Chicago's overlooked champions

Starr would sit this one out with a broken hand, and the Bears would intercept his backups five times in a 26-7 victory. Jim Taylor, the NFL's reigning rushing champion, was held to 23 yards and the Bears offensive line of Herman Lee, Ted Karras, Pyle, Roger Davis and Wetoska dominated.

Summer, 2013.

Pyle is carrying a glass of water and a book. He takes a step up from his deck to his house and loses his balance. He falls and breaks his femur.

Pyle was diagnosed with diabetes in 1962. He would take insulin shots at halftime throughout his playing career. Now, as a result of the diabetes, he has no feeling from his knees to his feet. So walking isn't easy.

It's made worse by the fact that he may suffer from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, according to his wife Candy. His compromised brain is trying to communicate with compromised legs.

Pyle, who did broadcast work for about 20 years in Chicago after retiring as a player, began to show symptoms of dementia about five years ago.

As a player, the Yale grad and former president of the NFL Players Association was defined by intelligence and toughness.

It has been a difficult few years.

Pyle seems happy. He watches television and enjoys his grandchildren. He has a caregiver when his wife is not home.

His memory is spotty. He confuses the 1963 Bears and the 1960 undefeated Yale team he played on.

Asked about 1963, he chuckled and said, "I was the captain of the team, 50."

Pyle, who had at least three concussions as a player, has committed to donate his brain to be studied by Boston University after he dies. He is on the list of plaintiffs for the concussion lawsuit against the NFL.

On Nov. 22, the Bears were coming off the practice field when equipment manager Bill Martell delivered shocking news.

President John Kennedy had been shot.

No one knew if the Bears would be playing the Steelers in Pittsburgh in two days. Eventually, the decision was made by commissioner Pete Rozelle to play the game. But it would not be broadcast on television or radio. And it would be far from a normal game experience.

"I remember vividly going to the game," Wetoska said. "Somebody had a portable radio up on the rack in the bus. We were just approaching the stadium to get off. They were giving a narrative of transferring Lee Harvey Oswald out of the jail he was in. All of a sudden, the guy says, 'Oh my God, he's been shot! He's been shot!" That was when Jack Ruby shot Oswald. Then the old man (Halas) went crazy. He said, 'You guys are supposed to be concentrating on the game!' He took the radio and smashed it on the floor. I remember it like it was yesterday."

It was a somber atmosphere at Forbes Field. The usual rowdiness was missing. But it was emotional, highly emotional.

"I was young," Johnny Morris said. "I really hadn't had anyone close to me who had passed away up to that point in my life. The killing of Kennedy affected me like it was a relative. I remember that. Mine was a heavy heart. I really didn't want to play, but you had to play."

It was even more emotional for Ditka. It was his first time playing in Pittsburgh, near his hometown of Aliquippa. Many relatives had come to see him, some for the first time.

The Bears could not afford to lose with the Packers only a half-game behind them in the standings.

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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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