CHICAGO — If the pro football season ends with a strike next week, this will be remembered as the game of the year.
It wasn't much of a contest, but it was some game. There were two long touchdown passes, a 94-yard punt return, a 70-yard interception return, a blocked punt for a touchdown and some storied, heavy hitting.
The Chicago Bears got in the best hits--and by far the most--and so they won the game, 34-19, outplaying the champion New York Giants by a margin that was surprising in this match-up of the two most recent Super Bowl winners.
"I'm glad it's over," Bear Coach Mike Ditka said afterward. "It was as hard a hitting game as I've seen."
Said Bear safety Todd Bell, whose early sack caused Giant quarterback Phil Simms to fumble: "We let them know right off that they were in Chicago."
On both sides of the scrimmage line, the Bears dominated from the second quarter on. Their defense destroyed the Giant offense, sacking Simms seven times and Jeff Rutledge once. And on offense the Bears introduced three new stars who changed the look of this outfit from a devastating defensive team with an adequate offense to a devastating defensive team with a lively, effective offense.
Ditka's new aces are the quarterback, Mike Tomczak of Ohio State; a running back who will be taking over for Walter Payton soon, Neal Anderson of Florida, and a swift, skilled receiver, Ron Morris of Southern Methodist.
Anderson, a second-year Bear making his first appearance as the starting fullback, got the club going with runs of 18 and 47 yards in the first quarter.
Tomczak, playing in place of an injured Jim McMahon, had touchdown passes of 42 and 56 yards on successive Bear scrimmage plays in the third quarter.
Morris, the Bears' first draft choice, scored on the second touchdown, going up in the air at the goal line to take the ball away from Giant cornerback Mark Collins.
It was veteran receiver Willie Gault who beat the other Giant cornerback, Elvis Patterson, on Tomczak's first touchdown bomb.
"It's obvious that they did whatever they wanted to against us," Giant Coach Bill Parcells said.
Gault had to wait for the late throw, which he caught on the three-yard line, fell down and rolled into the end zone.
When Morris followed with another kind of circus play, it was clear to the sellout Soldier Field crowd that Tomczak was having a lucky night. The fates were with him on one of the most important nights of his life. But he looked assertive, he obviously likes the give and take of football, and he's not hesitant to throw the ball.
Even if Tomczak isn't a Joe Namath throwing the ball, he has the bearing of a winner.
"He was excellent," Parcells said, "considering it was his first start in a game of this magnitude."
The longest touchdown of the night was scored on the game's best run, a punt return by Bear receiver Dennis McKinnon, who went 94 yards by keeping his balance despite being hit once or twice.
"That play even amazed me," McKinnon said.
The second longest touchdown was the work of Giant safety Terry Kinard, who returned Tomczak's worst pass 70 yards.
The Giants scored only on that play and on a blocked punt before the Bears in control, 31-13, in the fourth quarter.
It was only 10-7, Bears, at the half because the Giants came out poised and confident like a young, agile boxer and stayed that way until the Bears floored them a couple of times.
The sack that ended Simms' effectiveness came on his third attempt to pass. He had completed his first one for 21 yards on the Giants' first play of the game, and he was looking like last winter's Super Bowl quarterback until a safety blitz by Bell took him down and separated him from the ball.
Subsequently, a hit by defensive end Richard Dent knocked Simms out. And although he returned, he was no match for the Bear defense.
Repeatedly, Simms held the ball until sacked. He didn't seem to want to let it go.
"I think (the Bears) proved that we have the world's best linebackers," said one of them, Wilber Marshall. "You never know which of the three of us is coming. This defense wants to be known as the best in the history of football."
The three linebackers who outperformed the Giants' four-man linebacker corps were Marshall, Mike Singletary and Otis Wilson.
After looking at them most of the night, Simms said: "A couple of times, I should have gotten rid of the ball earlier."
The defensive class of the Bears was expected. The surprise was the class of Ditka's rebuilt offense.
Tomczak is a 24-year-old baby-faced bachelor. Anderson, 22, is a fast slasher drafted on the first round last year. Morris, 21, is the fastest of all, teaming now with Gault to give the Bears one of the league's top receiving tandems.
The famed Giant defense couldn't handle them, in part because Parcells elected to rush Tomczak with only his three-man line plus, occasionally, linebacker Lawrence Taylor.
Taylor never sacked him--nobody did. And when the Bears ran the ball, they mostly ran it right at wherever Taylor lined up.