September 18, 2005
“A session with your girlfriend lasts for twenty minutes, but a win in the National Football League is a thrill that lasts an entire week. And what a thrill.”
—George Stanley Halas, AKA “Papa Bear” Founder of the Chicago Bears and the NFL
Week 2 of the National Football League features the Bears’ first divisional game of the season, as well as their first home game. It’s a matchup with the Detroit Lions, a team that we should clearly be better than, even though they swept us last year.
My parents are going to another wedding today, and so while I want to watch the game with them, they are going to leave midway through the third. So I decide to go over to Tony’s house and watch the game with him and Ben.
At a quarter to 12, I am ready to hop in the car and head down to Rogers Park, but then Ben calls…
“I’m still up in Lake Forest. I can’t get in touch with Tony.”
So that didn’t work out.
But the good news is that I get to watch (at least some of) the game with Dad, always a treat.
“Yo Pop, I’m staying here.”
“Tony’s not around. Ben’s staying in Lake Forest.”
“Does he want to come over here?”
“No. He said that he’s going to stay there and do some work.”
“Alrighty. Just you and me then.”
I smile. “Just you and me.”
“Ooh!” he yells suddenly, darting over to the cabinet above the fridge. “I got something good.”
He grabs a box of SnackWell’s cookies, the chocolate ones with the little layer of marshmallow in the middle.
There was a time when Dad and I would go shopping together, and though he was in his middle-aged “I need to start eating right and getting healthy” phase, I could always coax him into getting a box of these cookies, which the two of us would then destroy as soon as we got home so that Mom would not find out.
“Ooh! SnackWell’s!” I say.
The Bears kick off to start, the yell of the fired-up crowd intensifying as Doug Brien’s foot connects with the ball, and then again as the Bear defenders bring down the return man. Shortly into the game, Ian Scott gets his hands on a Joey Harrington pass. He bats it down, but it gets pin-balled between Scott and the O-lineman, and Scott plucks the ball for the pick, the first turnover of the game.
Amped by the turnover—and not to be outdone—the Bears offense advances the ball down the field with a professional confidence, scoring on a beautiful Thomas Jones run.
“Yeah! He’s in!” we both yell. “Oh man, what a run.”
“Take a cookie to celebrate.”
He hands me one.
“Mick! Come see this run.”
Mom is around the house getting ready, popping in every so often to see what’s happening.
“What’s all the yelling about?”
“Bears just scored a touchdown.”
“Check out the replay.”
“Oh wow. He just dove right in there.” She walks away. “Keep me posted.”
The Bears kick off, and on Detroit’s very first play, Harrington hits Roy Williams down the sideline for a score.
“Here we go,” Dad says. “It’s gonna be a shootout.”
“No.” I am defiant. I’ve got a feeling about this one. “I’ve got a feeling about this one. We are gonna put this thing on lock the rest of the way. I’ve got a feeling.”
And sure enough, as the Lions’ Remy Hamilton kicks the extra point, the Bears D-line gets a good push and blocks the kick. 7-6 Bears, and we never look back.
On the Bears’ next possession, Doug Brien hits a 49-yard field goal, his first as a Bear.
(Me: “Pass me a cookie.” Dad: “No. Only after touchdowns. Field goals are failure.”)
After some punts from both teams and a missed field goal by Brien, the Lions punt to third-year receiver Bobby Wade, a guy in the #2 receiver lump with Gage, Berrian, and the rookie Bradley. Wade was inactive a week ago, a decision that must have upset him more than he let on, but he was a pro, is a pro, and as he fields that punt in the second quarter, finds the seam, takes off down the left sideline with the Soldier Field fans screaming and waving and cheering him, he must have been thinking to himself in as professional manner as possible: “Deactivate this.”
“Hey,” Dad says, and when I look at him on his “hey” I see a cookie flying towards me.
Detroit’s next possession is going well enough, as Harrington and the Lions drive to the Bears’ twelve. But on third and 3, Harrington and the receiver Williams have a miscommunication, Williams running a slant and Harrington throwing a fade. Vasher leaps and easily makes the pick.
Down the field we go, a beautiful seven play, 80-yard drive, capped off by a 28-yard TD strike from Orton to Muhammad. 24-6 Bears, just under two minutes to play in the half.
“OH YES! Yes! Touchdown!” we both yell. Now we’re slumping. Not the Bears, of course, who are putting on a beatdown the likes of which I haven’t seen since…since…well, the first game that comes to mind is a 47-17 sha-lacking of Tampa in ’93, and then the playoff game against Minnesota in ’94, and perhaps one of those freakish Miller to Robinson games in ’99, but I can’t think of a game in which everything actually came together this well.
No, it’s not the Bears who are slumping, but me and Dad, who are laboring through our third cookie in about a half hour or so.
“We may have picked the wrong game to begin this tradition,” I say.
“This is the business we’ve chosen.”
But even as we force-feed ourselves cookie the third, we are all kinds of happy, having just witnessed wonderful offensive execution. It is the kind of play that, as a Bears fan, you forget exists after a while. The kind of play that only takes place on other people’s teams in other people’s games.
Muhammad ran a ten-yard slant towards the middle of the field, beating corner Fernando Bryant to the inside. By the time they were in the endzone, Moose had Bryant totally sealed off on the backside of his shoulder, and Orton put the ball right in his gut. Meanwhile, the big-hitting safety Kenoy Kennedy was coming over from the other side of the field to help on the play, and as soon as Moose caught the ball, Kennedy laid into him shoulder-first with a vicious blow intended to either jar the ball loose, frighten Muhammad into pulling back, or both.
Kennedy’s hit landed square on Moose’s chest, sending both Muhammad and Bryant sprawling backwards, but instead of dropping the ball, Muhammad held on, took his hit, and then stood to celebrate his touchdown. Bryant was knocked out of the game with a shoulder injury.
“Oh man! Did you see that hit he took? I can’t believe that he can just get up like nothing happened.”
“He’s a professional athlete. That’s what’s expected of him.”
“Yeah. But still.”
Muhammad does his little football-under-the-legs endzone celebration, unknowingly setting my dad off. “What’s with all the dancing? He’s just doing his job.”
“What if I did that? People would think I was crazy. Can you imagine me finishing writing a report, and then dancing and looking for people to chest bump? I’d look like a fool. Do your job.”
“Eat your cookie.”
There would be more.
Following the Bears next kick, Detroit opens with disaster as Bears rookie and new starting safety Chris Harris hits Harrington on the blitz, forcing a bad throw that is picked off by Mike Brown, who takes it 41 yards to the house.
“YES! YES! ALRIGHT!”
In the words of Al Michaels: “UN-BEE-LEEEEV-ABLE!”
Mom comes rushing in. “What happened?”
“Mike Brown intercepted a Detroit pass and ran it back for a touchdown,” Dad informs her in the most professional way possible.
“31-6!” I yell.
My phone rings. It’s Meghan. She’s at work waiting on that unholy pro-Colts crowd in Indy.
“Hey! They just flashed the Bears score up. 24-6?”
“Actually, we just scored again.”
“Yeah. On a pick return by Mike Brown. 31-6.”
“No kidding. We’re killing them.”
“Mike Brown! Number 30!”
“How have the Bears scored?”
“Bobby Wade returned a punt 73 yards for a score, and Orton just hit Muhammad with a touchdown. And then this Mike Brown play. It’s been a total beat down. How’s work?”
“Pretty slow. Colts haven’t scored yet, so people are pretty blah here. Hopefully we’ll get some points soon to get the tips rolling in.”
Like a knife in my side…
“Meghan, I’m only going to say this once. Don’t ever, ever, EVER! refer to the Colts as ‘we’.”
“Oh, I know. I’m just saying because it’s better for tips if the Colts are winning…”
“Well, really, I’m just saying ‘we’ as in Indianapolis. I mean, we do live here now.”
“OK! ‘EVER!’ I got it.”
“Seriously.” I breathe. “Ever.”
“OK. I’m sorry.”
We run out the string on the conversation and tell each other we’ll see the other tonight. I hang up.
“What was that about?” Pop asks.
“She referred to the Colts as ‘we’.”
“Do you consider this a long-term thing?”
The Lions take the ball back, kneel it down, and then head to the locker room flattened, with the Soldier Field faithful on their feet, getting that old feeling again.
My folks leave during the third quarter with Dad having another cookie as a credit for any future touchdowns, and we say goodbye again, like we always do, with big hugs and cheek kisses for both Mom and Dad.
The second half proceeds as it must, but only out of convention, because the Bears have beaten all of the life and spirit out of the Detroit Lions. Joey Harrington looks miserable, the Detroit trio of first round receivers—Charles Rogers, Roy Williams, and Mike Williams—all look like they’d rather be back in college, and Thomas Jones puts the final stamp on the game with a 22-yard touchdown dash.
The final: Bears 38, Lions 6.
I watched the whole game. I know how it happened. I know where things went right for us, and where they went wrong for them. I know the plays that we made, that this game wasn’t born of nothing.
I know that the Ian Scott interception was just a batted ball that took a nice bounce, and that the Wade TD was all of the blockers creating space, and that the Vasher pick was a blown read by the Detroit offense, and that the Muhammad score was the work of a veteran receiver with a perfect throw from a capable quarterback who was given time and a clear throwing lane, and I know that the Brown TD was made possible by the Harris blitz and then Brown’s concentration and hands and speed, and I know that Thomas Jones’ 139 rushing yards and two TD’s came from an excellent offensive line and Orton’s threat to throw…
I know all of these things, in the same way that scientists know how babies are born and how nature reproduces itself, but to know the scientific how does not explain the ethereal holy crap! and there’s no better way to bring out the believer in all of us than with a 38-6 mollywhomping.
Every time I say it I am amazed, even though I know exactly how, in football terms, it happened.
Halas was right: what a thrill.
I’m on clouds the rest of the day. No matter what else happens, I watched my team put on an incredible performance this afternoon. Offense, defense, and special teams, the way it’s meant to be. Today, I watched my team dominate. I watched them make names for themselves. I watched them pounce on every Detroit mistake and capitalize on every opportunity. I watched near perfection, executed with style and attitude, heart and desire.
Football, once a week, 16 weeks a year.
I get in the car and head for the highway. Doug and O.B. are on the Score talking Bears football and rapping with fans. Spirits are outstanding. As to be expected, it does not take long before the talk has flipped to the “Are they as good as the ’85 team?” angle.
It’s an obvious talking point, and extremely unfair, but it’s inevitable and rather fun. How can you be down right now?
Naturally, this talk leads to one sourpuss calling in and giving us the old “Let’s forget about ’85…this is a new team with new players…let the past be the past…”
An interesting point–it always is–but leave it to Doug and O.B. to know exactly what to say.
“We’re always going to compare any good Bears’ defense to the ’85 team, in the same way that every good Bears’ defense used to be compared to us,” O’Bradovich says, referring to the 1963 championship Bears team that he was a part of.
“All you used to hear was ‘They didn’t play as well as the ’63 team,’ and ‘Why can’t they be more like the ’63 team,’ and comparing players back and forth. Finally the guys got so fed up that they went and won their own damn championship, and now it’s all about the ’85 guys. That’s how it goes.”
Doug hops in.
“Hopefully soon, these guys will get sick of hearing about the ’85 guys, and they’ll go and win the whole damn thing, and then everyone will be talking asking why so and so isn’t as good as the ’05 guys.”
I get back to Indy. Meghan is at home. The joy of the win still with me, the thrill of the day in every part of my being, I smile at all that is good and go to sleep.