Great Games in Bear History

It's safe to say the Bears entered the 1986 season with high expectations. Coming off their record-setting, NFL-thrashing, Super Bowl-winning season, the Bears were the hunted ones. And they knew it.

Bernie Kosar's Cleveland Browns, the 1985 AFC Central champions, came to sunny, steamy Soldier Field for the season opener. Rabid Bear fans expected their team to start 1986 right where it ended 1985, with a potent offense and a bullying defense.

Through the first 15 minutes, that's exactly what they got, as the Bears jumped out to a 21-7 first-quarter lead. The Browns scored right off the bat when safety Al Gross recovered a fumble in the end zone.

But Dennis Gentry returned the ensuing kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown, bringing the crowd to its feet in a hurry. Walter Payton scored on a 2-yard run running behind William Perry and Wilber Marshall returned an interception 58 yards for a score, thanks in part to a blitzing Mike Singletary.

The Browns narrowed the margin to 24-21 in the third quarter, when Payton, who finished with 113 rushing yards, scored on an 11-yard toss from Jim McMahon. Kevin Butler added two field goals, and Matt Suhey put the game out of reach with a 6-yard burst for the final touchdown of the day to cement the 41-31 win.

Second-year pro Mike Tomczak led the final 72-yard scoring drive, after McMahon left the game with a bruised shoulder. "I don't know what the heck it is about Tomczak, but it seems like if there's something on the line, he plays better," said head coach Mike Ditka.

While a win in the season opener is always big, the 31 points scored by the Browns were troublesome. "For someone to score 31 points on us is not a nice feeling," said Richard Dent. Added Singletary: "Thirty-one points is a lot of points."

But Payton, Gentry, Suhey and the offensive line of Tom Thayer, Jay Hilgenberg, Jimbo Covert, Mark Bortz and Keith Van Horne came to the rescue. "Everybody's going to come here knowing if they beat us, they beat last season's world champions," Payton said after playing in his 12th opening day. "We just have to dig deeper."

How bad did the Browns want to beat the Bears? "A win today would add a 30-mile-an-hour tailwind to our plane ride home," Browns owner Art Modell said before the kickoff.

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