Who: Walter’s head coach in Chicago, 1975-77
Breakdown: When Walter Payton arrived in Chicago in 1975, he was greeted by a new city, a new level of play—and a new coach. Jack Pardee, recently hired by the Bears after a year coaching Florida of the World Football League, was a rugged disciplinarian who had little patience for showboating or ego. He also had little interest in offensive-minded football, which is probably why the Bears struggled so badly during his three seasons as coach. In 1977, Payton set an NFL record with 275 rushing yards against the Vikings—and the Bears scored a measly 10 points. That said it all.
Pearlman’s take: Jack and I spoke via phone, and while I like and respect the man, he wasn’t an easy one to crack. Pardee regularly praised Payton’s attitude and approach, which is understandable—if not a tad off. Back when he was coaching the your halfback, Pardee questioned his toughness and willingness to take a hit. Payton suffered from severe headaches during his first two training camps, and Pardee saw them as signs of weakness. Finally, toward the midway point of 1976, Pardee realized he possessed a one-of-a-kind talent.
From Sweetness: At one point Payton was sent to Illinois Masonic Hospital for further treatment, missing the exhibition opener against San Diego. When Pardee was asked about his young runner, he smiled and uttered the company line. “He’s such a great guy,” he told the Chicago Tribune. “He went out for a pass and the ball hit him in the arm. He couldn’t fight the tears running down his cheek. But he was hurt.”
For the Bears’ new coach, the words tasted like soap. A sensitive elbow? Are you kidding me? Born April 19, 1936, in Exira, Iowa, Pardee was a person who, from a very early age, believed only in hard work and harder work—excuses be damned. He was milking cows on the family’s farm at age five and digging holes for septic tanks at ten. By age fourteen Pardee was jackhammering in the oil fields of Christoval, Texas, a town of roughly five hundred people near San Angelo where his family had relocated. “To live I had to work,” he once said. “Outside of football, the greatest pleasure I got was from working on our farm . . . working the tractor. I guess I’m just hyperactive, but I can’t stand sitting around doing nothing for more than two days.”
Pardee played his college football under Bear Bryant at Texas A&M. He will forever be identified as one of the “Junction Boys”—the thirty- five of one hundred players who survived Bryant’s hellacious preseason training camp in Junction, Texas, when the temperatures reached 110 degrees and water was nowhere to be found. Pardee went on to spend fifteen years as an
NFL linebacker with the Rams and Redskins, though his career—and life—came to a halt in 1964, when a mole removed from his right forearm was found to be melanoma. Told he could either die or have the arm amputated, Pardee chose option number three— an experimental eleven-and-a-half hour operation in which his collarbone was broken and his body temperature drastically reduced. “I didn’t think I’d die,” he said. “I probably always had an indestructible attitude. Nothing was ever gonna happen to me. I’m not afraid of dying— it’s not gonna happen.”