Bears Classics: Was the Fog Bowl an act of God?

Bears Classics: Was the Fog Bowl an act of God?
December 25, 2013, 11:30 am
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"It was the weirdest day I've ever seen in my life." -- Mike Ditka

"The most unbelievable experience that I have ever witnessed in a game, in sports." -- Mike Singletary

"I've never heard so many fans talk so favorably about a football game they have no idea what the hell happened." --Dan Hampton

It started out as a sunny, balmy New Year's Eve in 1988. The Bears took the field against the Philadelphia Eagles for a spot in the NFC Championship game. Forecasters called for the clear skies to continue for the rest of the afternoon.

Little did anyone know that while the two teams were battling it out at Soldier Field, another fight was raging in the atmosphere over Lake Michigan.

"The weather in Chicago can change at any moment," Chicago Sun-Times sportswriter Rick Telander said. "And if you've got an outdoor stadium on the lakefront, God knows what can happen."

Both teams were about to find out.

[MORE: 'Fog Bowl' memories a lot clearer now than the game was then

With the Bears leading the Eagles 17-9 near the end of the second quarter, an eerie, dense fog started creeping over the stadium.

“Every Easter I watch the Ten Commandments, and you know what I think about when I see the pestilence coming through the city? I think of that fog coming over the north end of the stadium," Hampton said. "I'm standing there talking to [Steve] McMichael and I said, 'Holy-(expletive)! Do you see what I see?'"

The fog came out of nowhere. But soon, it was everywhere.

"When I think about the last plague when Moses told the people the Death Angel was going to come in, it was like that," Singletary said.

"I remember sitting on the bench, and all of a sudden I said, 'What am I? Where am I? Just staring at fog, smog, whatever it is. What am I doing?'" recalled Randall Cunningham, the Eagles quarterback.

Now 25 years later, what people saw--or thought they saw--are recalled in the CSN documentary Bears Classics: The Fog Bowl Thursday night at 7 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet. We spent months putting the project together, but the memories of that day from those involved will last a lifetime.

The Fog Bowl still baffles meteorologists, and continues to haunt the Eagles, who were loaded with talent and felt they were good enough to win the Super Bowl, but were at a severe disadvantage trying to come back in the pea soup cloud that refused to leave for the rest of the game.

"It bothers me," Cunningham said in the documentary. "That game bothers me more than losing the NFC Championship game when I was with the Minnesota Vikings, because we had control of the game against the Atlanta Falcons when I was playing for Minnesota, but we didn't have control over this game."

"I want to cry right now," added former Eagles wide receiver Mike Quick.

[RELATED: CSN looks back at 1988's New Year's Eve "Fog Bowl"

Cunningham, who is now an ordained minister in Las Vegas, believes it was more than just the weather that affected the outcome of the game.

"I call it 'an act of God', because it was really God's will that that happened," Cunningham said. "You go through diverse times, everyone goes through diverse times like that, and there was nothing we could do, so He was in total control of it."

Trying to broadcast the game was almost impossible.

"At some point you just had to say, 'I don't know. He disappeared!" remembered Wayne Larrivee, who called the game on the radio. He couldn't see. Nor could Merrill Reese, the voice of the Eagles.

"I remember at one point, you're trying to make the broadcast somewhat light, and I remember saying, 'I can tell the Eagles are having trouble because Randall Cunningham just came out of the Eagles huddle led by a German Shephard," Reese said.

How unique and isolated was the fog? We went to Chicago's weather expert, Tom Skilling from WGN.

"This was so off-the-charts unusual, there isn't a prayer in hell that you could have forecast that ahead of time," Skilling said. "There was nowhere else anywhere in the city that was as fogged in as they were right along the lakefront. If you traveled just a couple of blocks from Soldier Field, you would've been out of the fog!"

[ALSO: Why did the Cardinals kick to Devin Hester?

Caught in the middle of the madness was Jim Tunney, the head referee, who we found living in California.

"I guess my thought was originally, 'Why me? How did I get assigned to that game?'" said Tunney, who also worked the Ice Bowl as well as four Super Bowls in his long career. But what game does he get asked about the most? That's easy. The Fog Bowl. Nothing comes close. Maybe because to this day he claims he could somehow see both goal posts.

"You could see 20-30 yards most every time. Sometimes you could see the end of the field. The fog would come and go," Tunney explained.

"He's lying," Hampton said. "I could see maybe 15-20 yards tops. You couldn't recognize your wife at 20 yards."

The Bears went on to beat the Eagles 20-12. Buddy Ryan was so upset about losing the game and to his nemesis Ditka, he ran off the field without shaking hands with his former head coach.

"That was his choice," Ditka said. "If I would've lost, I would've shook his hand, but he went the other way. Have you seen me run? I couldn't have caught him."

"I know that he was very disappointed in the outcome of the game, because he knew we were the better team," Cunningham said of Ryan. "That was a victory that should have been Buddy Ryan's."

So what caused the fog to wreak havoc on the game and help lead the Bears to victory? Was it a weather phenomenon? Something from the heavens?

Or was it Ditka?

"There's a lot of conjecture that I had something to do with it, but no," said Ditka. "Although I did say a prayer."