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RECEIVERS FACE A CATCH-22 ON BEARS : Gault and McKinnon Have the Speed and the Ability but Are Often Passed Up

January 11, 1986|CHRIS DUFRESNE | Times Staff Writer

SUWANEE, Ga. — Question: Who caught more touchdown passes this season for the Chicago Bears?

(a) William Perry.

(b) Gaylord Perry.

(c) Willie Gault.

That's a cinch, right? Throw out the overweight defensive tackle and the retired pitcher and you are left with (c) the world-class sprinter and wide receiver.

Next question, please.



Right. Actually, it was a tie between William Perry and Gault. Each had one touchdown reception.

Question: The leading pass catcher on the Bears in 1985 is?

(a) A wide receiver.

(b) A running back.

(c) A defensive tackle named Perry.

You're way out of bounds if you picked the wide receiver here. The Bears' leading pass-catcher is, in fact, tailback Walter Payton.

So, now maybe you know how lonely life can be as a Chicago wide receiver. Maybe now you can feel for Willie Gault and Dennis McKinnon, neither of whom has come close to landing a burger commercial.

McKinnon and Gault were flexing their anonymity the other day as they prepared for Sunday's NFC title game against the Rams in Chicago.

What was that you said about the Bear passing attack, Dennis?

"Chicago has never had a passing attack," McKinnon said. "All they have is Walter Payton. Everyone knows that."

McKinnon was smiling when the words left his lips, but his point was well taken.

The Bears this season were probably one of the most publicized teams in NFL history, yet here were two guys, Gault and McKinnon, who thought they were left holding the bun.

Gault, who annually leads the league in potential, had only 33 catches this season, the lowest total in his shaky three-year career.

McKinnon started fast with 20 catches for 381 yards and 6 touchdowns in the first 5 games but has virtually been missing in action since. In the next 11 regular-season games, McKinnon had 11 catches for 174 yards and a touchdown.

Gault and McKinnon will tell you that the nature of the Bear offense has cost them a bundle in endorsement deals.

The Bears, much like the Rams, play power football. They like to control a game with their great back, Payton. They rarely pass when ahead. Often, they use Gault and McKinnon as decoys, teasing an opponent with the very thought of their speed.

But sometimes being a decoy is a drag.

"All receivers like the football," McKinnon said. "But if you win, who cares?"

So, McKinnon and Gault have played along with the Bears' script, hoping that someday their pages will turn up.

Coach Mike Ditka keeps telling McKinnon that he's saving him for the big one.

Ditka proved it last Sunday when quarterback Jim McMahon threw twice to McKinnon for touchdowns in the Bears' 21-0 playoff win over the New York Giants.

Gault even joined in the fun, catching 3 passes for 68 yards.

"Willie and I have accepted our roles," McKinnon said. "And when the opportunity presents itself, we will shine. That's what we did last week."

What McKinnon is saying is, don't be surprised if you hear these two names again on Sunday against the Rams.

For those who haven't seen much of Gault and McKinnon on magazine covers or as guests on talk shows, here's some additional biographical information:

Willie Gault--World-class sprinter and hurdler from the University of Tennessee. The man can flat-out fly, but the rap is that he sometimes forgets to catch the football first.

Some reports say that he was last spotted running over the middle for a pass in the late 1970s. Hands as reliable as a space-shuttle launching.

He's only 25, so he may improve with age.

"I worked hard in the off-season on the things I was criticized for, like running a pass route exactly 10 yards and catching the ball over the middle," Gault said. "I've improved in a way where I got a couple thrown to me over the middle."

Gault is willing to do the little things to win. He's a dangerous kick returner. He returned one kickoff all the way to the other end zone during the regular season.

Against the Rams on Sunday, he'll be used as a safety valve on the Bear kickoff team, the idea being that he may be the only man alive able to catch the Rams' Ron Brown in a foot race.

"I doubt if I can catch him from behind," Gault said, "But I won't put myself in a position where I'll have to catch him from behind."

Gault said he has faced Brown twice in sprints, winning once. Summation: Gault would rather be remembered as a receiver, not a safety valve.

"Everyone drops the ball," Gault said. "Writers make a big deal out of it, but it's not that big a deal. I caught 33 balls this year and dropped only 6. Those are pretty good odds. We're not going to catch 60 or 70 passes a game. That we have to accept."

Dennis McKinnon--The Bears signed him as a free agent from Florida State. He was on his way to a fabulous season until the Bears stopped throwing to him around Week 6.

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