who are left gasping for air.



Wilson, no fan of quarterbacks, left some Bear tracks on the Cowboys' Danny White.



As Ryan sees it, Ditka has acquired some poise.



Ryan may not appreciate Fridge, but Payton welcomes him on the Bears' goal-line plays.