"Waddle" to victory

Mike Ditka's Bears entered the 1991 season at Soldier Field with an impressive seven-game winning streak in opening day games. But the Minnesota Vikings traveled to the lakefront with plans of their own, and they didn't include extending the Bears' streak to eight season kickoff wins.

But thanks to the support of 64,112 raucous Opening Day fans, hard-nosed play on both sides of the ball and a new deep threat that had been cut three times by the Bears, the hometown team prevailed with a 10-6 victory.

This was a classic football game of the black-and-blue variety, a testimony to the heritage of the old NFC Central Division. Nothing fancy, just two tough teams fighting for every yard of grass.

And when the game ended, the hero was Tom Waddle, known for his perseverance and his abilities as a possession receiver. Quarterback Jim Harbaugh was able to find the sneaky Waddle for a 37-yard scoring pass that provided the margin of victory.

The Bears took the ball late in the first half on their own two-yard line and worked their way up the field. On the 10th play of the drive, with 55 seconds left in the half, Harbaugh found Waddle for the scoring strike, and the defense held on in the second half to preserve the win.

"That was just a spur of the moment thing that we decided on the sideline," said Harbaugh. "We were around the 50 and said: 'Let's take our chance right now and go for the touchdown.' We wanted to take our shot at the end zone. I saw the free safety going away from their side of the field. I just laid it up for Tom. I knew he would get there, and he made a great catch."

Only a week earlier, at the end of training camp, Waddle had been cut for the third time by the Bears. He was re-signed a few days later after clearing waivers.

Said Coach Ditka in describing Waddle: "I believe talent is one thing, and I believe heart is another thing. It's great to have talent, but I think heart is the most important thing. Attitude, desire, guts, whatever you want to call it."

Harbaugh finished with 17 completions in 24 passes for 186 yards, and the Bears' ball-control offense held onto the pigskin for 34 minutes 58 seconds.

"I was just trying to get everything off quickly and not put ourselves in a bind with a sack or anything to take us out of the drive," said Harbaugh. "I wanted to find the open guy as fast as I could and hit him."

In his first game as a Bear, rookie left tackle Stan Thomas did a solid job on Vikings' Pro Bowl defensive end Chris Doleman. "I never saw Chris the whole day," said Harbaugh.

Kevin Butler kicked a 22-yard field goal with 5:54 remaining to put the Bears up 10-6. Then, with the game on the line late in the fourth quarter and the Vikings on the move, defensive tackle Steve McMichael tipped a Wade Wilson aerial to safety Markus Paul for his second interception of the day to seal the victory.

Summarized Coach Ditka: "I'm tremendously proud of these guys. This is only one football game. It means nothing. It just means we are 1-0. We have to do things a lot better to beat other football teams."

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