On this week’s NFL schedule, there is a clash of 2 of the oldest franchises in the league, the Chicago Bears and New York Giants. Our Throwback Thursday feature harkens back to the 1963 NFL championship game played between these teams on December 29, 1963 at Wrigley Field, and was the fifth and final title game played at the venerable old ballpark. Wrigley was without lights in those days, and then NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle asked Bears’ owner George Halas to move the game to Soldier Field, which was uninhabited since the Cardinals had moved to St. Louis in 1960. Halas refused, so Rozelle, fearing the game could go into multiple overtimes and into darkness, moved the starting time up from 1 PM to noon. This was the Bears’ first appearance in the title game since 1956, when they lost to these same Giants at Yankee Stadium. Halas’ club had ridden the efforts of a fierce defense nicknamed “The Monsters of The Midway” to an 11-1-2 record and the Western Division championship, breaking a 2 year run of Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers. The Giants, meanwhile, were an offensive powerhouse guided by aging quarterback Y.A. Tittle, who had a spectacular season throwing the ball, leading the league with a then-record 36 touchdown passes.
The game was a classic matchup of a stingy defense and a high-scoring offense, and as the old adage goes, offense sells tickets but defense wins championships. The Bears prevailed 14-10 as Tittle was subjected to some brutal punishment from the Chicago defense. Coached by future head coaching legend George Allen, the Bears’ defense dominated the NFL in the regular season, allowing just a shade over 10 points per game and finishing first in all statistical categories for the year, including in total interceptions with 36. Allen concocted a zone defense that combined a strong pass rush led by ends Doug Atkins and Ed O’Bradovich, a strong secondary that featured Rosey Taylor and Richie Petitbon, and a crew of linebackers who were both strong tacklers against the run and defended the short pass well in Bill George, Joe Fortunato and Larry Morris. Tittle had some success early as he led the Giants on an 83 yard scoring drive capped off by a 14 yard touchdown pass to flanker Frank Gifford, but was mauled by the Bears for most of the game. He completed only 11 of 29 passes in the game and was intercepted 5 times. He also suffered a knee injury in the second quarter that affected his play the rest of the game.
Chicago’s quarterback was also an aging veteran, Bill Wade. He scored both of his team’s touchdowns on short QB sneaks, both set up by his defense. Allen, the defensive wizard, was awarded a game ball for his unit’s dominating performance, while the beating Tittle took effectively ended his career. He came back to play the next season but the Giants finished with a 2-10-2 record. In the second game of the year he was blind-sided by Pittsburgh’s John Baker and suffered crushed cartilage in his ribs, a cracked sternum and a concussion, but still played in every remaining game that year before retiring at the end of the season.
Bear linebackers, from left, Larry Morris, Bill George and Joe Fortunato