The Chicago Bears had been humiliated in a 47-0 debacle against the Houston Oilers, leaving them 3-5 for the season at the time and their coach, Jack Pardee, wondering about his football future.
"Sure I was concerned about my job," Pardee said today. "Coaches who don't do any better than that usually get fired. But my biggest concern was for the players to just hang in there, not to quit or give up, that it wasn't the end of the world.
"That was our message to them. We didn't have any magic words. We tried to encourage them to stick together, to worry about winning the next game, not all six. Just do it week by week, we said, believe in each other, don't point fingers and don't bitch and moan.
"All I can say is these guys did one heck of a job."
Yes. The Bears won each and every one of those last six games, and the NFC wild-card playoff berth. So on Monday, they will meet the heavily favored Dallas Cowboys at 2 p.m. EST (WTOP-TV-4) in an opening-round NFC playoff game at Texas Stadium, the Bears' first post-season appearance since 1963.
Pardee is well aware the oddsmakers rate the 12-2 Cowboys 10-point favorites to advance to the NFC championship game against either Los Angeles or Minnesota. And he is realistic enough to admit the Cowboys "deserve it. They've got everything going for them - the home field, the crowd and experience in the playoffs.
"But our players have something going for them too.We have more enthusiasm than any team I have ever been associated with, yes, including the Redskins in 1972 (the Super Bowl year). Our guys appreciate what they've accomplished.
"And now, they want more."
In addition to enthusiasm, the Bears have Walter Payton, the magnificent tailback who speaks softly and averages six yards per offensive play carrying or catching a football.
Pardee winces when asked if he thinks the Cowboys will be able to stop the Chicago offense simply by shutting Payton down.
"I hope they do key on him," Pardee said, "because we have pass receivers who can get open and catch the ball and a quarterback who can get it to them. If they concentrate on the run too much, we'll get it to James Scott. A lot of people forget he caught 50 passes this year. We do have balance.
The Bears also know they must neutralize the strongest pass-rushing defensive line in the NFL if they are to have any success at all.
Quarterback Bob Avellini, a 53 per cent passer this season, needs time, and Cowboy linemen Randy White and Harvey Martin, among others, are very impatient fellows. Martin merely produced 23 of the Cowboys' league-leading 53 sacks this season. And Avellini knows all about White, his former teammate at the University of Maryland.
"We didn't get along too well (in college)," Avellini said the other day. "Two different personalities. We clashed. He gave me some good shots. I've still got the scars."
Adds White: "I don't believe he (Avellini) like me too much. Yeah, I used to hit him, and he'd fling the football at me. More than once he did that."
Pardee, meanwhile, has been working long and hard figuring ways to neutralize a Cowboy offense that led the NFC with 345 points (42 touch-downs) and had the No. 1 offense, averaging 344 yards per game.
No, Pardee insisted, he did not call on his old coach, George Allen, for any extra help plotting his defensive game plan.
"I know the Redskins pretty much shut them down in their second game," Pardee said. "But we're two different teams and I got whatever I needed from the films. We don't have the kind of personnel the Redskins have. We'll have to do it a little differcently."
The Bears will have to stop Roger Staubach, Tony Dorsett, Drew Pearson and company with a defense that ranked 12th overall in the NFC, 10th against the run and 13th against the pass. The Bears yielded 253 points during the regular season, although Pardee noted his defense gave up only 200 of them, a team goal.
The opposition scored six touch-downs on returns in 1977, however, and the Bear special teams will have to do better than that.
The Bears can hardly afford similar breakdowns in Dallas.
"This is the best team the Cowboys have had in a long time," Pardee admitted today.
"But our team is ready to play, you better believe they are. They could have just lay down and died six weeks ago but they didn't. I know we didn't beat anybody very impressively. We scratched and we clawed. But every week, we did what we had to do that anything can happen in a playoff game. "We're sort of enjoying all of this and we'd like to think we can keep it going. That would really be something, wouldn't it?"