New Orleans — When Super Bowl XX had finally and mercifully ended in the Superdome here Sunday evening, the game's Roman-numeral designation had assumed new significance. One valid interpretation was that the Chicago Bears had played X-tra X-tra well in beating the New England Patriots 46-10.
Middle linebacker Mike Singletary rated the performance even better than the back-to-back shutouts (21-0 over the New York Giants and 24-0 over the Los Angeles Rams) that Chicago had already produced in the playoffs. ``I thought our game against the Giants was an 81/2, our game with the Rams a 91/2, and this, well, it was as close to being a perfect 10 as we've played all year.''
That's saying a lot, considering that the Bears finished with an 18-1 record. In fact, people now have to be asking how Chicago ever lost at all. Credit the upset to Miami, which turned its game into a crusade to prevent the Bears from joining the 1972 Dolphins as the National Football League's only other perfect team.
From the New England standpoint, the game film is sure to go in a can marked XX, meaning unfit for human viewing. Yes, a definite 3-D horror flick -- that is, a demolition of devastating dimensions.
Put simply, the Super Bowl's 20th anniversary game was also its most lopsided one, a mismatch akin to placing a Beacon Hill town house aside the Sears Tower.
Statistics can sometimes be misleading, but they didn't lie in this case. To cite a few compelling examples:
New England didn't gain its first yards until the final play of the opening quarter.
At halftime the Patriots had minus 19 yards in offense, compared with plus 236 for the Bears.
For the game, New England gained only seven yards rushing and averaged 0.6 yards per running play, both Super Bowl records for futility.
Oddly, though, it was the underdog Patriots who broke the scoring ice and gave hope that their fairy-tale season would have a happy ending.
The opportunistic New Englanders, whose playoff trademark had become their ability to capitalize on mistakes, pounced on a Walter Payton fumble on the second play from scrimmage. The bad news, though, was that the Bears' vaunted defense rose to the occasion, budged not an inch on three incomplete passes, and forced the Pats to settle for a 36-yard Tony Franklin field goal.
The score came just 1 minute, 19 seconds into the game -- the earliest in Super Bowl history. At least there would be no shutout this time.
The tone had been set, though, because Chicago got an early line on how New England intended to get untracked. Some had wondered whether the Pats would play things close to the vest, as is their wont, and try to run frequently. They had failed in such an attempt in the second week of the season, when Chicago limited them to 27 yards rushing in a 20-7 victory. Even now, with the running machinery well oiled and Craig James coming off consecutive 100-yard outings, it was felt that the troops from Foxboro, Mass., would be well advised to consider a strategy reversal. The Bears, after all, dare you to throw by crowding practically their entire defense at the line of scrimmage.
Indeed, coach Raymond Berry went to the pass at the first opportunity, but quarterback Tony Eason could not connect, either because of off-target spirals or receiver drops, including one in which the normally sure-handed Stanley Morgan let a potential TD toss slip through his fingers on the club's first possession.
The pattern was repeated the next time New England had the ball, which followed a Chicago field goal that tied the game at 3-3. Eason again tried to pass on three straight downs, missing on his first two attempts in the face of a fierce rush, then getting sacked for a 10-yard loss on third down.
Singletary, who calls the Bears' defensive signals, sensed that he read the kind of perplexed look in Eason's face he'd observed during the first meeting of the teams -- a look not uncommon to quarterbacks staring into the teeth of Chicago's fearsome and cleverly conceived defense. ``I saw the same eyes I'd seen in our other game. They were a little confused,'' Singletary said. ``They seemed to be saying, `Oh, Man, I hope we're not in for another one of those games.' ''
Well, obviously they were, confronted by a pass rush so relentless that neither Eason nor Steve Grogan, who came off the bench in relief late in the second quarter, ever really had adequate time to throw effectively.
This was clear from the statistics, which showed the Patriots completing 17 of 36 attempts, yet averaging measly gains of 2.7 yards, a sure tipoff that the quarterbacks never really had time to find receivers downfield.
The man most frequently applying the heat was Richard Dent, the all-pro defensive end and game MVP, who was involved in a handful of sacks (Chicago's seven tied a Super Bowl record). Dent had once considered sitting out the game over a contract squabble, but thought better of it. ``I couldn't pass up an opportunity like this,'' he said. That, however, is what two of last year's defensive starters, Hal Harris and Todd Bell, did do, as it turned out, when they sat out the season in salary disputes.
The Bears still watch their expenses, a practice dating back to the days of George Halas, the club's legendary original owner. Mike Ditka, the current coach and a former Bears tight end, was not unfamiliar with Halas's penurious nature, and he once said the club's patriarch threw nickels around as freely as manhole covers.
Doing the throwing for Chicago this time was the colorful and cocksure quarterback, Jim McMahon. After a bit of early shakiness, he directed an attack that constantly kept the Patriots off guard. He made them worry about the long bomb by completing four passes to speed burner Willie Gault, an Olympic sprinter, for 129 yards, and connected on 12 of 20 for 256 yards.
The running game was solid enough, too. With the Patriots looking to stop Payton, the NFL's all-time rushing leader, Matt Suhey frequently got the call and came up with some surprising gains. In fact, he averaged 4.7 yards per carry, to Payton's 2.8, though Walter did wind up as the game's rushing leader, with 61 yards.
Payton (the Ernie Banks of Chicago footballdom) was a sentimental favorite of the crowd, which wanted him to score a TD in his long-awaited first trip to the Super Bowl. But it was not to be, even on a day when points fell like rain, many due to six New England turnovers.
Ironically, 304-pound rookie William (the Refrigerator) Perry, normally a defensive lineman, even lumbered in for a TD, as he had done before during the regular season. To the delight of fun-loving fans, Chicago's human wrecking ball even tried to pass for a score on an earlier play, but was forced to run when no one was open. The score was 3-3 at the time, which made it evident the Fridge's option play was a genuine part of the game plan, not some frivolous afterthought.
Before the game ended, even little-known defensive back Reggie Phillips managed to score on a 28-yard interception return, making him the 24th Bear and the 11th defensive player on the team to score this season.
This was a day when almost everything went right for Chicago, which earned its first NFL title since 1963. The Patriots, on the other hand, suddenly found the clock striking midnight on their Cinderella tale.
Ultimately, what ensued was the shortest Super Bowl on record -- only 30 minutes of truly meaningful action. ``I thought we had it sewed up at halftime,'' said McMahon, and he was right in thiking a 23-3 lead was plenty.
The score would mount to 44-3 before New England scored its lone touchdown on an 8-yard Grogan-to-Irving Fryar pass.
The second half had all the excitement of an intrasquad scrimmage. Pity the poor companies that paid megabucks to have commercials aired during the final interminable quarter.
And maybe pity the Bears' poor rivals, too. Chicago, after all, has the youngest team in the NFC and looks to be a power on the rise, like the Pittsburgh Steelers of the mid-1970s, who would wind up winning four Super Bowls in six years.
``We're going to have to be consistent,'' warned Singletary. ``We'll have to keep drafting good players, the coaching staff will have to continue to work well together, and we can't lose our desire. If that happens, we've got ourselves a dynasty.''