Doug Atkins: the Hall of Fame end vividly remembers how Chicago’s defense carried the day in a win over the Giants in the 1963 NFL title game – The Game I’ll Never Forget
DURING THE 2000 SEASON, they started talking about the Baltimore Ravens having one of the greatest defenses ever. That got some people thinking about our Chicago Bears team in 1963.
The words “Chicago Bears” and “defense” always have gone together, but that year was something special. That may have been the best defense ever assembled; we allowed an average of about 10 points per game. And some of those points came from the other team returning an interception or two for a touchdown, not from our defense letting up.
George Allen was a huge part of our success; he was in charge of the defense that year. The problem we had with the Bears prior to 1963 was that Clark Shaugnessy was in charge for a while. He was an old man and was getting a little senile. When he was on offense, that unit did real well, but George Halas switched him over to defense. He used all these Mickey Mouse defenses: switching here, switching there, jumping here, jumping there. He had us doing this, that, and the other thing. What you need to do is throw all that stuff out and pick what you need. You need to simplify everything.
At defensive end, I could beat most offensive tackles in a 4-3 and put the heat on the quarterback. But Coach Shaugnessy had me going out and covering passes on some plays. Hell, I might go a full game and never make a tackle. When we would look at film, he sometimes wouldn’t know whether to chew me out or not because he himself didn’t know which defense we were supposed to be in.
When Allen took over the defense in 1963, we went to a basic 4-3. After that, we all knew what we were doing, and we all just teed off and went I wasn’t out covering nobody. I was doing what I did best: teeing off on that quarterback.
We had some real good defensive players: Bill George, Larry Morris, and Joe Fortunato were ferocious linebackers. Stan Jones was a terrific defensive tackle, and Ed O’Bradovich was a good, young defensive end. Our secondary also was topnotch with Rosey Taylor, who led the league that year with nine interceptions.
Our offense was pretty good, too. Billy Wade was our quarterback, and Mike Ditka was our best receiver. Those guys didn’t give the ball up–they didn’t fumble it or throw interceptions. When they had to score, they’d score. Sometimes an offense will go in there, get off one play, and fumble it away, and then the defense is forced to come out again. That’s how defenses get tired quickly. But our offense would go in there and move the ball, which helped us on defense.
We lost one game all year and made it to the NFL Championship Game against the New York Giants. It was December 29 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, so you knew it was going to be cold. It must have been about eight degrees. I would have rather not played in it. Your hands and your feet got so cold that you couldn’t keep them warm. But other than that, it didn’t bother you.
The Giants came out and didn’t seem to be fazed by the weather, scoring on a long drive in the first quarter to take the lead. Their quarterback, Y.A. Tittle, was getting up there in age by then, but he was still one of the best in the league. He sure looked good on that opening drive.
We went back to the sideline and said we couldn’t let him do that to us all day. So we decided we were going to get after Y.A. In the first series we had played a basic defense, but then we started going after him. We were much more aggressive, blitzing extra guys. We hit him every chance we got I don’t know what the statistics were, but he got one beating. When you hit a quarterback as the ball is being thrown, that’s just as good as a sack because those shots begin to take their toll.
Anyway, our offense turned around and did what I said it never would do: fumble. The Giants got the ball deep in our territory. If New York had scored another touchdown, we would have been in a big hole.
Tittle hit a receiver named Del Shofner right in his hands with a pass. I don’t know if his hands were cold or what, but it bounced right off them. Hell, I could have caught that one. If he would have caught that pass, the Giants would have been in command, and I think they would have won. But that’s what kind of a season it was for us. We got just about every break.
Instead of the Giants mounting a big lead, we intercepted a pass and ran it back inside their 10. Then we scored to tie the game. They took a 10-7 lead into the locker room at halftime, but that was it for them, as our defense came up big again in the third quarter. O’Bradovich intercepted a pass and brought it 10 yards to the Giants’ 14. Then Wade eventually scored on a one-yard run to give us a 14-10 lead.
From there, we were in control. It kept getting colder, and we kept hitting Tittle. He took a real beating that game. He never gave up, but he never had a chance either. We intercepted five passes that day and held on for the victory.
That win was really sweet for Bears fans because it was their first championship since the 1940s. They finally had a team they could brag about, thanks to a great defense.
Frozen in Time
DOUG ATKINS DOESN’T FOLLOW THE NFL very closely these days. Truth be told, the Hall of Fame defensive end can’t stand what the league has become.
So what doesn’t he like? Let’s see:
* “You have businessmen in there runinng things.”
* “You have players that aren’t dedicated.”
* “They look like a bunch of sumo wrestlers. [Former Chicago Bears coach George] Halas could pay them $1 million a year, but they wouldn’t take home anything because Halas would fine them every week for being out of shape. We had weigh-ins back then. We didn’t have any fat players.”
* “The league caters to them One strike, two strikes, three strikes–they just keep on going. We’ve got people playing football now that ought to be in jail. They get out because of the team. You can not pick up a paper without reading that someone got in serious trouble. We go from drugs to rape to murder.”
Atkins says that back in his day the only thing that mattered was winning. He was discovered at the University of Tennessee, where he had gone on a basketball scholarship. Bob Neyland, however, saw a football player behind those Chuck Taylors.
The coach was right. Atkins was selected first overall in the 1953 NFL draft by the Browns and played in Cleveland for two seasons before joining the Bears. Most people thought he was washed up when the Bears sent him to the New Orleans Saints in 1967, but the defensive end continued to play at a superior level for three more years before calling it quits.
At the time he retired, his total of 205 regular-season games was a record for linemen. He also played in eight Pro Bowls and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1982.
There are several legends about Atkins’ football feats. Jim Parker, perhaps the greatest offensive lineman in the league’s history, said he considered retiring after playing against Atkins the first time Then there was the time a veteran offensive tackle on the Los Angeles Rams ordered a rookie guard who had just held Atkins to go to him and apologize. “I’ve got to play against him the rest of the day,” the veteran demanded. “Now you go apologize.”
Atkins, 71, lives in the Knoxville, Tenn., area these days, taking it slow. “We’ve got an older house,” he says. “Every time you turn around something’s falling apart. My legs are in bad shape, so I can’t do a whole lot. They’re bad, bad.”
Bad legs aren’t the only ailment that has plagued Atkins in recent years. “I had lead poisoning in about ’97,” Atkins says. “I had no energy, no nothing. I went to the doctor, and he was going to give me a stress test. I was too tired to get out of the chair, and he wanted to give me an arteriorgram. I said, `Hell no!’ Right then, I knew that doctor wasn’t going to be able to find out what was wrong with me. Right then, I knew I would go to the alternative medicine doctor. He gave me one simple test and found out it was lead poisoning.”
Despite the physical setbacks, Atkins keeps pushing on. Would you expect anything less from one of the fiercest competitors ever to grace a football field?
Doug Atkins’ Most Memorable Game
NFL Championship Game; December 29, 1963; Wrigley Field; Chicago
New York Giants 7 3 0 0-10
Chicago Bears 7 0 7 0-14
Scoring Giants Bears
New York–Gifford, 14-yard pass from Tittle
(Chandler kick) 7 0
Chicago–Wade, 2-yard run (Jencks kick) 7 7
New York–Chandler, 13-yard field goal 10 7
Chicago–Wade, 1-yard run (Jencks kick) 10 14
Team Statistics Giants Bears
First downs 17 14
Rushing yards 128 93
Passes (completions-attempts-interceptions) 11-30-5 10-28-0
Passing yards 140 129
Punts-average 4-43.3 7-41.0
Fumbles-lost 2-1 2-2
Penalties-yards 3-25 5-35
COPYRIGHT 2002 Century Publishing
COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group