Led by stars like Walter Payton, Jim McMahon, Mike Singletary, William “Refrigerator” Perry, head coach Mike Ditka, and defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan, the Chicago Bears in the 1980s were an NFL powerhouse. As anyone who's seen "The Super Bowl Shuffle" surely knows, they were also an unforgettable group of characters. Otis Wilson, the Bears starting outside linebacker, was right in the center of the action, and in this book, Wilson provides a closer look at the great moments and personalities that made this era legendary. Readers will meet the players, coaches, and management and share in their moments of triumph and defeat. Be a fly on the wall as Wilson recounts stories from those days in Chicago, including the 1985 Super Bowl-winning season. If These Walls Could Talk: Chicago Bears will make fans a part of the team’s storied history.
About the Author
Chicago's first round draft pick in 1980 out of Louisville, Otis Wilson starred at outside linebacker for the feared 1980s Bears defenses. An intimidating pass rusher, Wilson had 10.5 sacks for the 1985 Super Bowl champions. The two-time Pro Bowler finished his career with the L.A. Raiders in 1989 and was named to the All-Madden Century Team. Chet Coppock is an Emmy Award winning sportscaster who was inducted into the Chicago Sports Hall of Fame in 2014.
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Collision Time: Otis and the Blond-Haired Buckeye
"I felt the full and complete wrath of Otis Wilson — and he was my teammate!"
— Doug Plank
Coppock: Doug Plank was a menacing, wicked, downhill hitter who joined the Bears in 1975 as an afterthought, a 12 round pick schooled by the Woody Hayes football machine at Ohio State. Doug had stylishly long blonde hair and a baby-face grin that told you he just had to be the kid who stole the ice cream bars from your refrigerator. He frequently passed up interception opportunities to lay the wood on opposing wide receivers. He just couldn't help himself. Doug never really had a so-called filter.
He didn't see turnovers, he saw blood. True story: Plank loved to bang helmets at full speed with teammates while other guys stretched during pregame warm-ups. Doug frequently played nutcracker with former Channel 5 sportscaster Mike Adamle during Mike's brief tenure with the Bears. Actually, any player in a Bears jersey could be a helmet-knocker buddy for Plank. Who does that and retains all his marbles?
Hey, Doug is as lucid as he can be. Go figure.
Otis: Doug was Todd Bell before Todd Bell. That's the greatest compliment I can give him. My first year with the Bears, we were playing a Monday nighter against Tampa Bay. Doug Williams, the Bucs quarterback, threw downfield to Jimmie Giles, a terrific tight end, and Doug just blew him up, leveled him.
Jimmie suffered a cracked sternum. In later years, I heard Doug got fined about 10 grand, which seems crazy since there was no flag on the play. But hey, we played a different game in those days.
I used to get a kick out of Doug in the weight room. He'd take a big dumbbell, tie it to a rope, and then curl it. The exercise gave him "Popeye" muscles. I was so impressed by what Doug was doing that I began to do it myself.
Coppock: When it came to putting the hurt on rival players, Plank was the white Jack Tatum, another kid educated by Woody Hayes and the Ohio State school of busted spleens. Jack was a terrorist in Silver and Black. I have no doubt that Tatum would have membership in the Pro Football Hall of Fame if he had simply forced himself to apologize for the near-lethal blow he put on New England pass catcher Darryl Stingley that left Darryl permanently paralyzed back in 1976.
Stingley went to his grave wondering why Jack simply couldn't say he was sorry.
Otis: When I think about truly great hitters, there are four names that come immediately to mind: Dick Butkus, Willie Lanier, Tatum, and Doug. I saw Plank hit, I know how he damaged guys. In my opinion, he hit guys every bit as hard as Tatum did. Nobody wanted to go across the middle against Plank. Doug could lace on the shoulder pads and leave a dent in a concrete wall. The guy really wasn't human.
Doug Plank: The last NFL game (season opener vs. Detroit, 1982) I ever played was one for the books. Otis coming at full speed and me in high gear from the secondary were both going for the ball when we just clobbered each other. We collided at full speed.
It was brutal.
I remember looking down at O thinking he was knocked out. His eyes just seemed so glazed, but it wasn't like I'd just won the heavyweight title. I had blood all over my uniform and there was blood on the turf. Otis had broken my nose. I had to go in and have the team surgeons sew me up. Honestly, it looked like I had a hockey nose. I also had stitches on part of my face.
I actually came back later in the ballgame and got clipped while I was on the kicking team. The aftereffects of the clip completely blew out my knee and left me with a spinal contusion. The doc who worked on me told me the clip had just knocked the knee, the ACL, apart. I really should have known what had happened after the collision with Otis and the clip to my knee because I recall sitting on the team bus and later the plane from Pontiac back to O'Hare, thinking I really didn't have a knee left.
Otis: I got the better end of the collision. I was only out a couple of plays and never saw any stars.
Plank: You know Otis and Singletary were two different kinds of players. Mike was mechanical. He was the train on the track going downhill. Otis could go left and right like nobody's business. He could defend wide receivers and he was just murder coming off the edge. Speed personified.
I can never recall any player on any team consistently holding Otis on a block. You know, Wilber was a fabulous player, but he was different than Otis. Again, it's a fast and loose concept. Wilber was stiffer than Otis.
Otis wasn't thick. His upper body was like a Greek god. He should have been a statue inside the remains of the Acropolis. A lot of guys with his natural talent just don't put it out full and complete. They're content to just, you know, get the job done and grab the check.
Some guys in this game, and this goes back to my era, see the game strictly as a business. They won't sell out to make certain plays because they're concerned about themselves mentally and physically. They're asking — at times unconsciously —"Is this going to be good for me long range?"
Otis didn't fit that mode nor did almost any of the mid-80s Bears, except Richard Dent. Dent had marvelous ability but had to be prodded. He needed a coach in his ear. Jeez, Richard was a talent.
Otis was always a humble guy with a willingness to laugh at himself. I always figured he thought pep talks were a waste of time. The growth he showed from his rookie year through his second year was phenomenal. His football knowledge was always underrated.
I'd left the Bears by the time the club won it all in '85, but as a football player it was obvious to me that by the championship season, while Otis was listening, he was also telling guys where to line up and what to look for.
In other words, once Otis's understanding of the game and the defense became apparent, his speed, which was already terrific, became just that much faster because now he was playing on instinct. The quick player became just that much quicker, that much more challenging.
Buddy Ryan used to say there are two ways to judge a player. On offense the question was can a guy sustain a block, while on defense the key was how quickly could a guy shed a block.
There just is no question that Wilson, Singletary, and Marshall are one of the three greatest linebacking trios in NFL history, if not the greatest.
We all would like to know just how much greater O's career would have been if he hadn't had the knee problems.
Coppock: This story doesn't have a happy ending. The Bears lost to the Lions 17–10 on that September Sunday back in 1982 when Doug and Otis played demolition derby with each other. The game marked Mike Ditka's debut as head coach of the Bears and the loss left Ditka in a full-blown state of rage. Mike's quarterback, Bob Avellini, looked like a guy who'd been given a French kiss with a meat cleaver. He had at least five face cuts and over 20 stitches to repair cuts on his face and in his mouth.
The bulk of the damage to Avellini was done by Al "Bubba" Baker, who absolutely had a field day against Bears left tackle Dan Jiggetts.
Otis: Bob was bleeding everywhere. He looked like Randall "Tex" Cobb, the beat-up pug, after he got clobbered by Larry Holmes, the former heavyweight champ, back in the '80s.
Dan was just completely overmatched. The box score says Bubba had two sacks, but it felt like he had to have at least a half dozen. You know we weren't sure the week of the game if Bubba was even gonna play. Word was he would likely miss the game because he was supposedly banged up.
That's one side. Legend has it that once Baker found out that Dennis Lick, our starter at left tackle, was out and that Jiggs was gonna start that Bubba got well in a helluva hurry.
Plank lived in his own world. Somehow, he wound up with 15 career interceptions. I would have sworn he had maybe two. You see Doug didn't give a darn about picks. He just wanted to bust guys up. He lived for it and, you know what, I respect him for that. The guy paid a big physical price.
This may seem strange, but I didn't feel sorry for Doug when he got cut. I mean, how many guys leave this game on their own terms? Neither one of us is in the Hall of Fame, but I'm not boasting about things when I say we both had Hall of Fame talent. We both shared the same work ethic. Neither one of us ever took a play off.
Doug's body — knees, shoulders, and ankles — are on titanium overload. He was and is a great person, a tremendous teammate.
I felt very proud when Doug was one of the pallbearers at Buddy Ryan's funeral. The man who wore No. 46, the jersey Buddy chose to nickname our defense, was carrying his mentor to his final resting place. It was the way it was meant to be.
Otis vs. Da Coach — Da Fight Dat Shoulda Been!
"Mike Ditka is such a commercial hound dog he'd peddle three-legged race horses on Maury if the price was right."
— Chet Coppock
We'll talk more about Iron Mike and his propensity for hustling booze, lifeless male organs, Nancy's Pizza, Clear Choice Dental Implants, and Big Mac's later on, but in this verse I want to take you back to the mid-80s and what nearly became the brawl in the Hall.
Let me set the ground rules by explaining that there was never any love lost between Otis and his head coach during the bulk of their time together at Soldier Field.
Perhaps, it was just a case of two headstrong individuals who stood behind rock solid opinions or, maybe, Ditka just enjoyed jabbing Otis. It's common knowledge that Ditka enjoyed reminding the human race 25 hours a day that he ranked slightly above Ronald Reagan on his own "Who's Who" list.
If you tell me you've heard this story, you're conning me. In 1987, two years after the Bears left the New England Patriots crushed and red-faced in Super Bowl XX, Wilson pulled up lame after he was leg whipped by a rival Green Bay Packer at Lambeau Field.
Otis had to give up the last four weeks of the regular-season schedule (the Bears finished 11–4), so Ditka inserted Ron Rivera in the "Sam" or strongside linebacker spot. Rivera, a solid player and stand-up guy out of Cal, was a good football player — just that; no more, no less. Ron would tell you he was never in Otis's league.
So, naturally, Big O expected that after his injury healed, Ditka would follow his edict that "No player loses his job due to injury" and return him to the starting lineup as the Bears got ready to begin what was a one-game playoff nightmare vs. the Washington Redskins. Now, during a previous run-in, Wilson had let Ditka have it when he asked the boss in a voice as unyielding as iron, "Why don't you treat me like a man?" We should also note that Wilson was a disciple of Buddy Ryan, the architect of the Bears monstrous 46 defense.
O will also tell you without hesitation that if Ryan had been the Bears head coach during the 1980s the Bears would have won multiple Super Bowl titles. You can comfortably assume that Wilson thought the crusty Ryan was really his "unofficial" head coach. So, we come to the days before the Bears are to meet the Skins, and Wilson went up to Ditka's office in Halas Hall to confront the coach about his refusal to return him to the starting lineup.
Ditka heard Wilson out, then responded in blasé fashion that he liked the way thing were going, meaning, in Ditka-speak: Rivera stays. You're his caddy.
Wilson, justified in taking the demotion personally, told Ditka he could see "what things are all about" or in other words, that Ditka was playing favorites by going with Rivera.
Wilson then spouted, "Bullshit. I'm going back on that field whether you like it or not."
Ditka then told Wilson to get the hell out of his office while threatening to "blackball" Big O.
By now, these two knockout artists were jaw to jaw. Otis claims the two guys were ready to slug it out. Mike's secretary, the squeamish type, was so startled by the confrontation that she began to dial the Lake Forest Police. Truthfully, I would have paid $500 to see O and a still fairly young Mike Ditka slap leather for 12 rounds — or less. Wait! Who am I kidding? Otis would have ended the bout 30 seconds after the referee tossed out instructions about "rabbit punches" and "neutral corners."
One can only imagine what Ditka was thinking when Otis told the ego-driven head coach, "I'll take you out." Interpret that line however you please, while you remind yourself that Otis grew up in the unforgiving, hard-nosed Brownsville section of Brooklyn, New York.
Ironically, Michael McCaskey, the team president, played the role of peacemaker. Michael got Wilson to cool off, but not before Wilson emphatically told him, "I'll expose this guy. Ditka should be wearing a white sheet."
Coppock: Wilson, 30-plus years later, shakes his head and reminds himself that Jim McMahon had nicknamed Ditka "Sybil" for his endless string of personalities.
In the big picture, Otis also knew his time in Chicago was running out. No one had to explain to him that if got banged up again he'd be given a bus ticket. He knew his ass was on a short lease at Halas Hall.
After the glorious run in '85, no one knew Ditka was a hot commercial ticket more than Ditka himself. My God, the guy shared the couch with Johnny Carson on the legendary Tonight Show.
Otis: "You know about six months after we did the "Super Bowl Shuffle," Ditka came out with a disaster called the "Grabowski Shuffle."
Coppock: Trust me. Mike's Grabowski nonsense proved conclusively that Mike would never qualify for Soul Train or a Friday night polka party in Logan Square. As a dancer, Ditka was a tremendous downfield blocker. Or to carry the issue a step further, just another middle-aged white guy who couldn't spell "funk" if you spotted him three letters.
But Wilson saw the changing of the guard occurring.
Otis: In camp in '86, Mike told us he was gonna clamp down on all of us doing commercials. Ditka made it clear he was first in the commercial batting order. The only guys he wouldn't mess with were the Holy Trinity: Fridge (Perry), Walter (Payton), and (Jim) McMahon.
Coppock: Years later, Otis says he saw a mellowing in Ditka, as he suggests that his fiery boss had a "find God moment."
Otis: He was more cordial to me, but no — he never apologized for a damn thing.
Coppock: As for the plus side, Otis says unequivocally that Ditka put a chip on his players' shoulders, a chip that said to rival clubs, "We own you. C'mon, we dare ya to go near the chip. We dare ya suckers."
Otis: I was not like Ditka, and he sure as hell wasn't like me. I put my feelings toward him on the side. He obviously didn't. He wouldn't.
Is That You Out There Buddy Ryan?
"Buddy, I still hear your voice. I see you in my dreams as I look above. You know I worked like hell, I played my butt off for you, but Buddy you made me, you made all of us, into monsters. You were just one of a kind. I know why you called me '55' those first few years. I understand."
— Otis Wilson
"I don't care what the hell you guys do on Monday and Tuesday as long as you don't get locked up. Just understand that Wednesday through Sunday, I own you."
— Buddy Ryan, speaking to his '85 Bears defense.
Otis: Believe me, I didn't like Buddy when I first met him. He was gruff. I kept asking myself, Why is this guy kickin' my ass? That was just Buddy. He kicked all the rookies around — Singletary, Dent, Wilber, Ron Rivera — it didn't make any difference.
Excerpted from "If These Walls Could Talk: Chicago Bears"
Copyright © 2017 Otis Wilson and Chet Coppock.
Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword World B. Free 11
Chapter 1 Collision Time: Otis and the Blond-Haired Buckeye 21
Chapter 2 Otis vs. Da Coach-Da Fight Dat Shoulda Been! 29
Chapter 3 Is That You Out There Buddy Ryan? 33
Chapter 4 You're Being (Alan) Paged. Welcome to the Big Leagues, Kid! 45
Chapter 5 Jones and Cefalo Put the National TV Blade in Otis 53
Chapter 6 Mongo: Born to Be Outrageous, Born to Be a Bear 61
Chapter 7 Todd Bell: the Last Angry Man 67
Chapter 8 Bloodbath: Buddy's Boys Bulldoze Pride and Poise 73
Chapter 9 Hey, Singletary, Do You Remember Otis and Wilber? 81
Chapter 10 Welcome to Mayberry… uh, Green Bay 87
Chapter 11 Big O Says Don't Go Punkin' the Punky QB! 93
Chapter 12 Baby Devin and the Dream Team Offensive Line 101
Chapter 13 Richard Dent: The Sack Man Cometh 107
Chapter 14 Tom Landry: Did He See the Car Coming? 113
Chapter 15 No. 55-Solid as a Rock at 60 119
Chapter 16 The Collection Plate and the Burger Joint 127
Chapter 17 Moe Finkelstein: One Helluva Coach, One Helluva Man 133
Chapter 18 Shuffle Time: Who Says White Guys Can't Dance? We Do! 141
Chapter 19 Butthead vs. Robbie Gould 147
Chapter 20 On the Court 151
Chapter 21 Sweetness Just Couldn't Play Hoops 155
Chapter 22 The Badass Florida Gator 165
Chapter 23 Monsters of the Midway? Ya Gotta Be Kidding! 173
Chapter 24 Big O Does the Big Apple and Lives to Tell About It! 179
Chapter 25 That Moorehead Kid Was a Quiet Winner 189
Chapter 26 Down and Out vs. Dallas 195
Chapter 27 "Handsome" Otis Wilson vs. the Iron Sheik?!? 201
Chapter 28 The Bond: Otis and M.J 209
Chapter 29 From the Knockout in New Orleans to "Night Rangers" 221
Chapter 30 Heart of Gold! Charity Champ! 227
Chapter 31 Bad, Bad Men: Otis, Hamp, and Mongo 241
Chapter 32 Dissecting the Enigma: Wake up, Jay Cutler! 251
Chapter 33 Calling Vince Evans, Michael McCaskey, and Maverick Al 257
Chapter 34 The Conditioning Gene Runs Nonstop 265
Chapter 35 NFL 2016-Bears Crash and Burn Early 271
Chapter 36 'Case and Louisville: The Road to Halas Hall 293
Chapter 37 Late Night, Clipboards, and Tranquilizers-the Coaching Crew 301
Chapter 38 The Dad and the Kid… Learning the A-B-Cs at Halas Hall 311
Chapter 39 Willie Gault: Just How Much Did the Track Man Leave on the Field? 321
Chapter 40 The Doug Flutie Disaster 325
Chapter 41 Colin Kaepemick Dares to Be Different 331
Chapter 42 Defense: Intelligence Collides with the Neanderthal Mindset 339
Chapter 43 Good Night and Good Luck 347