Mike Ditka expected his team to make the playoffs in 1983.
Bolstered by one of the best drafts in team history, the team was "ready to
September 4, 1983 provided for the last opening day Bears
loss they would have to endure for the next 10 seasons. It was a 20-17
heartwrencher at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons. The game featured the debut
of three rookie starters-Jim Covert, Willie Gault, and Mike Richardson. After
opening day, the Bears beat Tampa Bay at home, 17-10. After this win, the team
then dropped two overtime games. They lost in New Orleans 34-31 in a game that
featured a high powered offensive showing led by Jim McMahon, Walter Payton,
and rookie speedster Willie Gault. The next week, they went to Baltimore and
lost 22-19 in OT, and after the game, coach Mike Ditka broke his hand by
punching a locker. His team was just too good to be dropping the close ones.
Chicago came home and smoked the Denver Broncos 31-14, then
lost 2 straight division games to Minnesota and Detroit. They then wrapped up
the first half of the season with an unimpressive 3-5 record. In Mike Ditka's
second year, many, including the coach himself, were expecting much more from
the young team.
The following week, October 30th, they opened the second
half of the season by losing at Detroit. The day after, October 31, 1983,
George Halas passed away from pancreatic cancer. The team, city, and NFL
mourned its 88-year old founder. Halas had summoned his hand-picked coach
shortly before his death, and gave him a present, not to be opened until after
the team won the super bowl. Ditka promised Halas he would deliver the goods.
The team seemed to have a spark after Halas' death. Although
they lost the first game in Los Angeles to the Rams, they seemed recharged.
They rattled off 3 wins over Philadelphia, Tampa and San Francisco, then lost
at Green Bay by 3 points. On December 11th, they won at Minnesota. And on
December 18th, they finished the 1983 season at home against the hated rival
Packers. Green Bay led throughout the contest in one of the coldest games ever
played at Soldier Field. With less than a minute remaining, Jim McMahon drove
Chicago down the field, Bob Thomas kicked the winning field goal, and Green Bay
was defeated. The Green Bay loss sealed the fate of long-time Green Bay coach
Bart Starr, as he was fired the next day.
Chicago wrapped up the 1983 season at 8-8, with many
positives to dwell upon in the offseason. First, they had finished the
second-half of the season 5-3, and may have finished as strong as 11-5 had they
pulled out a few close losses. Statistically, they were enormously better than
in 1982, thanks to the additions of rookies from the star class of '83. They
improved from 26th on offense, to 4th overall, 1st in rushing, and 2nd in
passing. Defensively, they moved up from 16th overall to 8th.
As 1983 turned to 1984, the team felt that they may be just
on the verge of something special.