No. 1: 1978 — Bob Avellini vs. Vince Evans vs. Mike Phipps
If the phrase “Be grateful. It could always be worse,” had a year, 1978 would certainly be a contender for Chicago Bears fans. We’ve seen our fair share of odd, what-did-we-just-watch seasons in the Windy City, and this one was no different.
For starters, this Chicago Bears’ team somehow went in an eight-game losing streak, smack-dab in the middle of the regular season, finishing 7-9. They were a break or two away from somehow still advancing to the Playoffs ahead of Minnesota or Green Bay, who stumbled awkwardly into 8-7-1 records simultaneously.
Even in 1978, we saw a similar movie: the Bears are anchored by a top-10 defense and a bottom-10 offense. The defense squeaks out a couple of those Bears exclusive wins — 13-7 over Atlanta, 14-3 over Tampa Bay, 14-0 over Green Bay — you know the drill. But one too many times, that No. 20 ranked offense (of 28 teams) fails them. And as you can probably guess, there was certainly some drama over who should be slinging it for Chicago at this time.
Chicago, at this time, was run by a first-year, AFL alum of a coach named Neill Armstrong. In the coming years, Armstrong would receive heat for his indecisiveness, letting Walter Payton carry the team into a winning position, and subsequently losing it trying to throw the ball.
That indecisiveness permeated into Chicago’s depth chart, too. He put fear into his starting quarterbacks, opting towards the bench as soon as the starter made a mistake or two. Here’s a quote from former Chicago Tribune columnist Terry Armour in 1978:
"“That was a bad situation every week because Neill Armstrong was pulling a different name out of the hat. He had confidence in all of us, but at some point, you have to say, ‘This is my starting quarterback and that’s that.’ We were always looking over our shoulder thinking that if we made a mistake, that would be it.” – Bears starting quarterback Bob Avellini"
In hindsight, Avellini should’ve been grateful. Chicago traded to get him out of Cleveland (probably the equivalent of going from prison to max-security jail?), and lost a first-round pick (which became Ozzie Newsome) in the process.
Armstrong had three quarterbacks: Avellini, Mike Phipps, and Vince Evans. Together, the three produced the ultimate poo-poo platter: 7 touchdowns, 28 interceptions (don’t mistake this for a typo), and 2,221 passing yards, for a 45.9 quarterback rating. And to think: the Chicago Bears not only missed out on Joe Montana the next year but also had arguably their worst Draft in team history.
Remember: it’s not supposed to be good, only entertaining.