Bob Thomas kicked a 28-yard field goal with nine seconds remaining in overtime today to put the Chicago Bears in the playoffs as the NFC's wild-card team.
His kick, which gave the Bears a 12-9 victory over the New York Giants, also brought an end to the Washington Redskins' season.
The Bears, Minnesota vikings and Redskins finished the regular season with 9-5 records. The Vikings won the Central Division championship over the Bears because they outscored Chicago by three points in their two meetings. The Bears get the wild-card berth over the Redskins because of their superior point differential in games within their conference.
The Bears will play the Cowboys next Monday in Dallas in the first round of the playoffs. It is the first time since 1963, when they won the NFL championship, that the Bears have been in the playoffs. And, oh, did they earn it.
The game was played in a freezing rain that left Giants Stadium's artificial surface covered with a thin sheet of ice, making the footing treacherous.
That didn't cut down on the thrills, as the Bears just kept plugging away until they got what they wanted.
"Sixty minutes is too much, but 75 minutes of football . . . oh God," Chicago's Walter Payton said.
Payton came into the game needing 199 yards to break O. J. Simpson's NFL season rushing record of 2,003.
He didn't come close. He finished with 47 yards in 15 carriers.
New York's Joe Danelo kicked a 27-yard field goal, his third of the day, with 38 seconds left in regulation to send the game into overtime tied at 9-9.
Chicago had scored what should have been the winning touchdown with six minutes left in the fourth period, but Thomas' extra-point attempt was blocked by Ernie Jones. That gave Chicago a three-point lead instead of a safer four-point advantage.
The Giants won the toss and took the ball first in the overtime session, but on their second play, free safety Doug Plank stepped in front of Bob Hammond on a short pass over the middle and intercepted Joe Pisarcik's throw. Plank returned it 12 yards to the Giants' 27.
The Bears ran three plays, keeping the ball in the middle of the field and then sent in Thomas for a 35-yard field-goal attempt.
The Giants called time-out to let Thomas think about the kick. Dan Neal's snap was low and holder Bob Avellini had trouble spotting the ball for Thomas. His kick sailed wide to the left.
Two possessions later, Avellini took the Bears on a 43-yard drive to the New York 11 with 3:14 left.
Again Thomas went in for the field goal, again New York called time-out and again Neal's snap was low. Avellini couldn't handle this one cleanly, either. He finally picked it up and threw a pass that felt incomplete.
New York couldn't move the ball on its next possession and the Bears got it back at the Giant 45-yard line with 1:22 left in the overtime following a Dave Jennings punt.
Avellini threw to tight end Greg Latta for one yard and again for 18, moving the ball to the 25 with 45 seconds to play.
Then Payton showed his worth. Avellini called a pass play designed to go to one of the wide receivers or the tight end," but I saw they were in a man defense, which meant the weak safety had to cover Walter and that's a long way for him to have to go. So I dumped the ball off to walter and let him run," Avellini said.
Payton caught the ball seven yards downfield, one step inbounds, and broke Larry Mallory's tackle to get seven more yards, moving the ball to the Giant 11.
With no time-outs left, the field goal team ran onto the field and Thomas knocked it through as time ticked away.
"If I had missed, I would have had my mail forwarded to Asia," Thomas said. "I would have been gone."
"The best thing about that last kick was that we just did it quick," Avellini said. "We didn't even think about it."
"It was a tough day to kick, a tough day to do anything," Thomas said. "It's always the kicking game that suffers most in bad weather." The weather currently didn't help Payton's game, either.
"On a field like this, there's no way a runner will get 200 yards," Bear coach Jack Pardee said.
"Walter's strong suit is his cuts," Avellini said, "but he couldn't cut at all today. You had to glide into everything."
Payton said he "didn't even think about the record. I suspected all along 200 was too many yards to get in one game and once I saw the field I just pull it out of my mind."