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On This Date in Sports November 21, 1982: Return of the NFL

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The NFL season resumes after a two-month strike. Taking advantage of the restart is the Chicago Bears Giving rookie quarterback Jim McMahon, who Chicago grabbed with the fifth overall pick in the NFL Draft. McMahon completed 16 of 27 passes for 233 yards with two touchdowns as the Bears beat the Detroit Lions 20-17. It is also the first win for coach Mike Ditka as the Bears improve to 1-2.

The Chicago Bears had been in hibernation for two decades. After winning the 1963 NFL Championship Game, they had only had two playoff appearances and no postseason wins. After a disappointing 6-10 season in 1981, longtime Owner George Halas fired Coach Neil Armstrong and replaced him with former Tight End Mike Ditka, who had been serving as an assistant on Tom Landry’s staff with the Dallas Cowboys since retiring as a player in 1972. Quietly Chicago is building a solid defense under the watchful eye of coordinator Buddy Ryan, but the Bears' offense was dreadful. In the two games before the strike, the Bears lost to the Detroit Lions 17-10 at the Silverdome and 10-0 to the New Orleans Saints in the home opener.

Using the two-month break to reset the team’s options, Mike Ditka decided to give the starting quarterback job to rookie Jim McMahon. The Bears had selected the punky quarterback with the fifth overall pick in the 1982 draft out of Brigham Young. At BYU, McMahon put up record-breaking numbers, winning the Davy O’Brien Award and Sammy Baugh Trophy while finishing third in Heisman voting in the 1981 season. He helped the Cougars win two Holiday Bowls, including 1980 against SMU with a 41-yard Hail Mary Pass as time expired.

With just 46,783 fans on hand at Soldier Field, the Bears' rookie quarterback got off to a rough start, throwing two interceptions in the first quarter, including a pick-six by Ray Oldham that allowed the Detroit Lions to build an early 14-3 lead. However, Jim McMahon was unfazed by the bad start as he rallied Chicago to take a 17-14 lead, connecting with Ken Margerum on an 11-yard pass in the second quarter and Emery Moorehead on a 28-yard score in the third quarter. The Lions tied the game on a 32-yard field goal by Eddie Murray in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, Jim McMahon would drive the Bears down the field to set up John Roveto for an 18-yard field goal that proved to be the game-winner for the Bears.

The 20-17 win marked the first win as a head coach for Mike Ditka, whose Bears went 3-4 over the final seven games in 1982 to finish with a record of 3-6. The Bears would use a solid finish to finish 8-8 in 1983 and arrived as a contender in 1984, posting a 10-6 record as they won a playoff game and reached the NFC Championship Game. A year later, the Bears had one of the great seasons in NFL history, posting a 15-1 record as they won Super Bowl XX against the New England Patriots. Mike Ditka would coach the Bears for 11 seasons, posting a record of 106-62 in his tenure to rank second to George Halas in wins.