The 2010-11 Chicago Bears are hosting the NFC Championship game. Let that sink in. In the face of doubting fans and contrarian media, the Bears team quietly excelled to elite status, becoming one of the top four teams in football. And now they host a home game against (who else?) but the Green Bay Packers. The only thing that could top a Bears v. Packers championship game would be a Cubs v. Sox World Series. That's how big this is.
It couldn't have played out any better. For all the purists and supreme football analysts: Sit back, shut your mouth and be happy that the Bears let the Packers into the playoffs. If the Bears knocked the Packers out back in week 17, we would have never experienced the pure, unaldulterated joy that - win or lose - will be a Chicago memory forever. The familiarity, the tradition, the honor and respect. The civic pride, the memories, the rivalry. It really is the best of what sports has to offer. I feel proud to be a fan for this game.
Here are some random observations of that less important game yesterday (Bears v. Seahawks):
It is obvious that Jay doesn't like the media, and like a smelly kid scorned, the Chicago sports media gets back at his disdain by writing columns and stories about how bad of a person he is. And they try and foreshadow how the Bears will lose if Cutler plays poorly. It's always so negative. But he comes out and plays the best game of his young career. Not just making great throws and great decisions, but playing with a competitive streak that had him going head-first into the endzone, challenging defensive backs and linebackers and willing the ball over the goal line in traffic. You don't see Peyton Manning or Tom Brady make that play. It was very punky QB. This is what we paid for. Yes, he has bad games. But the potential gives us gems like this and I am looking forward to a stellar career in Chicago. Think about it - two years ago we gave away the house for him. Two years later, we are a game away from the Super Bowl. Worth the investment?
Speaking of investment - how do you like the decision-making of Lovie and Jerry Angelo now? The perfect storm came to Chicago as former head coaches were released and stacked on the stockheap with their reputations soiled from recently failed ventures. Mike Martz, Rod Marinelli and Mike Tice have coached up this team during mid-season to create a squad that is very well-coached and quite possibly 60 minutes away from going to the Super Bowl. That's quite a coaching squad. Most of the sports media were skeptical about the staff at the beginning of the season, but watching the swagger yesterday reminded me that we might have the best coaches in football. Seriously, someone get these guys some local commercials! I want to see Martz selling used cars. Marinellis selling sub sandwiches. Tice telling me where I can get my degree in fashion merchandising.
So many Bears players whom we had written off came up big in the playoffs. Tommie Harris has made play after play after play the last few weeks, and yesterday showed that he was still a prime time football player. Harris had two sacks, and together with Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije, made the Bears defensive line look like world-beaters. Throw in some hard running from Chester Taylor (first time all year) and a tremendous game from Greg Olsen and the Bears showed off some surprising weapons. Maybe these guys were just trying to save their legs for when it counted. Yes, that must be it! They were playing possum all year long, getting ready for the sneak attack. Brilliant!
Fox decided to show the national anthem before the game. Why? Because they knew that the Chicago Blackhawks regular Jim Cornelison was going to take his schtick outdoors and 70,000 fans were going to wildly cheer. It was quite a sight. Probably the best anthem scene I've seen in my time watching televised sports. Definitely the most disrespectful (you aren't supposed to cheer) but well worth the intense pre-game ritual that set the tone for the entire game. Do it again next week. And have Cornelison do national anthems for every Chicago sports team. Or at least every sloppy post-game bar celebration.
Wasn't that weather awesome? Reminded me of a certain NFC Championship game against the LA Rams in 1985. The Bears have played the last two months in snowy or frozen conditions. Next week is supposed to be cold. They are prepared. They are playing the Packers, who understand cold weather, too - although they played in a dome this past weekend. If the conditions were exactly the same as they were yesterday, the Bears should have a huge advantage.
Greg Olsen is 2011's Brian Baschnagel. Discuss.
Last night, Urlacher was great on Fox Chicago's Final Word. He talked about looking forward to the Packers and reitirated what Peppers and Cutler said in their press conferences. They all have respect for the Packers. They all know the drill. Their honest assessment of the big showdown? Whoever executes the most plays, wins. Pretty simple. These are two evenly-matched teams that have already won close ballgames against each other. The Bears will try to run off tackle to Forte. The Packers will throw slant passes to Driver. The Bears will blitz and pressure Rodgers. The Packers will bring Woodson off the corner. Clay Matthews will sack the quarterback. Charles Tillman will strip the ball. The Packer O-Line will hold somebody. Daniel Manning will be out of position. Kuhn will try to run for short yardage. Hester will return punts to the house.
I was jealous of Steeler fans on Saturday. The idea that they got to play their hated rival in a playoff game was so exciting. Now we know how it feels.
Yesterday's winners: Devin Hester (field position), Tommie Harris (two sacks), Julius Peppers (in backfield all day), Brian Urlacher & Lance Briggs (no missed tackles), Charles Tillman & Tim Jennings (physical man coverage), Jay Cutler (2 passing TDs, 2 rushing TDs), Greg Olsen (great match-ups) and the Bears offensive line.
Yesterday's losers: Tony Siragusa (sideline reporter insight was bland), Seattle Seahawks running game (Marshawn who?) and the Green Bay Packers (tough break getting the Bears again.)
What a complete playoff game. Congrats to the Chicago Bears.