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PRO FOOTBALL : A Great Matchup Is Now Something Less for Raiders and Bears

December 27, 1987|MARK HEISLER | Times Staff Writer

There have been a couple of untoward developments in that battle of titans that has had Southern California shivering in anticipation:

One heavyweight--the home team, actually--has fallen from grace, onto football's Skid Row.

Bo Jackson's right ankle is still sore, and he has been inactivated again. The Raiders are 5-9 as they stagger up the steps to the ring for today's game at the Coliseum, with a chance at their first 10-loss season since Al Davis joined the franchise in 1963.

The visitors, the mighty Chicago Bears, have seen better days themselves.

They have a two-game losing streak and one victory all season against a team with a winning record. They haven't got Jim McMahon, Neal Anderson, Otis Wilson and Jimbo Covert (all hurt), and won't start regulars William Perry, Todd Bell and Tom Thayer (all benched).

They're in such straits that Coach Mike Ditka made changes at 9 of the 22 positions last week . . . and Bear radio commentator Dick Butkus said Ditka hadn't gone far enough.

Butkus said he should have benched Richard Dent, too.

A cooler head such as Ditka might have reminded Butkus: Who were they going to replace him with? They're running low on reserve players.

Otherwise, it's undiminished as an attraction. A crowd of 75,000 is expected, a testament to the Bears' charisma, or to the popularity of Walter Payton who's playing his last regular-season game, or to the number of Chicago expatriates living in this area.

"When this game was scheduled," said Todd Christensen last week, "I thought, 'This is gonna be freaking great.

" 'We're both going to be 11-4, you're going to have 92,000 screaming people. And during the week, Ditka is going to say something. Then Howie (Long) is going to say something. Then McMahon is going to say something. Lester (Hayes) is going to say something.' It'd be like Ali-Frazier all over again.

"Obviously at this point, it's not going to be that way."

Ditka did say something: All you starters, take a step forward. Not so fast, Fridge.

Long didn't say anything.

McMahon didn't say anything.

The only thing Hayes said was he was mad that he couldn't come off injured reserve, he's finished as a Raider and intends to become a Jet. He did the Raiders one favor and didn't call any Bears sissies, though.

In Chicago, they've begun to notice that the Bears bear one disconcerting resemblance to the Raiders.

Have the Raiders become dependent on Jackson?

Well, what are the Bears without McMahon?

McMahon has missed the losing streak with a hamstring pull. Even when he was playing, he kept having to bail them out with last-minute drives--against the likes of Tampa Bay, Kansas City and Green Bay--because the defense that so recently threatened to make offense obsolete kept getting tagged for big numbers--28 points by the Chiefs, 26 by the Buccaneers, 24 by the Packers.

Ditka has ripped Perry, Dent, his secondary and society in general. You may have misgivings about his managerial style but you have to give Ditka his points. He's no coward. He'll draw down on whole cities at a time, including his own. During the strike, he said any fans who stayed home shouldn't be allowed to re-purchase their season tickets.

Said Ditka last week: "I think football, like so much of professional sport, has taken the 'I-me' syndrome."

In truth, the Bears seem to have an I-me problem. Most of their stars have radio shows. The rest content themselves with appearances at the several Tuesday luncheons held around town. It was at one of these that wide receiver Dennis McKinnon announced his re-design of Vince Tobin's defense.

Last week, the Bears said they were dropping plans to spend a week in South Bend, Ind., after the season so they could practice indoors under Notre Dame's bubble.


Fourteen players have a commitment that Tuesday morning to autograph the "Bear But Not Naked" calendars they posed for at Marshall Field.

"We're going to be here all week," Ditka told his players, "and we can all freeze."

Ditka could order them to knock it off but he'd be on shaky ground. With two TV shows, two radio shows, a hot restaurant in the Loop and a large number of endorsements, Ditka is a considerable commercial entity, himself.

Look at the big picture: Can this economy afford a Bear retrenchment?

Among the Raiders, the concerns are more basic, like:

Will they show up?

After last week's loss to the Browns, Christensen suggested his teammates were, uh, having trouble with their self-motivation.

"If it was intimated that some people quit," Christensen said a few days ago, "then so be it."

If intimation isn't your thing, Marcus Allen, a widely acknowledged team leader, made the same point, more directly and far more angrily.

The Raider regulars also have to prove they can beat anyone without Bo Jackson. They haven't, since Detroit on Sept. 20.

Aside from that, their only problem is this darn schedule, which has brought them face-to-snout with the Bears on the week the Bears' keeper has decided not to feed them.

Some seasons, it goes like that.

Raider Notes

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