CHICAGO — Attention, Patriots: you don't know what you're up against.
After a week spent calling up all their ghosts--galloping and otherwise--the Bears Sunday rode the swirling winds of Soldier Field all the way into Super Bowl XX.
The modern Monsters of the Midway didn't need any help, of course, but before demolishing the Rams, 24-0, in the NFC championship game, they had been reminded all week of their obligation to Bear tradition.
Red Grange, George Halas and the 18 other Chicago Hall of Famers can rest easy. That tradition is in fine hands.
Take, for instance, the impertinence of the quarterback, Jim McMahon, who defied the Establishment with a homemade "Rozelle" head band, ran for one touchdown, passed for another and then stuck out his tongue at convention--not to mention the television cameras.
Then there was the arrogance of the Bear defense, which did about what it said it would do to the Rams: stuffed Eric Dickerson with 46 yards and made him fumble, held Dieter Brock and the rest of the Rams' popgun offense to 130 total yards, and overall didn't give the kids from the Coast an even break in posting a second consecutive shutout for the first time in National Football League playoff history.
The passion of the 63,522 fans was rewarded with a Jan. 26 date against the AFC champion New England Patriots in New Orleans, and the fans would have settled for nothing less.
With 10 minutes remaining and the game in hand at 17-0, a light snow started to fall, a sudden switch from the relatively fair weather that had greeted the Rams. It was 39 degrees at kickoff, with a 23 m.p.h. wind blowing from, it seemed, all directions.
The fans gave the snowflakes a standing ovation for showing the Rams it could have been worse. There would be no alibis for this one. The Bears, 17-1, are where they belong.
Certainly, the Rams are in no position to argue. The NFC West winners (12-6) had blanked Dallas a week earlier, 20-0, and the Bears had disposed of the Giants, 21-0. All that did was spare the Cowboys an inevitable fate.
The Rams took their first wrong turn at the coin toss. They won it and elected to receive the opening kickoff. The Bears, probably chuckling to themselves, chose to defend the north goal, meaning the Rams would be battling into the treacherous gusts.
"I spent the whole pregame warm-up trying to figure out where the wind was coming from, and I never did figure it out," Ram Coach John Robinson said. "I didn't want to give the ball away without knowing which way had the advantage."
By the end of the first quarter it was abundantly clear. The Bears were in front, 10-0, on McMahon's 16-yard scoring scramble and Kevin Butler's 34-yard field goal. At that point, McMahon, who came out throwing, was 5 for 6, headed for a 16-for-25 day, while Brock was 1 for 4 on his way to a 10-for-31 performance, with one interception.
The wind bothered Brock, but McMahon seemed to handle it.
"Guts, he's got guts," Bear Coach Mike Ditka said of McMahon. "He ran the show. The wind seemed to be bothering Brock. He was trying to overthrow to compensate. Jim had unbelievable touch."
Said Robinson: "I'm not sure any quarterback isn't gonna have trouble when he's behind 10-0 and throwing into the wind."
Said Dickerson: "McMahon was throwing over the middle. We were throwing 'outs.' "
Said Brock: "It was pretty tough throwing the ball into the wind. It affected a few of them."
The Rams had hoped that the punting of rookie All-Pro Dale Hatcher would keep them out of trouble and in good field position, regardless of the elements. But Hatcher's first two kicks were seized by the wind and measured only 33 and 28 yards, allowing the Bears to start their scoring drives at their own 44- and the Rams' 49-yard line.
When the Rams turned their tails to the wind in the second quarter, their offense worked a little better, but then their luck and then their judgment abandoned them.
First, Henry Ellard, the league's leading punt returner, bruised his ribs when he fell on a Bear's knee and was only able to take his turns at wide receiver after that. That left LeRoy Irvin and Johnnie Johnson, who hadn't practiced catching punts much lately, to battle the winds that played tricks with Maury Buford's kicks.
Later, Brock threw a deep pass down the right sideline to rookie Michael Young that would have been a 50-yard gain to the Bears' 16--if Young hadn't taken several steps out of bounds.
Trouble was, no official noted that cornerback Mike Richardson had shouldered Young out of bounds. It happened along the Chicago sideline, but none of the Bears were about to mention it.
"He (Richardson) was just doing his job and got away with it." Young said. "I went by him and relaxed and he pushed me . . . caught me off guard."
The Rams had to punt.
On the Rams' next series, Richardson was flagged for pass interference against Ellard, but there was no penalty because Bear linebacker Mike Singletary had tipped the ball.