`It was brutal'

Colts-Bears clash made lasting memories in 1960

Super Bowl Xli

February 01, 2007|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,SUN REPORTER

Face bloodied, the battered quarterback huddled up and called the play. His teammates frowned. That pass wasn't in their playbook.

The quarterback rasped out directions, broke the huddle, took the snap. With eyes nearly swollen shut, he backpedaled, double-pumped and fired a 39-yard strike to win the game as time ran out.

The quarterback? John Unitas.

The date? Nov. 13, 1960.

No matter how Sunday's Super Bowl plays out, it would be hard-pressed to surpass the most memorable game against the Chicago Bears in Baltimore Colts history.

Forty-seven years ago, those rivals met at Wrigley Field in a sanguine struggle that remains fixed in the players' memories.

"It was the most violent, bloody game I ever participated in," said Dick Szymanski, the Colts' middle guard. "Nobody played dirty; we just beat each other up.

"It was brutal."

Hall of Fame defensive lineman Gino Marchetti still winces at the thought of that game.

"I can't say it was a war, because I know what war is like," said Marchetti, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge. "But it was the toughest game I ever played in my life."

Early on, the Bears sidelined Colts fullback Alan "The Horse" Ameche with a concussion. Star receiver Raymond Berry left town with a bum shoulder and a pulled hamstring. And at halftime, when he removed his helmet, All-Pro offensive tackle Jim Parker's face looked like he'd been kicked by Dixie, the Colts' mascot pony.

Though Chicago mauled Unitas, scarring him for life, the Hall of Fame quarterback refused to leave the game. Trainers sponged the blood off his face before Unitas led a storybook, last-minute drive that finished off the Bears, 24-20, and kept the Colts atop the Western Division.

What price glory? Victorious but badly beaten, the Colts (6-2) collapsed in the final month of the 12-game season.

"That game was so physical that we lost our last four," Marchetti said.

Bears fans despised the Colts, one of only two NFL teams against whom Chicago had a losing record. There was envy, too: Baltimore was the two-time defending NFL champion and had crushed the Bears, 42-7, a month earlier.

"I remember having to walk through the stands [at Wrigley Field] to reach the dressing room," halfback Alex Hawkins said. "People growled at us and threw bottles and cans that hit the chicken wire separating players and fans.

"You were scared to go on the field because when you looked around, the crowd was dressed in black [one of the Bears' colors]. It was like being surrounded by thousands of Al Capones."

The Bears reportedly put out a hit on Unitas, then in the midst of a record streak - at least one touchdown pass in 47 consecutive games. That mark still stands.

"Coach George Halas offered $500 to anyone on the team who could knock me out of the game," Unitas once told The Sun.

That November, Chicago (3-2-1) was in the chase and Halas was fixed on defeating the Colts. To that end, he gave his players the day off before the game for the first time in his 41 years as Bears owner.

Did the ploy work? Chicago scored first, a 1-yard plunge by Rick Casares, its tough fullback. The Colts countered with Steve Myhra's field goal and a touchdown by Ameche, who trotted off woozy. The Bears regained the lead on Casares' short run.

Baltimore forged ahead again on a 36-yard touchdown pass to halfback Lenny Moore - the 45th straight game in which Unitas had thrown for a score. The Bears tied it on a field goal, then booted another with two minutes remaining for a 20-17 lead.

En route, Chicago nearly KO'd another Colts player. On a Bears sweep, two offensive linemen ganged up to flatten Marchetti, the defensive end.

"One of them hit me high, and the other went for my knees. It was the hardest I've ever been hit in a game," Marchetti said. "If it wasn't for my pride, I don't think I'd have gotten up."

Later, he said, one of the Bears told him, "Sorry, Gino, but Halas told us to do that."

Trailing by three points, the Colts fought back. With 1 1/2 minutes left, Unitas hit Berry with a 13-yard pass just as a Bears blitz slammed into the quarterback.

"I tried to fall to the ground to call time out, but [linebacker] Bill George had me by both legs and was holding me up," Unitas said in a 2000 Sun interview. "Then I saw [defensive end] Doug Atkins racing over yelling, `Hold his [butt] till I get there!' "

George complied. Atkins - 6 feet 8, 260 pounds - hammered Unitas, whose head bore the brunt of the blow. Slowly he staggered up, his face a gruesome sight.

"His nose looked like it had been hit with an axe," Hawkins said.

"Remember, John only had two little bars on his helmet, not like the protective masks they wear today," Marchetti said. "To the day he died, there were small scars on his nose, a reminder of that particular game."

As trainers fussed over him, Unitas tried to shoo them away.

"That was his focus," Berry said. "He was like, `Get the inconvenience over with because I've got work to do.' "

The triage complete, Unitas trotted back on the field.

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