Chicago's overlooked champions

"If you compared football seasons to wars, that year was like World War II for us," Johnny Morris said. "The whole country was behind it, we had purpose. In subsequent wars, some people were for it, some were against it. We had no controversy about what we were doing. We were a team, together."

A group of the players and their families lived in The New Lawrence Hotel on Lawrence and Kenmore in Uptown. Kay Morris, widow of Larry Morris, described it as "horrible hotel apartments in a sketchy, run-down neighborhood."

But she said it was all the players could afford, and they made the best of it by sticking together. She said it was kind of like living in a fraternity or sorority house.

It was common for a large group of teammates to gather up to four nights a week for chicken, ribs, steak and cold beer at The Cottage, a neighborhood restaurant on Clark Street not far from Wrigley Field.

They were taken care of there. They would come in to find two long tables set up for them. Bull said he once threatened to stop going there if the owner didn't let him pay for a meal.

"You were a Bear, you were a king," Casares said.

Summer, 2013.

Asked about his recollections of The Cottage, Karras said he didn't used to go there.

His wife Anna interjected: "That's where we met in October of 1963."

Karras has moderate to severe Alzheimer's. He has taken medication for the disease for the last seven years. After one particularly violent hit back in the day, Karras ran to the wrong sideline.

He also has a history of the disease in his family. His brother Alex, the former Lions great, died of the disease.

Karras can't tell you how old he is. He doesn't know that his grandson Teddy Karras plays football at the University of Illinois. Anna does not leave him unattended.

But Karras dreams about football. Some days, he wakes up and thinks he needs to put his helmet on and get to practice.

The memories of 1963 are distant and blurry.

"My head got rattled," Karras said. "My mind got screwed up and I can't remember so many things. Oh yes, it's coming back to me. Bill Wade, he was a good player."

But Karras remembers one thing clearly about that year.

"It was the biggest thrill of my life," he said.

There was no parade.

Their championship rings were sent to them in the mail.

Mayor Richard J. Daley designated a city council session to honor the team at which the paperweights were supposed to be presented. But somehow not all of the players found out about it, and only a handful showed up.

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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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