Preparatory games are an opportunity to break down rust, work on offensive and defensive plans for the coming season and assess new potential talent. For officials, it’s time to work on new mechanics, new rule interpretations and prepare for the regular season.
Most of these preseason games are light (if not boring) business. But, Pat Haggerty’s team had to settle a 1986 preseason fight between the Chicago Bears and the visiting St. Louis Cardinals that took place in front of a national television audience.
The Chicago-St. The rivalry with Louis is mostly a baseball affair between the Cubs and the Cardinals. The Blackhawks and Blues have a pretty good rivalry in hockey. However, the Bears and the Cardinals never played in the same division after the 1970 merger. Thus, the Bears and the Cardinals faced each other in each preseason, and sporadically as a cross-division opponent.
In 1986, it was the 15th consecutive preseason game between the two teams. The Bears were fresh out of their Super Bowl XX victory and bathed in the glow of national fame. The Cardinals had a new coach, Gene Stallings. Stallings said he wanted his team to have more edge and toughness. By the way, Stallings was a player and alumnus of the Junction Boys – the 1954 Texas A&M summer training camp that was going to fire coaches today.
Pat Haggerty (pictured above calling Super Bowl XIX) was the referee for the 1986 preseason game. He was accompanied by his regular team of referee Hendi Ancich, line judge Frank Glover, judge line Howard Roe, from back judge (now on the field) Jim Poole, line judge Dick Creed and from the field judge (now back) Don Habel.
CBS Sports was at Soldier Field to broadcast the game on August 23. It was a tune-up for the number one broadcast and production team. Verne Lundquist provided game-by-game, replacing Pat Summerall, who announced the US Open tennis tournament. John Madden provided a color comment.
The game started jerky with a difficult game and the officials had to lift their beaks in anger and push the stampede. William “The Refrigerator” Perry picked up Cardinals quarterback Neil Lomax and threw him to the ground. Haggerty didn’t call Perry a foul, but the NFL eventually fined him for the tough game.
Then in the third quarter, everything went crazy. Cardinals defensive back Lionel Washington landed on Bears wide receiver Keith Ortego, leading with his elbow which landed in Ortego, shall we say, mid-section. Ortego kicked Washington in protest. Washington returned to Ortego. Line judge Dick Creed tried to keep Washington away from Ortego, line judge Frank Glover helping. Bears lineman Keith Van Horne saw it and torpedoed Washington, Creed and Glover.
Creed and Glover collapsed and the fight started.
The worst of the incident happened deep on the sidelines of the Cardinals. As the fight broke out, Cardinal’s players attacked tight end Bears Pat Dunsmore, stamping on him and kicking him in the groin.
Creed spent the fight gathering his wits after suffering a very hard blow from Van Horne and the Soldier Field Turf. The bravest official in the whole fight was Jim Poole. He came from his opposite touchline position, waded into the Cardinals’ touchline and attempted to save Dunsmore. He appears to have been able to locate the cardinals who trampled on Dunsmore and issued ejections.
As the side battle ended, another fight broke out near the middle of the field. At that time, Coach Stallings was on the field trying to control his team. He also appeared to scold the officials, and then told his team to leave the field. Officials Glover, Creed and Poole seemed to convince Stallings of this radical action. The team stayed on the field and ended the match.
When the dust settled, Haggerty and his team kicked out four players – Van Horne of the Bears and Washington, Ottis Anderson and Charlie Baker of the Cardinals. The NFL fined 25 bears and 26 cardinals for their role in the crash. The fines were an NFL record at the time – ranging from $ 400 to $ 2,300 for the 51 players.
Several players and Bears head coach Mike Ditka have accused the officials of losing control of the game. Was the crew in preseason and burned? Maybe, maybe not.
It seems to me that the Cardinals were tough and the Bears responded. 34 years after the fact and without seeing the entire match, it is difficult to determine whether Haggerty and the crew could have called more fouls before the fight. And, it is impossible to know whether or not the additional faults would have curbed the violence.
When teams are determined to fight, the officials can do little more than engage in pre-emptive refereeing and react to the game on the field.
Although there have been some major and unfortunate incidents in the next generation, the 1986 Cardinals-Bears preseason fight is still pictured for the worst of the modern era.