A pained expression still comes over Mike Ditka's face when he talks about it.
Ronnie Bull still remembers how he heard the bad news.
More than a generation has passed since midsummer 1964, when the Bears' high hopes of repeating as NFL champions ended on a road outside Rensselaer, Ind., where Willie Galimore and John "Bo" Farrington died in a one-car accident.
It has been 40 years since one of the most tumultuous seasons in Bears' history, one that started with such hope, was interrupted by tragedy and concluded with one of the worst one-season reversals in franchise history.
On the night of July 26, 1964, Galimore and Farrington were on their way back to their rooms at the Bears' training camp at St. Joseph's College. A sign marking a turn had been knocked down, and their car flipped over, killing both. Galimore was 29, Farrington 28.
"Johnny Morris told me about it the next morning," Bull said. "The thought of playing football went down the drain. I don't think we ever recovered."
Although defense was the heart of the Bears' 1963 championship team, Galimore had come back from double knee surgery to rush for 351 yards (3.8 per carry) and lead the Bears with five rushing TDs.
Farrington was fourth on the team with 21 catches for 335 yards and two TDs as the Bears went 11-1-2 to win the Western Conference over 11-2-1 Green Bay. The defense carried the day again in the 14-10 victory over the New York Giants in the NFL championship game.
For the Bears, the '63 season culminated a gradual rebuilding process. They had traded for quarterback Bill Wade in 1961 and had rookies of the year in 1961 (Ditka) and 1962 (Bull). The defense was led by Hall of Fame middle linebacker Bill George.
They went 9-5 in 1962 and headed into the 1963 opener at Green Bay knowing it would be pivotal for unseating the two-time defending champion Packers.
"Every day in training camp, Halas would spend 15 minutes working on things we'd use against the Packers," offensive tackle Bob Wetoska said.
Tackling the Packers
The Bears went to Lambeau Field and came away with a 10-3 victory, the kind of low-scoring, close game they would win all season.
"Our coaches had the Packers' defense down, what they did and why they did it," Ditka said. "We could take advantage of it. Not that we had a great offense, but we were able to take advantage of it. On offense they didn't do a whole lot of things, but you still had to stop them. We had a defense in '63 that could stop them, one of the best I've ever seen."
It didn't hurt, either, that the Packers played the 1963 season without running back Paul Hornung, one of the best-known players of the era. Commissioner Pete Rozelle suspended Hornung and Detroit defensive tackle Alex Karras for gambling.
With the Cubs still using Wrigley Field, the Bears played their first three games on the road, as they did through most of the 1960s. They followed the win at Green Bay with victories at Minnesota and Detroit, at home over Baltimore and at Los Angeles.
"We won our first four games and started thinking, `We can win this thing,'" Wetoska said.
On Oct. 20 came their only loss, 20-14 at San Francisco to the previously winless 49ers.
On Nov. 17, the Packers came to Chicago to try to get back in the race. The Bears responded with a 26-7 victory that included a 27-yard scoring run by Galimore, aided by a block from Farrington.
The Bears stumbled to 17-17 ties the next two weeks against Pittsburgh and Minnesota, but clinched the Western Conference by finishing the regular season with wins over San Francisco and Detroit.
"The '63 team has been given so little credit, but we did so many things nobody's touched since," safety Rosey Taylor said. "We led the league in interceptions with something like 38 (actually 36, second in team history), in a 14-game season. If it was done nowadays, they'd be America's Team."
The '63 championship was the franchise's first since 1946 and turned out to be its last of the pre-Super Bowl era. As the Bears gathered in Rensselaer in the summer of '64, there was hope for a repeat.
"In 1963, we felt our offense didn't really come up to snuff and the defense carried the team," Taylor said. "We anticipated returning to camp, being a year better. Galimore was healthier, receivers were better and the quarterbacks better. The second-stringers were coming along good. We anticipated a lot from the offense. We felt we could easily repeat."
And then came the deaths of Farrington and Galimore--and a 5-9 record. And that was after a 2-7 start.
Perhaps no matter what happened, 1964 might not have been another championship season. After the '63 season, eight Bears went to the Pro Bowl, including two future Hall of Famers, defensive ends Doug Atkins and tight end Ditka.
Safeties Taylor and Richie Petitbon and linebacker Joe Fortunato went from the defense that allowed a league-best 10.4 points per game. Despite its struggles, the offense was represented by quarterback Wade, fullback Joe Marconi and center Mike Pyle, a former star at New Trier.
When the bill for the championship arrived on George Halas' desk, it wasn't paid in full, according to some of the players.
"Everybody fought just as hard as they always did for a raise, and eight of us went to the Pro Bowl," Pyle said. "We expect to get rewarded, but maybe eight was too many with Halas' budget."
Atkins felt it was a case of a promise not kept.
"Halas insinuated things--if we do this, we get this--he talked about oil wells, and when we got it (the championship), we didn't get anything," Atkins said. "He said, `You're not a champion until you win the second time.'"
Whether the Bears could overcome their unhappiness about money will never be known. The deaths of Galimore and Farrington left voids in the lineup, as well as in their teammates' hearts. A month after the accident, Halas traded for Rams running back Jon Arnett.
"We didn't think it did (end the title hopes), we really didn't," Ditka said. "They brought in Arnett, and we had a good football team. Jon played well, and we also had Bull and Marconi.
"I don't think anyone really realized how good Willie Galimore was. When I played with him, he already had knees operated on a couple of times. I don't know anyone I've seen who could run any faster than him, and I mean it. He could fly. He was a special player.
"And John was a big receiver--6-4 and 218 pounds was big in 1963."
Without Galimore, the Bears' offense changed. Morris caught 93 passes, an NFL record at the time. Ditka had a career-high 75 receptions.
"We became one-dimensional," Ditka said. "We threw the ball all over the field. We became a passing team, and the Bears were never known to be a passing team. We were a team that could pound people and control the clock. We weren't controlling the clock and our defense was on the field too much."
The Bears had other misfortunes. Relatively healthy in 1963, injuries hit in '64. By the end of the season, they had lost starting quarterback Rudy Bukich, linebackers George and Mike Reilly, defensive end Ed O'Bradovich, defensive back Larry Glueck and fullback Charlie Bivins to injuries.
And there was always a visible reminder of what had happened in Rensselaer.
"We wore the armbands on the uniform," Wetoska said. "The whole year was a reminder instead of trying to move on."
Galimore was survived by his wife Audrey and three children Marlon, Ron, and Fawn.
Ron Galimore, 45, carved his own niche in sports as a world-class gymnast. In 1980 he became the first African-American to make the U.S. Olympic team, but missed out of on the trip to Moscow when the U. S. boycotted the Games because of the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan.
He was at the recent Athens Games in his role as the senior director of men's programs for the U. S. Gymnastics Federation.
Galimore, a four-time NCAA champion for Iowa State, has found his father's name still matters, even though he has made one for himself.
"It continues to happen today, depending on what group I'm around," Galimore said. "A lot of times it's when I'm around athletic directors, and it makes me feel proud. It continues to open doors for me."
Marlon Galimore, 47, played basketball at Florida A&M and works for an insurance company; Fawn, 44, like her mother, works for the State of Florida.
After the accident, Audrey Galimore returned to Tallahassee and graduated from Florida A&M, also her husband's alma mater.
"The children were never any trouble," she said.
"I had the support of my family and sisters and brothers. They've all gone on to their own place in life."
Vivian Farrington had been married only four months at the time of the accident, and had never moved to Chicago. She's retired in Houston, where she was an elementary school teacher.
The Bears' 5-9 record gave them the fourth pick in the 1965 NFL draft. They drafted Kansas running back Gale Sayers.