The Super Bowl-bound Chicago Bears took Sunday off before leaving for the New Orleans Superdome, a place that holds mixed memories for the NFC champions.
The Bears, coming off three days of practice inside Memorial Stadium's bubble in Champaign, will leave for New Orleans today to prepare for the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX.
The game will mark the Bears' fourth at the Superdome, home of the New Orleans Saints. Two of the games were regular-season contests, one an exhibition. Chicago is 2-1.
"For me, the memories are good because I caught three touchdown passes there," said Willie Gault, the Bears' fleet receiver. "However, we lost the game."
In one of Coach Mike Ditka's most bitter defeats, the Bears fell, 34-31, to the Saints in overtime on Sept. 18, 1983. It was one of three overtime losses for the Bears that year.
Chicago's first encounter with the Superdome came in 1975 in the inaugural year of the multimillion dollar indoor facility.
The Bears walloped the Saints, 42-17, on Dec. 21 to wind up an 4-10 season.
Only Walter Payton, who was a rookie, can remember what it was like to taste victory in the Superdome that year.
In 1979, the Bears prevailed, 13-6, over the Saints in the Superdome in the second exhibition game of the year.
The Bears trained "inside" at Champaign to help simulate conditions inside the dome. Chicago played outdoors in its two NFC playoff games.
"Actually, it was a real benefit for some of the players to rest their legs and heal up," defensive lineman Dan Hampton said. "We're looking forward to playing inside."
Security arrangements for the Bears at the dome will be extremely tight, even for Super Bowl standards. The club will not have a curfew until Wednesday night, when they'll have to be in at 11:30, but there will be little chance for fans to get a peek at the Bears.
"We are a security conscious organization," explained General Manager Jerry Vainisi, who went to the Superdome last week to inspect the facilities. "We realize with over 2,500 media that there are going to be demands on peoples' times. But I think you will find that most of the guys, especially the Jim McMahons and Walter Paytons, will be staying pretty close to the hotel all week."
Another reason Chicago trained at Champaign was to guarantee security. Ditka has already outlined the Bears' game plan for the Patriots, a club Chicago defeated, 20-7, in the second game of the 1985 season. He felt practice time during Super Bowl week in the Superdome would be limited.
"We know what it's like, both in terms of Super Bowl week and the Superdome," Ditka said. "We know what our game plan is. Now, it's a matter of just executing it."
Chicago will enter the game with relatively few serious injuries. Defensive tackle Steve McMichael must undergo knee surgery after the season but will face the Patriots. McMahon has sore buttocks and saw limited practice time last week. Some other Bears, including Ditka, fought off the flu in Champaign but are all expected to practice Tuesday when the Bears set up shop at the Superdome.
New Orleans officials speculate Super Bowl XX will cost about $200,000, a small price to pay for an event expected to infuse the city with $100 million.
The $100 million estimate is based on a study completed last year in San Francisco after Super Bowl XIX.
Of the $200,000 New Orleans will spend as the host city, $150,000 will go to pay for police, including $60,000 in overtime earnings.
Motel managers, whose rooms for Super Bowl week have been booked solid for months, are being hounded by calls from Chicago and New England fans desperate for nearby lodging.
"They're calling and begging for a room," says Sharon Walker of Days Inn in Slidell, La., 20 miles from downtown New Orleans. "I've called all over Slidell and now I'm telling them to try Baton Rouge."
Baton Rouge is 90 miles from the Superdome.
The National Football League has decreed the base price of each Super Bowl ring to be $3,000. The NFL will pay that price for 90 rings for the winning team. Any amount of extra money needed to buy a Super Bowl ring by the winning team must be supplied by that team.
Most teams do spend more than $3,000 per ring. In addition, the company supplying the rings usually does so at a huge discount.
The Bears and Patriots have been supplied 16,000 tickets each for Super Bowl XX.
The host team, the New Orleans Saints, will be supplied 6,000 while all of the other 23 NFL teams get 1% of the Super Bowl capacity for a total of 17,500 tickets.
The NFL office commands 13,500 tickets to the game.
It has been 16 games since the New England Patriots lost the battle of the turnovers.
The Patriots, who have a plus-12 turnover ratio in the post-season, have not turned the ball over more than their opposition since a 35-20 loss to the Raiders Sept. 29.
New England's opponent in Super Bowl XX led the NFL in turnover ratio with a plus-23 mark. Chicago led the league with 54 takeaways.
Only three teams in the NFL allowed opponents less than a 50% completion rate and two of them will be playing in the Superdome Sunday.
The Bears had by far the league's toughest pass defense, allowing a 47.7 completion average, while the Patriots' opponents hit on 49.9% of their attempts. The only other team under 50 percent was the Raiders at 49.1%.