Landry’s Cowboys Corralled By ‘Iron’ Mike’s Bears At Soldier Field 17-7
For more than a decade, “Iron” Mike Ditka shared the Dallas sideline with Tom Landry. First as a tight end (1969-72) and then as an assistant coach (1973-81), Ditka gleaned many a pearl of wisdom from the legendary Cowboys head coach that eventually resulted in him being tabbed as the Chicago Bears’ sideline captain beginning in 1982.
On his way to four consecutive division titles and a Super Bowl championship during his first five full-length seasons at the Bears helm, Ditka’s teams enjoyed a pair of lopsided victories over Dallas in 1985 and 1986 that served as a can’t-miss measuring stick for just how far superior these Monsters of the Midway really were. In two games at Texas Stadium in back-to-back seasons, Chicago outscored Dallas by a combined score of 68-10.
Two years later, Landry’s back-sliding Cowboys and Ditka’s ferocious Bears faced-off for the fourth and final time on a cool, autumn afternoon at Soldier Field. The Cowboys (2-4) were trying to stay afloat in the NFC East race, while the Bears (5-1) were seeking to put an early-season stranglehold on one of the NFL’s most uninspiring divisions.
The game began with all the earmarks of another blowout for the Bears. On the Cowboys’ third play from scrimmage, quarterback Steve Pelluer was knocked woozy by a hit to the head from Chicago linebacker Mike Singletary. Pelluer stayed down on the ground for more than a minute, before being helped to the sideline by trainers where he was diagnosed with a concussion. He did not return to the game.
“He didn’t see me coming,” said Singletary after the game. “I thought he did. It’s exciting to hit a guy like that, but when you turn around and he’s still down, it’s frightening. I want a great hit, but I also want the game to go on.”
There to replace the injured Pelluer was fifteen-year veteran Danny White, who had tossed all of 7 passes through the first six games of the 1988 campaign. His job was to try to penetrate a No. 1 ranked Bears defensive unit which had allowed just 16 points over their previous three games. Oh, and he had to do all this without rookie sensation Michael Irvin, who didn’t travel with the team due to injury.
White moved the Cowboys offense a bit at times, but by the second quarter had yet to produce a point. That’s when the Bears finally broke through, using a Dennis McKinnon 4-yard rush and a 21-yard Kevin Butler field goal to jump ahead 10-0.
The Cowboys were poised to make a game of it shortly after, when McKinnon mishandled a punt at the Chicago 25-yard line, leading to a Dallas recovery. But the Cowboys came up empty when Roger Ruzek missed a 42-yard field-goal attempt. Four plays later, Chicago rubbed more salt in the wound when Jim McMahon found Ron Morris for a 39-yard touchdown strike to make it 17-0.
McMahon finished the game having completed 22-of-39 passes for 284 yards.
In his first full season without Tony Dorsett looking over his shoulder, Herschel Walker enjoyed a fine outing, rushing for 88 yards on 21 carries, and added 47 yards on four receptions.
But White and the Dallas offense couldn’t break through in time, either succumbing to turnovers (2) or sacks (5) in key situations. The Cowboys avoided the shutout when White connected with Everett Gay for a 13-yard touchdown with less than six minutes remaining, but it was too little too late. The 17-7 final marked the Cowboys’ 18th defeat over their previous 27 contests.
“No question this is the best defense we have faced,” said Tom Landry. “They played their normal defense but they played it very well.
“They put great pressure on us. You have to make the big plays to beat the Bears, but we didn’t.”
Danny White’s compliments of Chicago were of a similar tenor. “The toughest thing was the pressure,” said White, who left the game late in the fourth quarter with a sprained knee. “I just didn’t have time to pick out my receivers.”