Two stunning hits shaped the Bears' 12-10 victory over the Green Bay Packers Sunday and reflected the intensity of a pro football rivalry that is at once ugly and beautiful.
The first was a blatant foul in the second quarter by Packer nose tackle Charles Martin, who ambushed Bear quarterback Jim McMahon after an interception and slammed his sore right shoulder into the Soldier Field turf. It got Martin ejected and soon led to the Bears' only touchdown on a punt blocked by Shaun Gayle and recovered by Dennis Gentry on a wave of emotion that only this combat sport can create.
"The guys didn't appreciate it," Bears' defensive end Richard Dent said of the foul.
"I guess he ain't in no position to win the Nobel Peace Prize for intelligence," Bears' defensive tackle Steve McMichael said of Martin.
The second hit was a neck-rattling tackle by Bears' middle linebacker Mike Singletary, who separated Packer running back Gary Ellerson from the football and his senses with 6:20 to play.
The fumble was recovered by Bears' safety Dave Duerson on the Packer 34, and six plays later, Kevin Butler kicked a 32-yard field goal with 2:37 left to bring the Bears from a 10-9 deficit.
Butler had missed a 46-yarder earlier into the same swirling 13-mile-an-hour wind. It was his fourth straight miss over two games, but he responded with his fourth winner of the Bears' shaky 10-2 season.
The Bears can clinch the National Football Conference Central Division title by beating Pittsburgh next week, but they continue to live on defense alone.
"We weren't going to have another chance," Butler said. "The defense already gave us enough. If I missed that one, it probably would have been the final chapter."
"I'm very thankful we have our defense," said coach Mike Ditka.
Five minutes before Butler did it, Duerson and Singletary had been victims of a 46-yard touchdown pass from Packer quarterback Randy Wright to tight end Ed West that had put the Packers on the brink of an upset.
The touchdown was the only conventional score of a game in its 133d chapter, same plot. As usual, quarterbacks were rendered useless early by Chicago-Green Bay tradition of wind, rain, defense, injury and old-fashioned ineptitude.
Combined, McMahon and Wright completed only 22 of 61 passes and led 59,291 fans to wonder why coaches Ditka and Forrest Gregg insisted on such folly.
"We said we were going to come out and run and we didn't," said Bears' center Jay Hilgenberg.
"I think Mike Ditka's game plan was to try and embarrass us," said Packer cornerback Mossy Cade.
Ditka finally yanked McMahon then yelled at replacement Mike Tomczak for mixing up a signal from the sidelines and throwing an incompletion before Butler's kick.
"I thought he audibled, but the play came in wrong from the sidelines," Ditka said. "I wanted a running play right up the middle. We looked like dumbos."
Walter Payton gained 85 yards in only 17 carries and reached his 10th 1,000-yard season. But the Bears called more passes than runs, and McMahon wound up scrambling for almost as many yards (64) as he gained passing (95). Ditka said McMahon was re-injured by Martin's body-slam.
"I thought it affected his throwing," Ditka said. "He never let the ball fly and that didn't happen all week in practice."
McMahon said the hit "didn't help" his shoulder. He missed no plays because of it, but neither Ditka nor McMahon could predict how he might feel on Monday or what his status will be for next week.
"We didn't execute in a lot of positions and quarterback was one of them," Ditka said. "Your eyes saw the game and basically that's why I made the change. I was just trying to get something going."
Until Martin's indiscretion, the Bears appeared to be sitting on a 2-0 lead provided by defensive end Dan Hampton's tackle of running back Kenneth Davis in the end zone for a safety.
It came after William "the Refrigerator" Perry fumbled on his first carry of the season from the 1-yard line on the Bears' second series.
"Silly call," Ditka said. "Should have let him lead the first play and then come back with him."
"If we put the TD up early, I think it would have been a different game," McMahon said. "We let them be tough because we didn't score early."
McMahon was 4 for 12 when Packer cornerback Mark Lee picked off his first of two interceptions. As McMahon was walking away after the pass, Martin grabbed him from behind and threw him down.
Tackle Jim Covert shoved Martin to the ground before referee Jerry Markbreit could escort Martin from the field. Packer coaches argued that Covert should be penalized, too.
Martin was greeted on the sidelines with high-fives from some teammates.
After Packer fullback Paul Ott Carruth was stuffed on first down, the crowd was too noisy for Wright to call signals. Wright did not seem eager for quiet.
"I'll tell you what I was thinking," said Bears' linebacker Otis Wilson. "I thought, 'If you want to play like that, you got a quarterback, too. We can easily hit your quarterback, too.' But that ain't our kind of football. We weren't going to lower ourselves to their level."
Wright threw an incompletion on the run, then Dent sacked him for 10 yards to force a punt from the 15.
"We were fired up before then," Dent explained. "Martin just ticked us off."
During the series, Martin walked from the bench area into the locker room and received a beer shower en route.
"Markbreit told me what he did was flagrant," Gregg said. "Both defenses held today, and when that happens, there is going to be hot blood. We played clean football."
"They've got some players that are really questionable," Ditka said.
"If they don't fine him like they fined me last year, something is seriously wrong," said Bears' linebacker Wilber Marshall, who was docked $2,000 last season for hitting Detroit quarterback Joe Ferguson.
"I don't understand Forrest Gregg," Wilson said. "The head coach should organize and discipline players to play football."
As Green Bay punter Don Bracken lined up to punt, the Bears took advantage of the momentum and called for a block. Gayle hit the ball square and Gentry fell on it in the end zone to make it 9-0.
McMahon walked onto the field and flipped an obscene gesture toward the Packer bench. Ditka embraced special teams coach Steve Kazor.
Earlier, the Packers had blocked a Bears' punt, but Al Del Greco's subsequent field-goal attempt from the 33 was bad against the wind. Del Greco hit from 22 at the same south end to open the third quarter and put the Pack a touchdown behind.
It came after Wright avoided Singletary and almost crossed the line of scrimmage. Duerson left West and Wright threw a perfect pass.
"Just a dumb play," Duerson said.
After a 14-yard punt against the wind by Maury Buford, the Packers took over at their own 30 with a 10-9 lead and 6:26 to play.
"Only two other times have I prayed harder and that was when my two sons were born," Duerson said.
Singletary saw Ellerson in the hole with "nowhere to go." A middle linebacker doesn't always get an opportunity to gather himself before a collision.
"I saw everything. For a split second, it was lights out for both me and him," Singletary said. "That makes my day, as long as the guy is not hurt."
Ellerson was. He suffered a pinched nerve in his neck, but walked off the field.
"It was a sweet hit," said Duerson.
It was the one the Bears wanted to remember.Copyright © 2015, CT Now