75 for 75: Bears Weather Game

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"75 for 75" is an article series from the 49ers Museum highlighting legendary moments in 49ers history as part of the team's 75th Anniversary celebrations in 2021.

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January 8, 1989

The long-standing rivalry between the San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears has seen its share of dramatic, sinister and even comical moments. Over the years, fans have watched Gale Sayers gallop through the 49ers for an NFL record six touchdowns (1965) and seen a frustrated coach named Mike Ditka wallop a Candlestick Park heckler with a wad of chewing gum (1987).

But 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 Joe Montana, Steve Wallace and Jesse Sapolu attempted to get from the team hotel to Soldier Field on gameday. After hailing a Chicago taxi, they told the driver to take them to the 49ers locker room at Soldier Field. While en route, the smirking cab driver made a few critical comments about the 49ers and their chance of victory.

"At one point he even said Joe (Montana) wasn't that good," Wallace said.

The cabbie then dropped the players at the opposite end of the stadium forcing the trio to walk nearly half a mile in frigid conditions to the 49ers locker room.

"That guy did it deliberately," Jesse Sapolu recalled. "We were with Joe Montana. He knew who we were and where we had to go."

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 locker several pairs of pantyhose.

"I bought the biggest pantyhose I could find," McIntyre said. "They were called 'Big Mamas' but I still wasn't sure if they'd fit."  

The pair of 280 pounders snuggled into their nylon stockings, suited up and prepared to take the field. McIntyre had one more method of warding off the cold. He applied insulating cream to his face.

"It's this white cream that is supposed to keep you warmer," Wallace said between chuckles. "Except Guy didn't rub it in. He just caked it on his face so when we went on the field it froze. He played the whole game with this white stuff frozen on his face. He looked like a ghost."

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 officer, McKittrick was not intimidated by rain, sleet or snow. He charged onto Soldier Field with his men close behind clad in a short-sleeve shirt. As the game got under way, McKittrick realized he had underestimated the weather, but he was not 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 had the last laugh though. Montana threw for three touchdown passes in the 28-3 victory that sent San Francisco to Super Bowl XXIII.

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