The 1980 Bears vs. Lions Thanksgiving game was more than the "walk off kick return"

It happened almost 40 years ago. Or was it just last year? My memory of it remains that vivid.

Most people don’t realize that it was one of the greatest comebacks in Bears history. And one of the greatest comebacks, if not the greatest, in Thanksgiving games history. Even though many people who watched it only remember the ending.

The game started very poorly for the Bears. And that was just following protocol for Chicago’s 1980 season as a whole. The team had a 3 and 5 record at the halfway point and were clearly not going to get a playoff spot, as they did in 1979.

At halftime, the Lions led 10-3. And the drubbing was worse than the score indicated. Walter Payton had 13 yards gained. In fact, the entire offense was being manhandled. It seemed as the two teams went to their respective locker rooms that another in a year chock full of disappointing losses was inevitable.

But then something changed after the intermission. The offense started playing a little better, mostly due to Payton getting up a head of steam. He would finish the game with 123 yards on 18 carries. But the Bears still couldn’t find the end zone. Entering the final stanza the Lions had increased the margin to 17-3.

In the fourth quarter however, Vince Evans took over the game. First he threw a touchdown pass to seldom used tight end Bob Fisher.

And then the real heroics began.

Starting at the Bears 6 yard line, Evans came out with the offense and 3:17 left on the clock. What followed was a 14 play 94 yard drive that included four straight completions to wideout James Scott and culminated in a 5 yard quarterback scramble for a game tying touchdown with no time remaining.

As the captains for the two teams met at the 50 yard line there seemed to be a sense of inevitability permeating through the crowd. Even more so after the Bears called tails and won the coin toss.

Standing at his goal line there in the old Silverdome was kick returner and reserve running back David Williams. In his other 3 returns that day he had a meager total of 53 yards. He also had 1 rushing attempt for 4 yards and 2 receptions for 8 yards playing very sparingly as Payton’s backup.

But Dave Williams was about to become Chicago’s unlikely hero. He caught the ball at the 5 yard line and started running to his right but quickly saw a hole to his left and shot through it like a cannon. A few seconds and 95 yards later the fastest overtime in Thanksgiving history was over. Bears 23, Lions 17.

In a mostly forgettable season Dave Williams, AND Vince Evans, made for us a Thanksgiving day memory that will last lifetimes. Here’s hoping we get another great Bears memory today as we celebrate this holiday tradition.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Leave a comment