The Chicago Bears, pro football's video darlings, left their Super Bowl Shuffle in the VCR today and debuted a new routine: The Super Bowl Stampede. It'll be big on Bourbon Street.
No team in National Football League history ever had had two shutouts in consecutive playoff games -- until this afternoon of sports salvation in Chicago.
The Bears (17-1) defeated the Los Angeles Rams, 24-0, to win their first NFC Championship and will go to their first Super Bowl (Jan. 26 in New Orleans at 5 p.m.), pleasing the 63,522 spectators at Soldier Field to no end.
Any similarities to last weekend's 21-0 victory over the New York Giants are not coincidental.
The Chicago defense again was "awesome," to use the word of Bears quarterback Jim McMahon, who, playing in a swirling wind, was just about as good.
The Bears limited Eric Dickerson to 46 yards on 17 carries, and although Walter Payton of the Bears did even worse (32 yards on 18 carries), the Rams needed their star running back more than the Bears needed theirs.
The only time in the first half the Rams got into Chicago territory, they let time run out on them before they could attempt a short field goal. Their three drives that crossed the 50 in the second half ended in turnovers.
The Rams never gained more than 15 yards on a play. Reportedly a ball-control team, they had one drive that was three plays and a punt and took 13 seconds off the clock. Quarterback Dieter Brock had a miserable day, completing less than one in three passes (10 of his 31 attempts) for 66 yards.
You don't think the Bears were eager to exorcise the demons of this city's sports failures past, do you?
Dick Butkus, the Hall of Fame middle linebacker who never played for a Bears team so good, found Mike Singletary, the man who now stands in his place, in the Bears locker room after the game.
"Something we couldn't do, you did, buddy," Butkus said, beaming. "Awright!"
This is a team that doesn't lose a lead, so was there much doubt about what would happen when McMahon scrambled 16 yards for a touchdown with 5:25 gone in the game?
Rookie Kevin Butler's 34-yard field goal increased that lead to 10 points five minutes later, and, while it's a rare football player who figures he has a game won in the first quarter, the Bears were feeling pretty good right then.
"That definitely has an impact on you," said wide receiver Willie Gault. "With the kind of defense we have, we know if we score a couple times, that's the game."
Two unpredictable plays unfolded into the last two touchdowns:
McMahon, unhappy with a draw play that was sent into the huddle, told Gault to run an inside-out route to the corner of the end zone, then sprinted out to throw to him there for a 22-yard scoring pass in the third quarter.
"Mike (Ditka) congratulated me on a good call after we made it," said McMahon, who wore a headband with Commissioner Pete Rozelle's last name on it after being fined $5,000 for wearing an Adidas headband last week.
It was the second sprintout McMahon threw today. The first was two plays earlier, a 13-yard reception by Payton on fourth down at the Los Angeles 35.
Finally, linebacker Wilber Marshall picked up a fumble after Brock was sacked and ran 52 yards for a touchdown with less than three minutes remaining. He pulled away from Dickerson's last-gasp tackle and ran with William (The Refrigerator) Perry as his personal escort.
This game was no fun for the Rams (12-6), who had hoped to run on the Bears. Problem was, the Bears moved safety Gary Fencik in to cut off Dickerson's cutback move, and their defensive line controlled the Rams offensive line.
There was no better moment for the Bears' defense than the instant Singletary, nicknamed "Samurai," stuffed Dickerson on a third-and-one play at the Rams' 47 late in the first quarter.
With the Bears already ahead, 10-0, Dickerson took a handoff and started left. Singletary, a Pro Bowl selection, watched his line begin to cave in the Rams line, then saw Dickerson bounce outside.
"When he bounced, I bounced," Singletary said. "I'm looking for him. Then we met."
It was quite a meeting. Singletary stood his ground as 218 pounds of top-grade running back charged into him. The linebacker wrapped his thick arms around Dickerson, and bent him to the ground.
Dickerson lost a yard, and the Rams had to punt.
When the Rams fell behind and had to pass, it quickly became apparent that Brock couldn't throw accurately against the 23-mph wind.
"The wind seemed to be bothering Brock," said Ditka. "He was trying to overthrow to compensate for the wind."
Not so his quarterback.
"Jim had an unbelievable touch," Ditka said.
Even so, the Rams could have stayed close were it not for a series of plays and calls. The episode followed a fumble that gave the Rams the ball at Chicago's 21 with 1:04 remaining in the first half.
The tipoff that this was going to be a strange final minute should have come by the way the Bears fumbled. As Dale Hatcher's punt bounced into Chicago territory, Bears special teams player Reggie Phillips was lying on the ground after a block. The football fell to the ground and hit him. Jerry Gray recovered for Los Angeles at the 21.
The Rams had one timeout remaining. They never used it.
Dickerson ran for nine yards on two carries, bringing up a third down with the clock showing :31 and running.
The players unpiled. The Rams walked back to the huddle as if this was any other play. No one seemed to be in any hurry at all.
The clock was down to :12 when the Rams broke their huddle. It was at :07 when the ball was snapped to Brock, who threw to Dickerson, a safety-valve receiver, over the middle. Dickerson reached the five and was tackled with :02 showing.
But by the time an official acknowledged any one of several Rams furiously asking for a timeout, there was no time left.
"We just didn't get the timeout," Coach John Robinson said. "I thought there were two or three seconds left and our guys were calling time. The officials just didn't call it. Don't say officiating had anything to do with this game, though."
He defended the running plays, saying he thought they would go a long way against the Bears' prevent defense. Why he didn't call his timeout before the final play, no one knows.
"Don't ask me, man," Dickerson said when asked if he thought the Rams had called time in time. "I was on the ground."
Singletary said that series helped the Bears considerably.
"When you get that close and come up with nothing, it hurts," he said. "I think they were thinking field goal. They just wanted to get something. Eric looked like he was trying to score with it . . . That could'a changed the game."
It's difficult to imagine that happening against these Bears, who have allowed only 19 first downs in two playoff games.
Safety Dave Duerson of the Bears said: "Their offensive game plan played right into our hands."
And when the Bears have a hold on something, they have proved this season they never let go.