On the John
A Bears fan can dream, can’t he?
Originally published on the readjack.com blog, November 12, 2009
Let’s talk about comebacks.
In baseball, a comeback consists of a team getting many many hits and runs, when previously their bats were cold. And there is excitement in that. There is excitement in all comebacks. But while a 35-3 lead in football is safe if there are only two minutes remaining, and while a 90-80 lead in basketball is safe if there are only two seconds remaining, a 100-4 lead in baseball is, by the nature of the game, in peril until the final out is recorded.
The best baseball comeback was “always possible,” and long-range come-from-behinds (anything beyond five runs) are rare, and usually spaced out over several innings. The one that pops off the top of my head is the famous 2001 Indians-Mariners game, which the M’s led 12-0 after the 3rd and 14-2 after the 5th, which the Tribe tied at 14 with three in the 7th, four in the 8th, and five in the 9th, and eventually captured 15-14 in the 11th.
There really is no baseball equivalent to the Bears scoring fourteen points in the final 28 seconds of the second Mike Brown Game by virtue of a touchdown, onside kick, and hail mary.
And since baseball—and hockey and soccer—is naturally a low-scoring game, a huge comeback means that one team scored a freakish number of runs, making the game outright bizarre.
So baseball comebacks are out.
Basketball comebacks are much better. Unlike baseball, one rarely has long-range memory space for a basketball comeback in which the huge lead (20 points or more) came in the first half, or even midway through the 3rd. No, the basketball comebacks that stand out were all achieved in the 4th quarter or late in the 2nd half of a college game. We’re talking Bulls-Blazers Game 6, Lakers-Blazers Game 7, Illinois-Arizona, the 2001 All-Star Game, or the frantic Duke-Maryland game, in which Duke trailed by ten with a minute to play and won by two in overtime.
Basketball comebacks move in waves. A steady shift on the momentum meter, stop and score and stop and score. A blocked shot here. A couple of three point buckets there. All five of those hoops comebacks listed above? I watched them all live. You won’t get any argument from me on the thrill of The Basketball Comeback.
Here, though, is the one element present in The Football Comeback that is absent in all others: the big plays. Because if basketball comebacks are consistent waves, football comebacks are sudden bolts. Interception. Bam! A short field, three plays, fifteen yard TD pass. Boom! Another turnover. Bang! And they run it back! Pow! Onside kick. Kablamski! Spike the ball, spike the ball, line-up for that field goal. Hooray!
The best part of the football comeback are those moments when the comeback is suddenly realistic, and you start calculating the whole deal.
Like last Sunday’s Arizona game. Here we are, hours away from a Thursday night game with the struggling 49ers, and I’m still rehashing that Cardinals affair.
Can you blame me? The way it went down?
For the second time in three weeks, the Bears allowed 31 points…in the first half. This, after a Robbie Gould field goal that would have sliced the Arizona lead to 18 was blocked and returned 59 yards to set up Arizona’s own three-pointer.
Which they made.
End of half.
Another Arizona field goal made it 34-7 heading into the fourth. But that’s when it happened! The Bears staked their comeback. A nine play drive led by Cutler ended with a touchdown strike to Greg Olsen. 34-14 Cardinals with just under 12 minutes to play in the game…
…and those crazy Cardinals pulled Kurt Warner (he of the four TDs and passer rating near perfect), resting him for the backup Matt Leinart.
“What are they thinking?” I yelled to no one. “This is a three possession game! 11:50 to play! Are they nuts?”
Now, I like Leinart. I think he can still be a valuable starting quarterback in the NFL. But boy oh boy, was this ever not the time to bring in the backup.
Three plays after taking his first snap, Leinart threw his first pick. Two plays later Cutler threw his third TD of the game, Olsen the recipient once more. 34-21 Cardinals. Nine minutes left.
Now Warner was back, but the crowd was roaring! New Soldier was shaking! This was our game baby! Our game!
And here was the turning point: 1st and 20 from the Arizona ten, (following an unnecessary roughness penalty on the Cards), Warner back to throw…
SACKED! SACKED BY OGUNLEYE AND BROWN! And the ball is loose! At the five!
My mind was racing. This was it! Our big chance. The big play. The big swing. The break we needed to pull this game to six. Who’s got it? Who’s got it?
BEARS FOOTBALL! Oh man! It’s like I’m dreaming! A football comeback hallucination!
1st and goal from the five, eight and a half to play, Cutler under center, operating out of the ‘I’ with tight ends to either side and Hester wide left. Hand off right tackle Forte…TOUCHDOWN! Touchdown Bears! This is remarkable! This is unbelievable! Who would have thought??!!!
Now the Cards are sweating. Gould kicks off and launches the ball into the endzone. Warner tries to settle the troops, driving Arizona to their own 48. But on 3rd and six, Alex Brown breaks through the line and hurries Warner’s throw. Hillenmeyer knocks it down! Cardinals will punt with four minutes to go! 34-28 Cardinals and we’re getting the ball back.
This is astounding! This is amazing! This is magnificent! Hester back deep for the punt, just like the 2006 miracle game. It can’t happen again, can it?
It does! It does! You wouldn’t believe it if I told you, but there it is! Hester 74 yards on the return for the touchdown! The point after good, and it’s a 35-34 Bears lead with three and a half remaining! This is the most amazing game I could ever imagine!
Another Gould kickoff and now the Cardinals are taking over at their own 25. Stuffs on 1st and 2nd down leave it 3rd and six again. Warner back to throw…complete to Larry Fitzgerald for a gain of 18. Come on, come on. Don’t blow it now. Warner from his own 43 on 1st and ten…hand off Tim Hightower, and Hightower breaks free left side! Damnit. Past midfield! Get him! And out of bounds at the Chicago 41 yard line.
Now we’re sweating. Under a minute to play. Arizona out of time outs. Got to hold ‘em. Got to hold ‘em. 1st and ten from the 41, hand off Hightower…gain of five. 2nd and five from the 36, Warner to throw…Fitzgerald makes the catch on the sideline, but he’s out of bounds! Yes! Yes!
But it’s under two minutes, so here comes the review. I think he was out of bounds…look, look at that left foot…but man, is it close…
They overturned it. Man oh man. Ball at the 31, so it’s close to a 1st down. Here’s the measurement…short! OK! 3rd and inches from the 31 with 15 seconds to go, and the official signals for the clock to start. No timeouts for the Cards, so it looks like they are going to go for one last throw towards the sideline to improve their field goal position.
Warner in shotgun with three receivers and a tight end to the right. Fitz wide to the right with Bowman on him. Hightower in the backfield. Wale with the rush as Warner looks to his right. Flings one to Fitzgerald…incomplete…and…no! No! No! The flags come flying! Pass interference on Bowman! Zach can’t believe it! Lovie can’t believe it! The crowd can’t believe it! Why does this have to happen? Why? Why?
1st and ten from the 24 yard line with six seconds remaining, and here comes the Arizona field goal unit. Please block it. Please block it. The teams are lined up. Come on Izzy. Come on A.B. Here’s the snap—come on—the kick is up—uh oh—and it’s good! It’s good! Son of a bitch the kick is good! With no time on the clock.
37-35, Cardinals win.
Not even in my dreams.
Copyright 2009, jm silverstein