Huh-huh...Judge Dan Mancini said "Butkus"...huh-huh-huh!
"There were more people in the training room after we played the Bears than any other opponent. Everybody was bleeding, bruised, marked up. I remember looking at one of our assistant trainers and I said, 'Was it that tough out there?' And he looked at me and he said, 'Butkus.'"—Ernie Accorsi, NFL Executive
I'm a Chicago Bears fan. I tell you this up front because I have no intention of even feigning objectivity in this review. You've been warned.
Even if I weren't a Bears fan, I'd still think they were the most aptly named team in football. Since the founding of the NFL in 1920, the Bears' defenses have been renowned and feared for their mauling of offensive lines and quarterbacks. A quintessentially Midwestern team that plays fiercely in biting cold, rain, snow, whatever the atmosphere wants to throw at them, the Bears have a tradition of winning games by laying brutal hits on dudes, hits that rattle confidence along with teeth. There's nothing a Bears fan loves more than seeing an opposing quarterback pinwheel in the air like a ragdoll after being wrong-sided by a middle linebacker, or a twinkle-toed running back going from 60 to zero as he runs headlong into the brick wall of the imposing defensive line. NFL Films' The Chicago Bears: A Tradition of Defense is all about celebrating the aggressive and spectacular defensive play across the franchise's entire history. The two-disc set contains a pair of main programs:
Tradition by Position: The Greatest Bears Defenders of All Time (70
Moving on to the secondary, Dave Duerson (1983-1993), Shaun Gayle (1984-1994), and Mark Carrier (1990-1996) are highlighted safeties, but most of the love is reserved for two-time Pro Bowler, six-time All-Pro, and Super Bowl champion Gary Fencik (1976-1987) as well as four-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro Richie Petitbon (1959-1968). The cornerback position is organized in reverse chronology, starting with current freewheeling powerhouses Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher before taking a look at great players of the past like Bennie McCrae (1962-1970), Dave Whitsell (1961-1966), J.C. Caroline (1956-1965), and George "One-Play" McAfee (1940-1941, 1945-1950). It should come as no surprise that special attention is paid to the extraordinary career of Hall of Fame cornerback Red Grange (1925, 1929-1934).
After some time spent looking at the Bears' most fearsome defensive units, including the Super Bowl-winning 1985 squad, as well as the 1963 team that won the NFL Championship, the show turns its eye to perhaps the most celebrated position in the Bears' long history: the linebacker. The section begins by relaying the tale of how George Halas ordered the unusually strong, fast, and aggressive middle guard Clyde "Bulldog" Turner (1940-1952) to line up behind the line of scrimmage in a two-point stance so that he could guard against both the run and the pass. The position of middle linebacker was born. It would later be filled by the likes of Mike Singletary (1981-1992) and the six-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro who currently holds the position, Brian Urlacher. The spotlight also shines on outside linebackers Lance Briggs, Wilber Marshall (1984-1987), Otis Wilson (1980-1987), Joe Fortunato (1955-1966), and Doug Buffone (1966-1979). Fans of wanton violence will be pleased to hear that Wilber Marshall's brutal hit on Detroit Lions quarterback Joe Ferguson is prominently featured.
Far be it from me to spoil the surprise of the show's all-time starting 11, but I will go ahead and reveal the obvious: The starting middle linebacker position belongs to Dick Butkus, whose career in the '60s and '70s completely redefined how the position is played. The footage of Butkus in action is the true highlight of this documentary. His massive upper body and loping gait make it look as though George Halas literally suited up a grizzly and sent it out onto the field. The seemingly endless reel of Butkus punching through offensive lines, sacking quarterbacks, kneecapping running backs, and forcing turnovers is utterly spectacular. If it were possible to single out the NFL's all-time greatest defensive player (and it isn't), Butkus would be a top contender for the honor. Pressing through the crush of offensive linemen on his way to the quarterback, he looks like Godzilla sacking Tokyo.
America's Game: 1985 Chicago Bears (45 Minutes)
Quarterback Jim McMahon and running back Walter Payton kept the Bears alive as the defense struggled to find its rhythm during the first five games of the season ("The Viking Miracle," McMahon's incredible Week 3 comeback performance against division rivals the Minnesota Vikings, is especially memorable). Week 6 found the Bears facing off against the team that had embarrassed them at the end of the previous season. The defense came alive, sacking 49ers quarterback Joe Montana seven times, while the Bears offense put 26 points on the board. The show goes on to tick through the highlights of the hard-hitting season, including Richard Dent laying serious hurt after serious hurt on Phil Simms during the Week 15 game against the New York Giants, Mike Singletary's shutdown of Eric Dickerson during the NFC Championship game against the Rams, and, of course, the Bears' complete decimation of the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX.
A sizable portion of the program is also dedicated to examining Ryan's 46 defense, a formation specifically designed to make life a living hell for the opposing quarterback by attacking him with overwhelming numbers. The nostalgia and technical analysis is punctuated with plenty of humor as Ditka, McMahon, Singletary, and others recall the passion, focused intensity, and sense of unbridled fun with which the Bears played the '85 season (sadly, or maybe thankfully, "The Super Bowl Shuffle" is not mentioned). But nothing warmed the cockles of this Bears fan's heart like an outtake in which a modern-day Mike Ditka, chomping on a stogie, barked at the poor NFL Films guy shooting his interview, "Let's get it moving, Cecil. This ain't no epic." I love that man. There, I said it.
In addition to the main program, Disc Two includes a couple brief featurettes. "Papa Bear: George Halas" (17:25) is essentially NFL Films' eulogy of the famed coach, who died in 1983. "Finding Your Inner Butkus" (11:12) is a comic piece about Bob Mueller, an artist who specializes in paintings of Dick Butkus.
Since 1962, NFL Films has been responsible for some of the finest sports documentaries ever made. If you've seen any of their productions, you'll know exactly what to expect from Tradition by Position and America's Game. The presentation is full frame. Modern interview segments are crisp and clean, while archival game footage runs the gamut from smooth and brightly colored to grainy and black-and-white, depending on its vintage. Bottom line, the DVD transfer leaves little room for complaint. Audio is a straight-up stereo mix that sounds just fine.
If you're a Bears fan, A Tradition of Defense is a worthy addition to your collection. It will make a great companion piece to NFL Films' The Chicago Bears: The Complete History DVD. If you're not a Bears fan, well, screw you.
This court finds The Chicago Bears: A Tradition of Defense guilty of
providing a wealth of entertaining information about the most badass football
franchise in the history of everything.
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