Saturday, February 16, 2013

A Favorite That Fell Short

     I have been lucky enough in my lifetime to watch every one of my favorite teams in the "Big 4" win titles. The Bears did it when I was young, the Bulls ruled the 1990s, the Blackhawks had a memorable 2010, and the Giants have won 2 of the last 3 World Series trophies. These teams were champions, but they were not always the most memorable.

     Sometimes your personal favorite isn't the team that won a title. So I decided to explore my favorite season from each of the teams I mentioned. Originally this was meant to be one blog, but I wrote more than expected on the Bears. So I'll do one for each team over the next few days.

Chicago Bears
Playoff Appearances - 13 (79,84-88,90,91,94,01,05,06,10)
NFC Champ Games - 2-3 (84,85,88,06,10)
Super Bowl - 1-1 (85,06)

     When you think of the Chicago Bears your mind goes one place, right? The 1985 team. At least, if you are over 30 that's what you think. Otherwise, the Bears haven't been a cornerstone team in my lifetime. The team that helped found the NFL has just 1 Super Bowl victory in 2 appearances. That's pathetic. We had a chance in the 80's. But year after year something went wrong and the dynasty that I should have grown up with was never meant to be. So yes, 1985 is huge in my mind. But it is nowhere near my favorite season of all time. That belongs to the 2001 team coached by the most boring man on Earth, Dick Jauron.

     That season was one of the most "holy shit, where did that come from" seasons you will ever see. The Bears started off that season losing to the defending champion Ravens 17-6. The D showed signs of a good season, the O was about what we had come to expect as Bears fans. After the week off because of the Sept. 11 attacks the Bears ran off a streak that was dominant as a Defense.  The beat the Vikings at home and then throttled the new wonder kid of the NFL Michael Vick in his own building. As Bears fans we weren't sure if this was another good but not good enough team, but after 4 straight victories in which they had given up a total of 26 points we all thought there was a chance. Then the 49ers came to town.

     I don't like the sight of the 49ers all that much. The first year that I remember football was 1984 and the Bears lost 23-0 in the NFC Championship game to Montana and the Niners. In 1988 the Bears went 14-2 and had home field for the game this time and put up a huge nothing in the freezing cold against guess who again. I remember watching with my dad as the 49ers built up a 28-9 3rd quarter lead. Suddenly the Offense with Shane Matthews leading the way and a young duo of Anthony Thomas and David Terrell scored the points. It was an improbable comeback that became jaw dropping in overtime when a 1st down pass to TO was deflected into the arms on Mike Brown, who raced it in for a touchdown. The crowd went wild and we all felt we had a team that year. 

     The Cleveland Browns came to Soldier Field the next week. Once again the Bears fell behind. With 32 seconds left in the game all hell broke loose. Shane Matthews hit Marty Booker for a 9 yard TD pass. The Bears recovered the onside kick and as time expired Matthews heaved a hail mary down field that James Allen caught on a deflection for a TD. The Bears had tied it and we were going to see OT for the 2nd straight week. This is a "I remember where I was" game for me. After the Bears did nothing on Offense to start the extra period, Cleveland took over in their own territory. On a 3rd down pass by Tim Couch that was tipped in the air, the improbable happened. Mike Brown had another game winning interception in overtime. It was surreal. I don't think any team in the history of football has ever had back to back games like that. From that point forward, all you could do is enjoy the ride.

     The team I always want to see the Bears beat is Green Bay. Of course, the Packers are the only  team besides Baltimore to beat the Bears that season. But it was OK. They had a shot to win the division with a win in the last week of the season. Because of the September 11 attacks the final game became Jacksonville at Chicago. I couldn't go, but I made my way to The Cubby Bear. I sat at a table with 2 other guys that came alone and we had a great time watching the Bears win the final NFC Central crown. James "Big Cat" Williams blocked a FG attempt in the 1st quarter to keep he Jaguars off the board. It gave me the feeling as a fan that there was no way the Bears were losing this one. A 13-0 halftime lead. 

     It got better. In the 3rd quarter Keith Traylor got hold of a Mark Brunnel pass and almost returned it for a touchdown. He made it 67 yeards before Keenan McCardell caught up to him and jumped on his back. If the sight of a big fat man running down the field doesn't get you excited, you have no pulse. It was the highlight of the win. Jim Miller threw a 9 yard TD pass to Terrell, and it was over. A 20-0 lead and a division crown. It was the last year of the 3 division format. So the NFC Central, the division I grew up watching, would be no more. It felt that much sweeter to me as a fan. It felt like the Bears claimed what was rightfully theirs. My 2 new friends and I rejoiced appropriately by hoisting a few.

     Just as expected the Bears bombed in the playoffs against hometown hero Donovan McNabb and the Eagles. Things got worse the following year as the Bears played home games in Champaign, Illinois while Soldier Field was renovated. A 4-12 season in 2002 and the Bears were back to being shitty. But we had 2001. It was a runaway, out of nowhere season. I loved every moment of it and didn't require a championship for it to be a great season to be a fan. Until something new and better comes along, 2001 is my favorite Chicago Bears football season.
2001 Chicago Bears: 13-3 (1st NFC Central)

Eric Nathanson


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