On the John: A tip of the helmet to the ones who earned it

On the John
A tip of the helmet to the ones who earned it
Originally completed September 28, 2009

With Mike Brown, the memories (and the hits) never stop.

With Mike Brown, the memories (and the hits) never stop.

On the weekend that Matt Mankameyer visited from Kansas City, Brian Urlacher broke his wrist and was lost for the season. Mank (rhymes with ‘tank’) is my brother’s closest college friend, and be it coincidence or the cause, they share a birthday, some 38 minutes apart. Thus our main man Manky came to town for a remarkable co-birthday weekend of booze, broads, and Tecmo Bowl battles. Football season was starting, and boy were we ready.

“You are going to LOVE Mike Brown,” I told him Saturday morning as we hooked the old gray box to my roommate’s 50-inch plasma. Same Nintendo we’ve had since ’88, and it’s never looked better than upon 50 inches of screen.

“Yeah, Brown,” Mank said as he uncoiled his controller. “He had a terrific camp.”

“You don’t even know,” I told him as I set up the Oilers’ playbook. “You do-not-e-ven-know. If Brown stays healthy, you, my friend, you are going to be treated to some magnificent football.”

Which is true. Because for 100 games over nine seasons, a man never granted a nickname and invited to but one Pro Bowl turned out oodles of rip-rocking jaw-resetting memory-making mayhem. For those who watched him Sunday upon Sunday, his name conjures two images: miracles, and chaos.

And what could have been more miraculously chaotic than the signature Mike Brown moment, the back-to-back overtime walk-off interceptions in 2001? Both games reached overtime following furious Chicago comebacks, both picks were made off batted balls, and both helped a magical 2001 season rumble towards the playoffs. Brown had already turned out an outstanding rookie year, starting all 16 games, scoring his first of a franchise-record seven defensive touchdowns, and finishing second to fellow rookie Urlacher in tackles. After that rookie year, he was set to be a terrific football player. After 2001, his trajectory took that of a Bears legend, a man more myth than man.

It hurt to lose him, year after year. Hurt more for him, we know, physically, mentally, emotionally. But for us, the Bears fans of Chicago, it was the comfort and joy and excitement of ol’ Mike Brown roving the defensive backfield that made us smile. If some clueless mope had a pass coming his way, number 30 was prepared to separate the pass from its path and the mope from his head. (Poor Marcus Pollard…) And if our Bears needed anything ranging from a miracle to a standard stop, everyone in the stadium knew that Mike Brown would provide.

Slowly we grew accustomed to his absence. Missed the final four games in 2005, and sustained season ending injuries early in 2004 (Week 2), 2006 (Week 6), and 2007 (Week 1). When we had to finish the bulk of the Super Bowl season without him, I think Bears fans all decided: life is great with Mike Brown, but life is life without him.

His 15-game 2008 season was a blessing for us Bears fans, a final chance to enjoy the passion and skills and smarts of a great Chicago sports warrior. The season was a fitting end to his Bears career, and when the team decided not to resign him, and when he inked a deal with the Chiefs, we folded up our 30 M. BROWN jerseys and said goodbye.

We were not, however, ready to close the book on Brown’s defensive partner quite so soon.

And even though Urlacher will return in 2010, his skills are slipping. What will he be a year from now? How much speed has he lost? We shall see…

That was the thrill of this Lovie Smith Bears de-fense. The way those athletes flew around the field, mowing down quarterbacks, plowing ball carriers into the turf, beheading outstretched receivers. They’re all still there in my memory: Ogunleye, Alex Brown, Tommie Harris, Ian Scott, Tank Johnson and Alfonso Boone up front. Urlacher, Briggs, and Hillenmeyer patrolling the middle. Mike Brown and Chris Harris back deep, Tillman and Vasher locking down the outsides, Azumah and the Manning brothers at the nickel. The amazing games were plentiful: The five-turnover game against the Giants when every ball was up for grabs. The eight sacks against Delhomme and Carolina. The comeback against the Cardinals.

Week to week, play to play, we experience football as a tightly-constructed narrative. A must-win in Week 6. A crucial 3rd and short. Every snap and pass has Meaning, and when you’re watching a game at that exact moment, the Meaning prevails.

But it’s the images that remain, the memories, the hot-damn!’s and holy cow!’s and did-Mike-Brown-just-do-that-again??!!!’s.

The Bears were in Seattle yesterday, battling a proud Seahawks team running on the fumes of a recently-ended string of five straight playoff seasons. Most of the stars from that fabulous run were anywhere but on the field, either injured upon the sideline, suited up for other teams, or enjoying retirement. And for the Bears, it was the old standards Briggs, Tillman, Alex Brown, and Ogunleye making the defensive plays that mattered most, both sides hoping for one more season in the sun.

Copyright 2009, jm silverstein

Jack M Silverstein covers the Bears in his column every week after game days. Read him all through the 2009 season!

WEEK 1: Praising Jay

WEEK 2: Passing is fun!

The readjack.com All-Bears Post-Ditka Team

More Bears coverage from readjack.com

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