Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Pea Souper Bowl

Fog Turned '88 Bear-Eagle Playoff Game Into Mistake by Lake

January 19, 2002|STEVE SPRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Nobody had the foggiest idea what was coming.

For the opening kickoff of the 1988 playoff game between the Chicago Bears and Philadelphia Eagles, the sky was bright blue and you could see forever on a cold Saturday afternoon in Chicago's Soldier Field, with the temperature in the 30s on that last day of the year.

The Bears looked resplendent in their trademark navy blue uniforms with the orange and white trim. The Eagles stood out in stark contrast in their road whites with the green trim. Within an hour, however, the Bears would be no more than dark blobs on a fuzzy landscape, and the Eagles would look like ghostly figures.

The teams were meeting in an NFC divisional playoff game, as they are today. Chicago, winner of the Central Division title in 1988, enjoyed home-field advantage because of its 12-4 record. Philadelphia, the Eastern Division champion, had ended the regular season 10-6.

The Bears took the early lead on a 64-yard touchdown pass play from Mike Tomczak, making his first start in an NFL postseason game, to Dennis McKinnon. Philadelphia safety Andre Waters, the only man with a chance to catch McKinnon, fell down on the play.

That was only the first of many bleak moments for the Eagles. Their kicker, Luis Zendejas, missed a 43-yard field-goal attempt. Two apparent touchdown passes on the same drive were called back because of penalties. Philadelphia came up an inch short on fourth and one at the Chicago four-yard line.

But all those troubles paled, as did the Eagles' white uniforms, compared to what occurred next.

It was the second quarter and the Bears were ahead, 14-6, when the first streams of white clouds floated into one end of Soldier Field.

The first reaction of many in the press box was that it was smoke from a fire.

Philadelphia receiver Gregg Garrity said later he thought it was some kind of weird snowstorm.

Instead, it was fog, the result of cold air blowing off Lake Michigan into a stream of hot air. It covered only the lakefront area, which includes Soldier Field. The rest of Chicago remained sparkling and clear.

That, however, was of little solace to those who had a football game to play.

Of course, many football games have been played in inclement weather. But at least with the benefit of weather reports, the players involved had time to prepare themselves mentally, and gather the proper equipment.

This time, there was no preparation, and no equipment, to ease the miserable conditions.

The fog engulfed the field. Several veterans of the Chicago media corps said they hadn't see anything like it in at least half a century.

Of the two teams, the Eagles had the greater difficulty. Wearing white uniforms made them almost indistinguishable from the background.

Randall Cunningham, the Philadelphia quarterback, would fade back to pass, only to see his receivers fade away.

"What I could see was about 20 yards downfield," Cunningham said after the game. "If you take your dropback, you could only see only about 15 yards."

It wasn't much better for the Bears.

The field-goal kickers would swing their legs through the ball, watch it sail into the mist and then await word from an official downfield on how they had fared.

Up in the press box, all the media had were fuzzy pictures on monitors or the relay of information from the public-address announcer.

And he wasn't much help.

At one point, he reported, "There's word of a flag on the field."

And later, he said, "Cris Carter catches the ball ... and he's gone."

Literally.

Terry Bradshaw was working his first NFL playoff game as an analyst that day for CBS. But how do you analyze what you can't see?

It was also difficult for the 65,534 in attendance, who largely came to root for the Bears and begin their New Year's Eve celebration a bit early. They huddled around radios or small TVs, strained their eyes to make out the blurred numbers on the scoreboard or searched, often in vain, for a signal from the officials. Something would happen on the field, but the cheers or boos were delayed several minutes until fans finally figured out what had happened.

Either team could have sneaked a 12th man onto the field that day and who would have known?

By the second half, the press box was largely abandoned. Most reporters chose to go down on the field rather than gaze out at what looked like an Arctic landscape.

The Bears won the game, 20-12, but went on to lose to the San Francisco 49ers, 28-3, in the NFC championship game.

At least it is believed Chicago beat Philadelphia. The game film offered little evidence one way or the other.

When it was over, a radio reporter who was blind asked Chicago Coach Mike Ditka what it was like out there.

"I thought," said Ditka, "I was you."

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|