For tough guys, the Chicago Bears defenders have a delightfully innocent view of the world. They don't worry about whom they hit, and they care even less about whom they offend.
Just this week, they predicted running back Eric Dickerson will fumble two or three times Sunday; they screamed that if holding were a capital offense, the Los Angeles Rams' offensive line would be "dead," and they took huge lumps of credit for the revival of the National Football League's TV ratings this season.
Most teams smother an opponent in compliments the week before a game, especially one as big as the NFC championship game Sunday at 12:30 p.m. EST at Soldier Field.
The Bears would rather smother an opponent, period.
"We're just speaking facts," said strong safety Dave Duerson.
They say they love to hit, which is obvious, because for the second year in a row, they are the best defense in the league.
Perhaps because they are young (they average five years experience), they also love to talk. In this, they have only one peer, and that's the Raiders.
Last season, after the Bears defeated them, Lyle Alzado said, "We just got beat at our own game."
The defensive players get their talkative streak from assistant coach Buddy Ryan, the man who took a player's number (ex-Bears safety Doug Plank's 46) and created a stunning defense that opened up lanes for blitzes.
Ryan is the man who called William (The Refrigerator) Perry a "wasted" draft pick last summer. He says he doesn't feel that way anymore, but still maintains Perry, a starting defensive tackle, "is a long ways from being great."
Ryan casually mentioned to reporters yesterday that Dickerson "will lay it on the ground for us two to three times . . . At least three times."
It raised observers' eyebrows around the Atlanta Falcons training site, but it didn't surprise his players.
"Eric Dickerson runs high," said Duerson, who replaced starter Todd Bell -- who is in a year-long contract holdout -- and did so well he made the Pro Bowl. "When you run high, there's a lot of you to hit."
Ryan also complained that the Rams, the fourth-best rushing team in the NFL, are holding a lot on run blocking. "It looks like pro wrestling," Ryan said.
What he is hoping to do is create enough of an issue of this so the officials don't overlook it Sunday.
"This is no alleged holding," said end Dan Hampton, another of the Bears defense's five Pro Bowl picks. "They could be convicted of it. If it was a capital offense, they'd already be dead."
The Bears defense has more to say on other topics. They were stung recently by a controversial $2,000 fine against linebacker Wilber Marshall and are starting to wonder if the league doesn't have it in for them.
"We seem to have had some run-ins with the commissioner (Pete Rozelle)," said free safety Gary Fencik, the 31-year-old Yalie.
"Well, I think the NFL should thank us," he said. "We've brought excitement back to the NFL. We've got characters."
Tackle Steve McMichael, a free agent from Texas, was drafted by New England in 1980 but was released in '81. If you're a general manager, don't bait him. Especially if you're Patrick Sullivan of the Patriots, who was hit by Matt Millen in a postgame fight last weekend.
"I have to applaud those guys for that," McMichael said. "I didn't like those guys that much when I was there, either. I'm gonna buy Matt Millen and Howie Long a drink the next time I see them."
The Bears don't talk so softly, but they carry a big shtick. They are one of the last of the 4-3 defenses, although they have so many formations it's sometimes difficult to tell what numerical lineup they are playing.
Last week, in their 21-0 victory over the New York Giants, third-year end Richard Dent had 3 1/2 sacks. It looked as if he was freelancing, when, in fact, he was doing exactly what Ryan had told him. Playing a three-man front, Hampton and McMichael shifted to the right, and Dent ran around behind them into the Giants backfield. Because the Rams don't pass as much as the Giants, it's unlikely the Bears will do this again, but one never knows.
There seems to be little reason why the Bears have gotten so good. Ryan says he is "not involved" in the team's drafts, which helps explain his original disdain for Perry, the top choice in 1985.
Yet the Bears have had tremendous success in recent drafts, obtaining Hampton in the first round in 1979, linebacker Otis Wilson in the first round in 1980, middle linebacker Mike Singletary in the second round in 1981, and Dent in the eighth round in 1983, among others.
The selections are then handed over to rock-solid coaching. All the Chicago defensive coaches have been with the team since 1978, surviving the upheaval in 1982 when Mike Ditka became head coach.
The players say the continuity is worth its weight in sacks.
Ryan is 51 and a long way from his days as an offensive guard at Oklahoma State in the early '50s, but it is his raucous personality spectators see Sundays in Soldier Field.
"He's a war general," said Duerson. "At practice, he'll constantly bring up Todd (Bell). 'Todd wouldn't do it this way, Todd would do it that way.' He just wants to fire me up."
Although the Bears defense appears to be an open book, there are some secrets.
Ryan was asked what is the best way to stop Dickerson.
He replied: "You'll see it Sunday."