The story of the 1963 Bears, Chicago's overlooked champions, begins at the end of the 1962 season.
That year, the Bears won four of their last five games, including a 3-0 season finale against the Lions that many of the players recall as one of the toughest games they ever played.
"After that game, and a handful of times in the offseason, Mike Ditka and I talked," Ed O'Bradovich recalled. "We said, 'We're good enough. We can win this thing.'"
They had an abundance of young players who were hitting the sweet spots of their careers — Ditka and O'Bradovich, running back Ronnie Bull, center Mike Pyle, guard Roger Davis and defensive backs Roosevelt Taylor and Bennie McRae were among them.
"We went to work in training camp," O'Bradovich said. "There was no fooling around. When a receiver would drop a ball, even in practice it was, 'Catch the damn ball!' We'd scream at them. We were dedicated because we knew that we could win."
During the 1962 season, coach George Halas made the difficult but necessary decision to take away the defensive coordinator responsibilities from 70-year-old Clark Shaughnessy and give them to George Allen, then a brilliant young assistant on his staff.
"It was like a breath of fresh air," defensive lineman Bob Kilcullen said. "It was one of the most important things that happened that year, George Allen simplifying the defense."
Fifty years later, the players still have so many great stories to tell. And that's what they will be doing Sept. 15 when the Bears gather the members of the team for a golden anniversary reunion.
Early in 2013.
Members of the 1963 Bears are approached with an offer. Each member would be paid $3,000 to travel to Chicago, sign 400 pieces and appear at an autograph show March 22-23 that would be billed as a reunion.
The deal is at least 18 players are needed to make it happen, and former fullback Ronnie Bull volunteers to help round up the gang. But he can get only 15 to commit and the event is canceled.
Of the 42 players on the roster that year, 16 have passed away, including Hall of Fame middle linebacker Bill George and outside linebacker Larry Morris, the most valuable player of the 1963 title game.
Of those who remain, many have serious health issues. A few are homebound. Some are in nursing homes.
One starter from the team declines to come because he can't concentrate enough to sign his name. A number of them are suffering from dementia, Alzheimer's or some sort of cognitive problem.
"It was the most depressing thing I've ever been through," Bull said.
The 1963 Bears defense turned out to be one of the most dominant in history.
Allen, who would wind up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, made many significant changes, deploying what he called a "Rub and Buzz" defense. Perhaps the most significant change was replacing George with cornerback J.C. Caroline on passing downs.
Allen's son Bruce Allen, the general manager of the Redskins, was a ball boy on the 1963 Bears. "Dad was the innovator of the nickel, and the '63 season was the first season of the nickel defense," he said. "That changed football."
The Bears held opponents to 9.6 points per game. Opponents threw only 353 times against them, yet the Bears had a league-leading 36 interceptions. They also limited opponents to a 34.8 passer rating (all NFL passers had a cumulative 68.4 passer rating that year) and a 46.5 completion percentage.