The 1960's Bears-Triumph then Tragedy
The 1967 Chicago Bears team photo.
For the Chicago Bears, the decade of the 1960s would begin on
a high note, be puncuated with death halfway through, and end in misery both on
and off the field. Along the way, as usual, the team would pick up new
stars the football world could never forget. Stars that unfortunately
would never see many winning seasons, let alone a championship.
From 1960 to 1962, the Bears' record improved from 5-6-1, to
8-6, to 9-5. More importantly in these years, the Bears were building
with the goal of eventually overtaking the teams of the era, the New York
Giants and Green Bay Packers.
Added during these seasons were quarterback Bill Wade, running
back Ronnie Bull, Hall of Fame tight end Mike Ditka, and defensive lineman Ed
The aforementioned players joined seasoned veterans such as
Bill George, Joe Fortunato, Johnny Morris, Stan Jones and others to prepare for
a climactic season.
Prior to the 1963 campaign, aging coach George S. Halas
reminded his team that if they could Bear their rival Green Bay Packers twice,
they could do anything. The reality was, though, that if they didn't take
care of their arch enemies twice, they likely would go nowhere.
Chicago did indeed take care of Green Bay twice, the fist win
coming on opening day. Following this, they won four more in a row, then
shockingly lost to the worst team in the league, San Francisco. Four more
wins followed, then two 17-17 ties, then finally two more wins to clinch the
NFL's Western Division championship. This set up an NFL Championship Game
matchup with the New York Giants in Chicago.
That day will be remembered by most everyone alive in the
Chicago area at the time. The day was shaping up to be bitterly
cold. Halas ordered grounds crews to keep the field covered and warmed,
but when the tarp was removed the existing muck froze solid. Due to
league rules at the time, the game was blacked out in the Chicago television
area, so many fans were forced to travel to bars in places such as Rockford,
Peoria, or across the Wisconsin border to view it live.
The Bears won that championship game 14-10 over the Giants,
and we're sure of the victory until the final series of the game when Chicago
intercepted a pass from Y.A. Tittle to seal it. The 1963 team won more
via their hearts then sheer talent, but expectations were high for the
Many of those high spirits were crushed during the summer of
1964, when players Willie Galimore and John "Bo" Farrington were killed in a
single-vehicle accident at training camp in Rensselaer, IN. The team
carried on that year, but were devestated by injuries as well as mentally, and
In the 1965 draft, Halas had three first-round picks and made
the most of two of them, selecting Illinois linebacker Dick Butkus, then Kansas
running back Gale "Kansas Comet" Sayers. The addition of the two rookies
paid immediate dividends, as the team improved on both offense and
defense. Sayers replaced Galimore, and Hall of Fame linebacker Bill
George noted that he knew his career was over as soon as he saw Butkus step on
the field in training camp.
Also added as a free agent in 1965 was running back Brian
Piccolo, whose career would build over the coming four seasons but sadly finish
before its peak.
The 1965 Bears finished 9-5, but missed a chance to appear in
the league's championship game due to a season-finale loss to the Minnesota
Vikings. The team averaged almost 30 points per game, a remarkable figure
helped by six touchdowns scored by Sayers alone against San Francisco.
In '66, the team's record dropped to 5-7-2, then improved to
7-6-1 the following season. Prior to the '67 season, a simmering feud
between Mike Ditka and Halas reached a boiling point, and Halas traded his
star tight end to the Philadelphia Eagles for quarterback Jack Concannon.
Concannon would become Chicago's primary signal-caller for
four seasons, and in 1968 the team again missed out on the postseason by losing
their final game. Weeks prior to that final game, Sayers suffered a
devastating knee injury and was lost for the year, and his effort to work to
come back from the event became folklore.
Also prior to the 1968 season, legendary coach Halas retired
for the final time, hiring former player and assistant coach Jim Dooley to
be his successor. In the press conference announcing his retirement,
Halas admitted that his third retirement would be his last, as now he had
a hard time chasing officials up and down the sidelines to chew them out.
Dooley's second season, 1969, was filled with dread both
on and off the field. The team finished 1-13, by far its worst finish
ever. In November, popular backup running back, and now starting
fullback, Brian Piccolo was diagnosed with cancer. Following these
painful 1969 occurrences, the 1970's could only be better for the team,
Head Coaches: George Halas, 1960-1967; Jim
Records: Best 11-1-2, 1963; Worst 1-13, 1969