The Fog Bowl

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The Fog Bowl refers to a NFC Divisional playoff game that pitted the Chicago Bears against the Philadelphia Eagles on December 31 1988. Played at the Bears’ home, Soldier Field, the game was notoriously overcast with fog, limiting visibility to just a few yards.

The fog was highly unusual because it seemed to be localized around the stadium, with areas beyond 15 city blocks of the stadium experiencing no fog. The game ended 20-12 in favor of the Bears and has been named at number 3 on NFL’s Top 10 Weather Games. The game was also notable because both coaches had worked together on the Bears team that won Super Bowl XX.

Buildup to and Events of the Game

Going into the game, one of the major highlights was the return to Soldier field of one of the outfit’s most revered servants, Buddy Ryan, only this time he would be coaching the enemy. Ryan had worked under Mike Dikta as defensive coordinator and together they had won the Super Bowl three years before. The morning of that New Year’s Eve was gloriously sunny and warm with temperatures climbing into the upper 30s.

At kickoff, in a city where fog is a rare occurrence, no one would have predicted the conditions under which half the game would be played. The Bears were the first to score, with quarterback Mike Tomczak making a 64-yard pass to Dennis McKinnon for a touchdown. The Eagles then responded through a 42-yard field goal by Luis Zendeja, after having two touchdowns struck out due to illegalities. In the second quarter, Zendeja added a 29-yard field goal to cut the deficit to just one point, only for the Bears to score through a touchdown by Neal Anderson. Both teams made a field goal each before the half to head into the break at 17-9 in favor of the Bears.

Up to that point, the weather had been pleasantly sunny, with a crisp surface. The players and fans could not have asked for better conditions for a game of football. However, out of nowhere, a cold draft accompanied by a dense fog drifted over soldier field and down over the stands and the field. The view of everyone from the fans to commentators and even players on the field was obscured down to a few feet.

Visibility was down to about 10 to 15 yards forcing the teams to use their running games since quarterbacks and receivers could not see each other on long passes. The referee had to announce the down and distance over a wireless microphone so that the fans and players could have an idea where play was. The NFL monitored the game but did not consider pausing or stopping the game, since the fog did not pose any danger to players and fans.

With the Eagles trailing, they were the more active of the two sides but a comedy of errors precipitated by the poor conditions stood frustratingly in their way. The Bears perhaps had this most freaking act of nature to thank for their eventual 20-12 win as they held out for the rest of the game.

Aftermath of the Fog Bowl

The Eagles, who had been on a hot streak before this game but had been unable to win at Soldier Field for a number of years would have to wait at least a few months for another go at it. There was understandable disappointment, even rage in the Eagles’ camp. A furious Buddy Ryan stormed off the pitch without as much as a handshake with Dikta. Conspiracy theories about the origin of the fog flew about with many including former linebacker Mike Singletary insinuating that it was artificially produced and pumped in. Game statistics showed dismal game stats, which waned off significantly in the second half, a signal of how badly the fog had affected gameplay.

Later in the day the fog cleared out and gave way to a sunny afternoon, leaving many to wonder what would have happened if the NFL had scheduled the game for the afternoon or at night. Meteorologists attributed the strange weather phenomenon to the warming air coming into contact with cold air blowing from the nearby Lake Michigan. The condensing moisture came down in the form a freakish looking cloud that many compared to one of the plagues in the biblical account of Moses.