As we have now embarked on the 100th season of NFL and Chicago Bears football, it might be a good time to look back a half century on the 1969 Bears team. The ’68 season had ended with a 7-7 record and no less than eight teams had more losses than Chicago. So there was room for optimism going into the 1969 campaign. No one really had any reason to suspect what was about to transpire in the Bears 50th anniversary season.
Before the season quarterback Rudy Bukich retired and Larry Rakestraw had moved on, leaving the signal calling duties to Jack Concannon, Virgil Carter, and the newly drafted Bobby Douglass. Concannon was once again deemed the starter as the season began. He would not however last in that role.
The inimitable Gale Sayers had been declared, by himself, and the team doctors, to be 100% ready after completely tearing his ligaments in a 1968 game against San Francisco. A team I still haven’t forgiven by the way. The first time he touched the ball in the preseason he ran a kickoff back for 69 yards. So obviously Bears fans were excited for the return of the Kansas comet.
After losing the first four games while being outscored 125-62, coach Jim Dooley decided to make a change at quarterback. Much to the surprise of backup Carter, Dooley inserted rookie Bobby Douglass into the mix. That didn’t help either.
They lost their next three games and took an 0-7-0 record into the week eight clash with the 1-7-0 Pittsburgh Steelers. The Bears finally put everything together and slaughtered Pittsburgh 38-7. It was the one game that would haunt the franchise for more than the next decade.
One week later, the team received another, more crushing blow. Running back Brian Piccolo took himself out of the game against the Atlanta Falcons and would never set foot on the playing field again. He was subsequently diagnosed with lung cancer. He passed away from the disease the following June.
Meanwhile, the Bears returned to their losing ways. They finished the year with exactly one win. The only bright spot was the comeback of Sayers, who led the league in rushing with 1032 yards. A remarkable feat for a 1-13 team. He also won the NFL’s comeback player of the year award at the conclusion of the season. But the old magic was gone. He averaged far less than his career yards per carry and his longest gain from scrimmage was a mere 28 yards.
After the worst record in the history of the Chicago Bears the team had to endure one more loss. As if the football Gods wanted to rub a little salt in the wound, the team had a coin toss with the equally bad Steelers for the right to the first pick in the 1970 draft. Of course they lost that toss and Pittsburgh drafted future Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw. The Bears first pick? Who remembers?
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