- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 20, 2001

The once-feared Chicago Bears were down. Six straight losing seasons down. Seven years out of the playoffs down. The Monsters of the Midway had turned into mice.
Running back Curtis Enis and quarterback Cade McNown, top draft picks in 1998 and 1999, were such busts that they were gone before Labor Day. The Bears' only major free agent signees were defensive tackles Ted Washington, 33, and Keith Traylor, 32. So coach Dick Jauron began his third year with a 11-21 record and his job in serious jeopardy.
New general manager Jerry Angelo has yet to ensure Jauron's return, but the Bears are back. Riding a young defense featuring second-year middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, Chicago is 10-3, losing only to Super Bowl champion Baltimore and twice to NFC Central rival Green Bay. Sunday's 27-3 dissection of preseason division favorite Tampa Bay made Chicago the first NFC team to clinch a playoff spot. Beating Washington (6-7), Detroit (1-12) and Jacksonville (5-8) would give the Bears their first division title in 11 years.
"I don't think anyone outside of our locker room gave us a chance to win too many games," Urlacher said. "We believe in us, and that's all that matters."
With the Bulls in free fall since Michael Jordan's 1998 departure, the Cubs and White Sox also-rans and the Blackhawks having missed the playoffs the last four springs, sports-loving Chicago was hungry for a winner. That it's the beloved Bears, an original NFL franchise that spawned such legends as George Halas, Bronko Nagurski, Dick Butkus, Gale Sayers and Walter Payton, makes it even better.
"We talk a lot about the tradition and the history here," said the always low-key Jauron, who spent his childhood summers at Bears training camps at St. Joseph's College in Rensselaer, Ind., where his father was coaching. "I like the fact that we are the charter franchise. The great names in the league are involved with our football team. That's a nice feeling, that you're part of that tradition."
The 2001 Bears don't have an offense that's in the same league with the teams that terrorized the NFL with the newfangled "T" formation in the 1940s, and their defense doesn't rank with the impenetrable units that won championships in 1963 and 1985. But these Bears are formidable in the clutch. Chicago is 17th in total defense, but only Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have allowed fewer points. The offense is 24th in yards but 14th in scoring.
Like the 1969 Miracle Mets, the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team and Jim Valvano's 1983 N.C. State basketball squad, these Bears have destiny written all over them. On Oct. 28, Chicago rallied from 19 points down to beat San Francisco in overtime 37-31 on an interception return touchdown by playmaking free safety Mike Brown and repeated the improbable feat the next week, trailing Cleveland 21-7 with less than two minutes left, only to win 27-21 in overtime on another interception return for a touchdown by Brown.
"We've gotten some bounces, there's no doubt about that, but we've made it bounce our way at times," Jauron said.
The Bears have kept winning although Jim Miller, who won the quarterback competition with fellow journeyman Shane Matthews, is second to last in the NFC passer ratings and top receiver Marcus Robinson was lost for the year in Week 5. First-rounder David Terrell has been disappointing, but second-round back Anthony Thomas has been a find. The combined 634 pounds of Washington and Traylor has freed Urlacher from blockers and allowed him to run from sideline to sideline to make his team-high 121 tackles much as behemoths Tony Siragusa and Sam Adams did for Ray Lewis on the Ravens' record-setting 2000 defense.
"We've heavily invested in a number of young players the last two years," Jauron said. "They're obviously coming through, and the players we've added have added a lot to us. We've got a nice mix of young players and veterans. I really like our guys. They've got a good feeling for each other. They've played better and better as we've gotten into it."
And there's no better feeling than winning.
"We've been bad for so long; winning does wonderful things," Miller said. "It makes everybody happy. You can hear the buzz around the city."
For the first time since the last Bush Administration, da buzz is about Da Bears.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide