Artifact of the Game: 49ers vs. Bears
This story appears in the Sept. 14 issue of the San Francisco 49ers Gameday magazine.
By Joe Hession, 49ers Museum historian
The long standing rivalry between the San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears has seen its share of dramatic, sinister and even comical moments.
The two clubs met for the first time in 1950. Over the years, 49ers fans have watched Colin Kaepernick make his first career start against Chicago (2012), Bill Walsh unveil the Angus Formation (1984), San Francisco capture the first George Halas Trophy (1984), Gale Sayers gallop through the 49ers for six touchdowns (1965), and an enraged Coach Mike Ditka wallop a Candlestick Park heckler with a wad of gum (1987).
The pinnacle of Bears-49ers shenanigans may have occurred at the 1988 NFC Championship Game at Chicago’s Soldier Field. Known in 49ers lore as “the Bears weather” game, the wind-chill temperature was 26-below zero at kickoff. Chicago scribes wondered if the 49ers could compete in the brutal “Bears weather.”
The hijinks began when a smirking Chicago cab driver, transporting quarterback Joe Montana, tackle Steve Wallace and guard Jesse Sapolu from the team hotel to Soldier Field, mischievously and deliberately dropped the players at the wrong end of the stadium. The trio was forced to walk nearly half a mile in frigid conditions to the 49ers locker room.
“We were with Joe Montana,” Sapolu said. “That cab driver knew who we were and where we had to go. He did that purposely.”
Once in the locker room Sapolu looked to fellow lineman Guy McIntyre for a way to stay warm. McIntyre was prepared. He pulled from his equipment bag several pairs of panty hose.
“I bought the biggest panty hose I could find,” McIntyre said. “They were called ‘Big Mamas’ but I still wasn’t sure if they’d fit.” The pair of 280 pound linemen squeezed into their nylon stockings, donned their pads, and prepared to take the field.
The man Sapolu, McIntyre and Wallace followed onto the frozen turf was their long-time Offensive Line Coach Bobb McKittrick. A former U.S. Marine, McKittrick was not intimidated by rain, sleet or snow. He charged on to Soldier Field, with his men close behind, clad in a short-sleeved shirt. As the game got under way, McKittrick realized he’d underestimated the weather, but he wasn’t about to desert his men.
“Coach McKittrick was so cold, his teeth were chattering and we couldn’t understand a word he was saying,” McIntyre said. “Coach Walsh made him go back to the locker room to get a jacket.”
The 49ers got the last laugh that day. Montana threw three touchdown passes in a 28-3 victory over Chicago. Two weeks later, San Francisco beat Cincinnati 20-16 at Super Bowl XXIII. It was Bill Walsh’s final game as coach and closed out one of the greatest eras in 49ers history.
Artifacts from these historic moments, including the George Halas Trophy, a recreation of Bill Walsh’s office (see above), a letter from the Commandant of the Marine Corps to Bobb McKittrick (below), and Colin Kaepernick’s 4th grade Time Capsule (in which he predicts he would one day play for the 49ers, below) can be seen at the 49ers Museum presented by Sony. For more information on Museum tickets, hours and content, visit levisstadium.com/Museum.