Chicago's overlooked champions

Spring, 2013.

The phone rings at The Meadows in Nashville. It's Atkins, calling to talk to Wade.

They chat a little about the things old football players talk about.

Atkins asks Wade if he works out. Wade tells him he works out every day. He goes into detail describing a rigorous workout program.

One problem. Wade is in a wheelchair. And there is no such workout.

Wade suffers from dementia. He lost his eyesight as a result of glaucoma complications. And he has neuropathy.

He has been in a nursing home for about five years. But he really doesn't know he is there, according to his wife Mary Ellen Clinton. He has no sense of time, she said, but seems content.

When people talk about the 1963 season and his football career, Wade smiles. But he can't really add to the conversation.

"Unfortunately his football stories have gone from his memory," Clinton said.

Clinton said Wade once told her he used to have two calls ready on every play. The second call was "in case he had his bell rung and he was not mentally clear." She said she never asked him how many times he had to use the second call.

"He has some muscle wasting now," she said, "but if you look at him, you can tell this was a different kind of human. Big shoulders, long arms, long legs. In his diminished state, he still looks like the guy who played the game."

The Packers thought 1963 was supposed to belong to them.

Going into the season, they had won two straight championships and had beaten the Bears five straight times, including two games the previous year by a cumulative score of 87-7. Before the season, Halas declared that if the Bears were going to win it all, they needed to beat the Packers twice.

In the season opener in Green Bay, defensive back J.C. Caroline got things started on the opening kickoff by leveling returner Herb Adderley.

"I never saw a hit like it," Johnny Morris said. "The next day, the whole team watches special teams on film. When the film stopped, everybody in the room applauded him. I never saw players do that before or after."

Later in the game, teammates said Ditka sent middle linebacker Ray Nitschke, the leader of the Packers defense, to the showers with a vicious crack-back block.

"He had my attention because after one of the games my rookie year (1961) ... he said something," Ditka said. "He wanted to assert his authority and intimidate you. I was too stupid to be intimidated. We got in each other's face. Then in a preseason game in Milwaukee he knocked me out. So it didn't bother me one bit when he got hurt. It was a clean block, right around the hip."

The Bears intercepted Bart Starr four times and prevailed 10-3. Halas would call it "the greatest team effort in the history of the Bears."

"To get off to a start like that and beat the NFL champions in the opening game was a tremendous confidence builder," defensive back Larry Glueck said. "Wow, what a way to start the season."

After the opening day loss, the Packers won nine straight before traveling to Chicago. In a pregame interview, Packers coach Vince Lombardi said the rematch was the biggest thing that happened to Chicago "since Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicked over the lantern."

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2013 YEAR IN REVIEW
Look for this special section in your
Baltimore Sun newspaper on Dec. 29, 2013.
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