Bears picking on history

This story first appeared on Oct. 29 but has been updated after action during Week 16.

The Chicago Bears defense have provided fireworks all season long. The defense started the year on fire when they racked up six interception returns for a touchdown during the first seven weeks of the 2012 NFL season, an NFL record.

The interception brigade continued in Week 9 when Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher had a 46-yard pick-six in Chicago’s blowout of the Tennessee Titans. Then cornerback Charles Tillman scored on a 10-yard INT return in the Bears’ 28-13 win at Arizona during Week 16.

All of the INTs, except for Urlacher’s pick, returned for six points have occurred in the second half and all during Bears victories.

2012 Chicago Bears

1. Major Wright, 45 yards, 4th quarter vs. St. Louis Rams, Sept. 23 (W, 23-6)
2. Charles Tillman, 24 yards, 2nd quarter vs. Dallas Cowboys, Oct. 1 (W, 43-18)
3. Lance Briggs, 74 yards, 3rd quarter vs. Dallas Cowboys, Oct. 1 (W, 43-18)
4. Charles Tillman, 36 yards, 3rd quarter vs. Jacksonville Jaguars, Oct. 7 (W, 41-3)
5. Lance Briggs, 36 yards, 4th quarter vs. Jacksonville Jaguars, Oct. 7 (W, 41-3)
6. Tim Jennings, 25 yards, 4th quarter vs. Carolina Panthers, Oct. 28 (W, 23-22)
7. Brian Urlacher, 46 yards, 1st quarter vs. Tennessee Titans, Nov. 4 (W, 51-20)
8. Charles Tillman, 10 yards, 3rd quarter vs. Arizona Cardinals, Dec. 23 (W, 38-13)

That leaves one week for the Bears to chase the league record for most interceptions returned for touchdowns in a season. That mark has been owned by the San Diego Chargers for more than 50 years.

NFL RECORD BOOK
Most TDs, Returning INTs, Season
9 - San Diego (1961)
8 – Seattle (1998); Chicago (2012)
7 – Seattle (1984); St. Louis (1999)

The Chargers in 1961, their first season in San Diego after relocating from Los Angeles, were among the dominant teams of the new American Football League. Their quest for a league title fell just short as the Chargers lost to the Houston Oilers, 10-3, in a defensive battle in the ’61 AFL Championship.

Nevertheless, the Chargers accomplishment on defense that season has withheld the test of time. San Diego capitalized on the AFL’s “pass-happy” offensive attacks to convert nine opponents throws into touchdowns. All of the touchdowns came in wins as San Diego posted a league best 12-2 record en route to a second straight Western Division title.

Charlie McNeil

Leading the charge was the team’s designated “clown,” a fun-loving cornerback by the name of Dick Harris. He didn’t joke around on the football field, though. Harris ran back two INTs for scores during the season. The barrage of defense began in Week 2 at home against the Oakland Raiders when he stepped in front of a Tom Flores pass on just the game’s third play and ran it back 41 yards to jumpstart a 44-0 blowout. Two weeks later he ran a pickoff back on the opening drive of the Chargers win over the Buffalo Bills. He added his final pick-six on a snowy day in Denver later in the season.

Charlie McNeil also chipped in as the team's interception leader. The cornerback finished the year with nine picks for 349 yards that included three pick-sixes. Others who helped set the record were linebackers Chuck Allen and Bob Laraba who recorded pick-sixes on back-to-back possessions in a dominating 37-0 win over Denver; and defensive tackle Bill Hudson who alertly grabbed an errant pass and rumbled five yards to the end zone in the Chargers’ second to last game of the season.

1961 San Diego Chargers

1. Dick Harris, 41 yards, 1st quarter vs. Oakland Raiders, Sept. 17 (W, 44-0)
2. Charlie McNeil, 76 yards, 2nd quarter vs. Houston Oilers, Sept. 24 (W, 34-24)
3. Dick Harris, 56 yards, 1st quarter vs. Buffalo Bills, Sept. 30 (W, 19-11)
4. Bob Laraba, 57 yards, 2nd quarter vs. Denver Broncos, Oct. 29 (W, 37-0)
5. Chuck Allen, 59 yards, 2nd quarter vs. Denver Broncos, Oct. 29 (W, 37-0)
6. Charlie McNeil, 41 yards, 3rd quarter vs. New York Titans, Nov. 5 (W, 48-13)
7. Dick Harris, 30 yards, 3rd quarter vs. Denver Broncos, Nov. 12 (W, 19-16)
8. Bob Laraba, 60 yards, 2nd quarter vs. Dallas Texans, Nov. 19 (W, 24-14)
9. Bill Hudson, 5 yards, 2nd quarter vs. Buffalo Bills, Dec. 10 (W, 28-10)

In all, the Chargers intercepted 49 passes which they returned for 929 yards that season. Both marks also remain as NFL records today. 

VIDEO: Two minutes of pro football history: Pick Six>>>

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