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Hub Arkush: The craziest game we never saw

January 3, 2019

The Bears and Philadelphia Eagles have only met in three postseason games in NFL history — and all three games have ended up being among the more controversial in league annals.

In 1979, after a 3-5 start, the Bears won six of their next seven to climb to 9-6 entering the final week of the season.

Early on the morning of the final game, Mugs Halas, the only son of “Papa Bear” George Halas, died suddenly of a massive heart attack at the age of 54.

Knowing they would need Dallas to beat Washington and have to win by at least 34 points over St. Louis that day to win a tiebreaker for the NFC’s only wild-card spot, the Bears — led by Walter Payton, Dan Hampton, Alan Page and Doug Buffone, in his final game at Soldier Field — determined to win one for Mugs — destroyed the Cardinals, 42-6.

The following Sunday, the Bears traveled to Philadelphia and dominated the first half to take a 17-10 lead at halftime.

On the first play of the second half, the indomitable Payton took a handoff and put together one of his signature tackle-busting, ankle-breaking runs that went 84 yards to the end zone, only to have it called back on what appeared to be a phantom illegal motion call on Brian Baschnagel.

After several interceptions by Bears QB Mike Phipps helped the Eagles to a 24-17 lead, Bears RB Dave Williams fumbled the ball on a game-tying drive with 12 minutes to play, ruled by the official closest to him to be after the whistle, only to have the call overturned by another official.

Minutes later, a 34-yard FG attempt by Tony Franklin appeared to almost everyone in the stadium to be well wide right, but it was ruled good, clinching a Philly win, 27-17.

In 2001, led by youngsters Brian Urlacher, Mike Brown, Olin Kreutz, Anthony Thomas, David Terrell, Marty Booker and journeyman quarterback Jim Miller, the Bears went 13-3 and were the NFC’s No. 1 seed.

The Eagles came to town as the No. 4 seed, getting off to an early 6-0 lead.

Two minutes into the second quarter, Miller attempted to hit WR Dez White in the end zone, but Eagles S Damon Moore intercepted the pass. 20 yards from the play, as Moore began his return, Eagles DE Hugh Douglas put a cheap shot on Miller that was Charles Martin-esque, lacking only the premeditation and separated Miller’s shoulder.

The Bears came back to lead twice and trailed by just a field goal with under 10 minutes to play, but a pair of interceptions by backup Shane Matthews were too much to overcome and they lost, 26-17.

The following Tuesday, Douglas was fined $35,000, at the time one of the steepest ever for a play on the field.

The third Bears-Eagles playoff match is the stuff of legends. Only a few NFL games have ever actually earned their own names — the “Ice Bowl,” the “Heidi Game,” and of course, the “Fog Bowl.”

Played at Soldier Field on New Year’s Eve, 1988, it was Buddy Ryan vs. Mike Ditka. After a first half played in unseasonably warm temperatures and bright sun but still a sloppy 30 minutes with multiple mistakes by both clubs, the Bears led, 17-9.

As the second half began, the fog suddenly rolled in, making it near-impossible to see the field and for players to see the sidelines, down markers and much of the time the ball or each other.

The Bears would win 20-12 after two Eagles touchdowns were called back because of penalties and Eagles TE Keith Jackson dropped another sure score in the end zone.

Ryan refused to shake Ditka’s hand after the game.

It was at the end of just my second full season in the Bears broadcast booth as the color commentator, and for the better part of the second half, Wayne Larrivee, Jim Hart and I on the air could only discuss all the things we couldn’t see and surmise what might be happening on the field.

It was one of the most surreal events in the history of the NFL, and one of the most interesting games no one ever saw.

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