NFL Epics Of The Eighties: Chicago Bears Vs Washington Redskins

Dan BooneSenior Analyst IJune 23, 2008

Surely the San Francisco Forty Niners were the team of the eighties.  But the Bears and Redskins were, along with the New York Giants, just a notch below them.

The Joe Gibb's Washington Redskins appeared in four Super Bowls, winning three, for deep pocketed owner Jack Kent Cooke. Three different quarterbacks, Joe Theismann, Doug Williams, and Mark Rypien, led the scarlet and gold to Super Bowl glory.

The teams were built around big backs running behind a big bruising offensive line. The Hogs will be football legends as long as the pigskin is played with.

The Fun Bunch, the collection of touch down celebrating wide receivers and tight ends seem mild in the obnoxious Chad Johnson and Terrell Owens "look at me" NFL world of today, but at the time they sparked some furor among defensive players.   

Hall of famers John Riggins, Darrell Green, and Art Monk were key cogs in the Redskin machine. Offensive lineman Joe Jacoby and Russ Grimm should be in the Hall of fame. The team was filled with veteran players, pro's pros, who played hard and serious in big games.

Linebacker Monte Coleman, center Jeff Bostic, tackle Mark May, defensive tackle Dave Butz, defensive ends Dexter Manley and Charles Mann, linebacker Neal Olkewicz, tight end Don Warren, wide receiver Gary Brown, kicker Mark Mosley, and hog hybrid defensive tackle Darrly Grant all were solid players. 

Savvy General Manager Bobby Beathard supplemented this core with great free agent signings and trades. If it wasn't for Ryan Leaf, Beathard might already be in the Hall.

All Pro left tackle Jim Lachey, All pro linebacker and vicious difference maker Wilbur Marshall, third down back Joe Washington, USFL cast off Doug Williams, big backs George Rogers and Gerald Riggs all were perfect pickups..

Some were Pro Bowl Players. It could be argued Butz, Manley, Marshall, Lachey, and Mosley are potential Hall of Fame Players. All were big game players. 

And the Redskins played in the biggest games of the eighties.

Many of the best games were against the big, bad bruising Chicago Bears of Mike Ditka and Buddy Ryan.

The Bears had perhaps the most brilliant season in all of sport history in 1985. They captured the nation by nearly nailing an undefeated season and doing it with a swaggering flair.

All time great Walter Payton was the best Bear and maybe the best player in NFL history.

Hall of Fame Defensive Tackle Dan "The Danimal" Hampton was the heart of a merciless defense. Hampton was flanked by all pro defensive tackle Steve "Mongo" McMichael and super star, sack man Richard Dent. Fan favorite and national phenom William Perry played tackle and solid NFL veteran Mike Hartenstine was a long time end.

Hall of fame Linebacker Mike Singletary was flanked by two linebackers just as good, the not yet a Redskin Wilbur Marshall and the physical Otis Wilson. Big Al Harris also played linebacker and defensive end on many of the Bears eighties teams.   

The secondary had a run of pro bowl safety with Gary Fencik, Todd Bell, and Dave Duerson all becoming pro bowlers.

Offensive lines like the Bears and the Hogs are no longer seen in the NFL. Free Agency has fixed that forever. No longer can five guys play together, mesh and mold together for a long time. No longer are lines this good. Bigger but not better.

The Bears had all decade tackle Jimbo Covert, all pro center Jay Hilenberg, big tackle Keith Van Horne and long time guards Mark Bortz and Kurt Becker bashing the way for Payton and fullback Matt Suhey.

They also protected wreck less Jim McMahon, giving him time to throw to speedy Willie Gault or veteran Dennis Mckinnon instead of taking off on a risky head first scramble.

These were the two veteran teams, teams studded with Hall of Fame talent who would clash throughout the eighties.

Collide hard with the stakes often super bowl high.

Their first meeting of the eighties was PD, that is Pre Ditka. But the Bears had Buddy Ryan running the Dan Hampton dominated defense and Walter Payton running the ball. That day the Redskins defense held Payton to his lowest career yardage day, a paltry five yards. It was a big day for Joe Gibbs.

Joe Gibbs got his first win as a Skin against the Bears  24-7 in 1981. After starting off slow Gibbs was worried his head was on the chopping block and so his first win as a head coach was big. And it came against the Bears, a team he would get to know very well.

The Redskins would reach the Super Bowl in 1982 and 1983. They won in strike torn '82 and were ransacked by the Raiders in '83. Neither year did they play the rebuilding Bears.

The Bears, young and hungry, were led into the playoffs in 1984 by fiery head coach Mike Ditka and a violent defense which set the NFL record for sacks in a season. 

Despite this '84 defense being perhaps a bit better then their Super Bowl winning one, the Bears had one big problem. One problem which would plague them for the next decade, or two, or three. They had no quarterback.

Well they had a good one in Jim McMahon, but in one of the most vicious games of the eighties, the defending super bowl champion Oakland Raiders had lacerated McMahon's kidney and ended his season.

The Bears responded by knocking four Oakland Raider quarterbacks from the game, a terrified Marc Wilson twice, and beating the Raiders.  But McMahon and the Bears Super Bowl dreams were done.

Still the Bears won the NFC Central and marched to RFK behind former Chief Steve Fuller. The Redskin had never lost a playoff game at RFK. The Hogs were living high. The Skins had been to the last two super bowls.

It was new years eves eve. December 30th, 1984.

The game would be vicious, face mask smashing one. Literally, as Bears brutal all pro strong safety Todd Bell would hit the Redskins Joe Washingon with a nasty helmet to helmet shot, cracking Washington's face mask, knocking him unconscious and causing a key fumble.

John Riggins, "the Diesel" was being stuffed by Mike SIngletary as McMichael and Hampton kept the Hogs off their middle linebacker.

The NFL's two fastest men, Skin corner Darrell Green and Bears Wide Receiver Willie Gault were locked up on each other and playing special teams.

On the flanks, Covert was battling speedy Dexter Manley, and Van Horne wrestling with Mann. Dent tried to race around the mammoth Jacoby.

Butz battled Bortz and Becker.

Payton tried plowing past Olkewicz.

The Bears won barely. 23-19. The first Skins home playoff loss in RFK history.

The next week the Bears quarterback problems would doom them as they faltered at Candlestick in the NFC Championship Game. After winning 23-0 Forty Niner hall of fame safety Ronnie Lott told Bears players next year bring an offense.

They did.

In week four in 1985 the Bears played the Skins at Soldier Field and destroyed them.  The Redskins though jumped to a 10-0 lead before a 99 yard Willie Gault kickoff return sparked a 45 point onslaught.

The Bears scored on a 90 yard interception return. They ran a statue of liberty  to Walter Payton who then threw the ball to quarterback Jim McMahon for a 30 yard TD.

The Redskins didn't appreciated those things. Especially the Statue of Liberty.

Joe Theismann had one of his worst days as a pro throwing several interceptions, being sacked early and often, and finally, filling in for the injured punter, launching a one yard punt to complete his humiliation. The punt went thirty yards sideways one yard forward and the Bears mocked him.

Smugly Ditka said Theismann doesn't get paid to punt. And you could tell.

The Bears won 45-10 and Super Bowled shuffled onward.

But Joe Gibbs would have his vengeance. A dish the Sicilians say is best served cold. The Redskins would serve it cold. Blue Chicago cold.

Served special at Soldier Field in consecutive Divisional playoff games in frigid January.

The year after their Super Bowl victory the Bears had a hangover. They were 14-2 sure but again lacked a capable quarterback.

McMahon, reported grossly out of shape, was quickly injured. Then against Forrest Gregg's Green Bay Packers, in one of the dirtiest plays in NFL history, his season was ended when he was slammed on to his sore shoulder by Pack defensive end Charles "Too Mean" Martin. McMahon would need serious surgery on the shoulder and his arm would never be the same.

Nor would the Bears.

In a panicky move near the end of the season the Bears brought in twenty two year old Doug Flutie. Veteran starters Mike Tomczak and Steve Fuller had been ineffective or injured. Ditka was frustrated.

His veteran players felt they had a better chance of winning with a veteran quarterback and great defense. 

During the bye week Ditka said no to Fuller. And Flutie was thrown to the wolves...or the Skins, who had beaten the Rams in the wild card round.

At Soldier Field Flutie fired a pass to Willie Gault to tie the game at 7-7. It was all down hill from there for the Bears. 

The Bears defense, without Buddy Ryan, lacked its usual bite. It was good but not daring, dashing, blizty, and brash. They could not rattle Redskin quarterback Jay Schroeder.  A far cry from the fearsome 46 defense.

Against the Skins they looked sluggish. The offensive look worse. Payton was stopped. Flutie was embarrassed. The Bears chance at repeating were done.

27-13. At home.

The Skins would lose to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Giants the next week.

But in 1987 the Redskins would be back for a playoff game at Soldier Field.

Flutie had flown.

McMahon was back. But his McMahon magical mojo was gone.

The Bears jumped to an early 14-0 lead but Joe Gibbs didn't panic. If Buddy Ryan was coaching the Bears defense, a 14-0 lead was time to turn the dogs loose.

But the Bears now played bend but do not break defense. The Skins ground away with George Rogers and the Hogs, patiently wearing down the Bears defense.

Then the Bear back breaker by a game breaker. In one of the best plays in playoff history, Redskin corner back Darrell Green returned a short punt for a dazzling touchdown.

Tearing rib catrlige on the play, Green leaped over Bears backup tight end Cap Boso, and juked linebacker Ron Riveria on a hall of fame play.

Late in the game down 21-17 the Bears had one last chance. One last chance for the great Walter Payton. One more shot for McMahon's old magic.

On the last play of his storied career Payton was stopped one yard short of a first down after catching a short pass from McMahon. The Bears were done. Payton sat dejected on the bench.

The Redskins would win the Super Bowl a few weeks later.

Long time Bear safety and defensive play caller Gary Fencik would retire along with the great Payton after the Redskin loss.

The Bears fastest player, their only offensive game breaker, wide reciever Willie Gault would be traded to the Raiders.

Wilbur Marshall, the Bears youngest and perhaps greatest impact player, would be let go to the Redskins in one of the NFL's first major free agency moves. The Bears would get two first round draft picks who became average players. The Redskins got an impact player who played a crucial part in them winning another Super Bowl.

It was perhaps the best tactical strike by team against a rival in the eighties. Beathard weakened a key rival and strengthened his team by gaining an impact player.

In 1988 the Bears were rallying around Coach Ditka, who had just had a heart attack, and in the win one for Da Coach game would beat Joe Gibbs, who had yet to have his heart attack, 34-14 at Soldier Field.

The Redskins would not repeat. The Bears would rally past Buddy Ryan's Eagles in the bizzarre Fog Bowl Playoff Game only to be hammered at home by Bill Walsh's Forty Niners, 23-3, in the NFC Championship game.

Jim McMahon would be traded to San Diego in the off season.

In 1989 Ditka would become undone.

The game Ditka became undone at happened to be at RFK. After losing 38-14 to the Redskins, Ditka was furious.

A foaming, frothy Ditka raged against his team. In an angry, almost psychotic press conference after the Redskin loss Da Coach would fume that the Bears wouldn't win another game that year.

He was right.

They didn't win another game.

The eighties were gone and soon so was Ditka.

And so went some great football match ups that defined a decade.

Ditka vs Gibbs.

Chicago Bears vs Washington Redskins.

An Eighties Epic.


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