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McMahon's relationship with Ditka recalls Halas' trials 30 years ago with Doug Atkins, the prototype of the freethinking Bear as well as the only player who ever outcussed the old man. "He was undoubtedly the greatest defensive end in football," Halas explained later. "You're not going to throw a championship out the window trying to discipline a guy like that." At one point this season there was some question whether Ditka and McMahon were even talking. "That's ridiculous," Ditka said. "Just the other day I told him on the sidelines, 'Shut up.' " But when the Rams game fell on a blowy day at Soldier Field, Ditka trusted McMahon to come out throwing to his breezy receivers like Willie Gault, the track star, and Dennis McKinnon, the football player. On the other hand, when Ditka dispatched a draw play in the third quarter, McMahon snorted and whipped a touch down pass to Gault. Los Angeles Coach John Robinson said he "played like a great quarterback today. He had presence and command." Now, there's a slogan for a headband.
The other Bears think he handles himself like a defensive player, a high compliment in Chicago, for this is eternally a defensive team. Ditka's shutout department is run independently by a straight-talking old ramrod named Buddy Ryan, an Oklahoman partial to cowboy boots and farm hats that say HORIZON SEEDS. In an era when most coaches feel obliged to soothe the players' psyches, Ryan is a link to the past. He took one wide look at "the Refrigerator" last summer and declared the Clemson first rounder to be "a wasted draft choice." But this was not an unusual introduction for a Bear rookie. "That's because there ain't one of them that knows what the hell he's doing," Ryan says.
Consider the formative years of Middle Linebacker Mike Singletary, the team's conscience. He is now the hub of the "46" defense (retired Kamikaze Doug Plank's old jersey number, a monument to mayhem). However, during Singletary 's rookie season in 1981, Ryan summarily yanked him in favor of an experienced hand of meager skills. After a few minutes on the sidelines, the chastened player murmured to the distracted coach, "I know what I did wrong now. Should I go back in?" Ryan looked at him as if unable to recall who he was. "What? No, no, son. We're going to try to win this game." Singletary appears strangely civilized out of uniform, which is more than Tackle Steve McMichael and End Dan Hampton can say. Most of his statements are as direct as a third-and-one collision with battering Ram Eric Dickerson. "To be honest, I didn't like Buddy very much at first, but there's nothing I wouldn't do for him now. When he comes up to you and says, 'I guess I had you wrong. I really thought you could do the job,' you like to die. I'm not playing for my family or Chicago, but for him."