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March 9, 2012

Bears shocked Packers with last-minute free kick

By: Larry Mayer | Last Updated: 3/9/2012 12:36 PM

Most Bears fans know all about their team’s 73-0 rout of the Redskins in the 1940 NFL title game, Gale Sayers’ six-touchdown performance against the 49ers in 1965 and the exploits of the 1985 Super Bowl champions. With that in mind, will periodically feature other memorable moments that are a little more under the radar.

Locked in a 10-10 tie with the Packers late in a 1968 game in Green Bay, the Bears turned to an obscure rule and a rarely seen play to stun their arch rivals.

After Cecil Turner’s fair catch of a Green Bay punt at the Packers’ 43-yard line, Mac Percival booted a 43-yard free kick through the uprights with :26 remaining to give the Bears a stunning 13-10 victory.

Kicker Mac Percival played seven seasons with the Bears from 1967-73, scoring 456 points.
While free kicks are seen about as often as Halley’s Comet, they’ve been permissible since the NFL rulebook was created. After a fair catch, the receiving team can attempt a free kick from placement—and the defense must remain at least 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. 

Following Percival’s dramatic winning kick, then-Bears head coach Jim Dooley credited offensive line coach Abe Gibron with putting the idea in his head.

“When the Packers had second down and 10 at their 15-yard line, Abe said, ‘Let’s get the fair catch when they punt so we can go for the free kick,’” Dooley told the Chicago Tribune.

The Packers and their fans weren’t the only ones in the stadium who were surprised when Percival and the Bears field goal unit jogged onto the field.

“I was starting to go out with the offensive unit and then they called me back,” said Bears tight end Austin Denney.

“I didn’t know what the hell was going on,” said Bears defensive end Willie Holman. “I never heard of such a play.”

The Bears almost didn’t get an opportunity to attempt the game-winning kick because Turner, who had dropped three passes in the game, had some trouble hauling in the punt.

“They told me to fair catch it no matter what, and I was a little nervous,” he said. “The wind took the ball a little bit and I had to run to get it, and I clutched it in my belly real good.”

Hall of Fame running back Gale Sayers set a Bears record by rushing for 205 yards on 24 carries, but he nearly cost his team the game when he lost a fumble midway through the fourth quarter. Green Bay cornerback Herb Adderly recovered the loose ball and returned it 14 yards to the Chicago 14.

After the Packers mustered just one yard on three runs, kicker Chuck Mercein missed a 22-yard field goal attempt “by the width of a grandstand section” according to the Tribune with 3:40 to play.

University of Phoenix

Percival’s 43-yarder was his second straight game-winner; it came a week after he had booted a 47-yarder with :03 remaining to give the Bears a thrilling 26-24 victory over the Vikings at Wrigley Field.

Quarterback Virgil Carter completed just 5 of 14 passes for 51 yards against the Packers. But he survived a savage beating by the Green Bay defense to win his third straight start since being promoted from the taxi squad.

“Virgil took more punishment in this game than I have ever seen a quarterback take,” Dooley said.

“Virgil Carter is the toughest football player I have seen in 10 years in this league,” said Bears right tackle Bon Wetoska. “They’re going to have to kill him to get him out of there.”

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