Bears

Russ Spence

Commercial Pressure Wash Expert and PWI Admin
The Chicago Bears know how to make a Super Bowl memorable. They're making this one historic long before it's played.

Dissed all season long, Rex Grossman and Co. are heading to the big game for the first time since 1985 after rolling over the New Orleans Saints 39-14 Sunday, and Da Coach leading them there makes it all the more special.

Lovie Smith became the first black head coach to reach the NFL's marquee game in its 41-year history and roughly four hours later, his good pal and mentor Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts joined him.

"I'll feel even better to be the first black coach to hold up the world championship trophy," Smith said after the Bears won the NFC championship.

This isn't the wild bunch, led by coach Mike Ditka and quarterbacked by Jim McMahon, that paraded down Bourbon Street, then routed New England for the championship 21 years ago. Its defense isn't overpowering, its quarterback isn't a renegade, its reputation isn't celebrated.


This team, despite its impressive record, was maligned all season and never possessed the overpowering aura of Ditka's gang.

Still, Smith's team did it in true Bears fashion, with big plays on defense and a steady running game in the sleet and snow, ending the Saints' uplifting saga.

The Colts (15-4) opened as a one-touchdown favorite over the Bears (15-3) in their matchup at Miami in two weeks. Indianapolis beat New England 38-34 for the AFC title.

"I am really into the great tradition we have with the Chicago Bears," Smith said. "I am just trying to get our football team up to that same standard Mike had his team at, especially that '85 team."

Added All-Pro linebacker Brian Urlacher: "For our franchise, this is big. They are a big part of this city, and what they did in '85 is huge. We have an opportunity to do that right now. We're excited to have the opportunity to kind of put the ('85) guys in the background for a little while."

All the worries about how genuine the Bears' outstanding season was disappeared thanks to running back Thomas Jones, All-Pro kicker Robbie Gould and a defense that, while not dominant, made enough decisive plays.

"I hate watching TV," defensive end Adewale Ogunleye said, "but when you see everyone picking the Saints, the thing is we won 14 games, now 15, by playing sound defense and we have been doing a good job all season. We know they are coming in as a No. 1 offense and we stepped up to the plate."


For a moment, though, in the third quarter they seemed to be in trouble.

Reggie Bush's electrifying 88-yard touchdown catch and dash to the end zone pulled the Saints within two points, 16-14. But from then on, Urlacher and the Bears' defense took over.

Chicago, which has won nine NFL titles but has been an also-ran for much of the last two decades, later went 85 yards in five plays in the worst of the weather. The oft-criticized Grossman had four completions, including a 33-yarder to a diving Bernard Berrian that clinched it, sending the bundled-up fans in Soldier Field into foot-stomping hysteria and chants of "Super Bowl, Super Bowl."

"We had a great game today," said Grossman, who was 11-for-26 for 144 yards, but made no mistakes. "This is great and all, but we have one game to go."

Jones had all 69 yards on an eight-play ground drive in the second quarter, scored twice and rushed for 123 yards. Gould nailed three field goals.

The Bears, who led the league with 44 takeaways, forced four turnovers, and when NFC passing leader Drew Brees fumbled less than a minute after Berrian's TD, whatever karma the Saints (11-7) carried this season disappeared.

"We talked a lot about getting back to what we do and that's getting takeaways," Smith said.

Cedric Benson then scored on a 12-yard run, and from there it was a matter of searching for the sunscreen.

Smith and Bears owner Virginia McCaskey, daughter of Bears founder George Halas, accepted the Halas Trophy moments after Grossman tossed the ball deep into the stands after the final kneel-down.

"This is why we play the game, to get to the Super Bowl and win," Urlacher said. "This overshadows everything."


It was a bitter, sloppy conclusion to the Saints' remarkable turnaround from a nomadic 3-13 season in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina's destruction to this winning season. As their city rebuilds, the team has provided an inspiring respite in the recovery story.

This was the first trip this far into the playoffs for the 40-year-old franchise, previously best known as the Aints, whose fans wore paper bags on their heads because the team was so bad.

"Just to be able to turn this organization around a bit from where it was last year is saying a lot," Bush said. "We don't need to hang our heads about anything. ... We need to use this as motivation to come back and get to this point again next year and, hopefully, get to the Super Bowl."

Down 16-0 and throttled for 28 minutes, the Saints awakened late in the first half on a 29-yard third-down completion to Marques Colston, who previously had several drops and several more slips. Brees threw a pair of sideline darts and Colston beat Charles Tillman for a 13-yard TD that temporarily changed the flow with 46 seconds remaining in the half.

It took New Orleans only 2:40 into the third quarter to make it 16-14 on Bush's spectacular 88-yard touchdown that ended with a couple of bush moves. The rookie beat Chris Harris off the line, ignored the sleet and extended for Brees' looping pass. Then he sped down the left sideline and, at midfield, used one of those Heisman jukes past Danieal Manning.

As Bush neared the end zone, he turned and pointed tauntingly at the hopelessly trailing Urlacher before somersaulting into the end zone.

"I apologized to (coach Sean Payton) about that," Bush said. "Obviously, I know I made a mistake, but I'm not going to kill myself over it. ... You move on."

That hot-dogging wasn't close to Brees' mistake in the end zone. Under pressure but still in the pocket, he threw the ball away, causing a safety.

That erased any momentum for the Saints, and Chicago scored on Berrian's brilliant catch at the 2; he was not tackled down and stood up to cross the goal line.

A Chicago blitz stymied New Orleans' opening drive. After Devery Henderson outfought Tillman for a 40-yard pass to the Bears' 32, an all-out rush on third down led to a sack by Israel Idonije and a Saints punt into the end zone.


It set a first-half trend.

Another sack, by rookie Mark Anderson, Chicago's top pass rusher this season, was even more embarrassing to the Saints. Brees lost the ball and a Keystone Kops chase for it wound up in a 25-yard loss when rookie guard Jahri Evans recovered.

But Chicago's offense went nowhere.

So the defense got things started. Harris stripped the ball from Colston and Tillman returned it to the Saints' 36. After getting their initial first down on a 16-yard reverse by Rashied Davis, the Bears gambled on fourth-and-1 at the 4 and Benson converted.

But all they got was Gould's 19-yard field goal.

New Orleans remained charitable, and Adrian Peterson stripped kickoff returner Michael Lewis at the Saints' 30. Sean Payton lost a video challenge, and Gould hit from 43.

The sloppy footing was an issue all during the game, particularly once the cold rain, followed by sleet and snow, began falling. Runners, receivers and returners kept slipping and areas of the turf were gashed by halftime.

Gould's 24-yarder made it 9-0 and Jones had his personal touchdown drive, with his 33-yard run the Bears' longest all season.

Jones capped the ground march with a 2-yard run for a 16-0 lead. He also scored from 15 yards in the fourth quarter.

"It couldn't have been a more perfect situation for Chicago Bears football," Jones said. "Just perfect."
 

Russ Spence

Commercial Pressure Wash Expert and PWI Admin
As a jubilant Rex Grossman celebrated the biggest win of his life, he found time to share an embrace with the man who stood behind him all season.

Coach Lovie Smith wouldn't budge. He stuck with his often-criticized young quarterback -- despite some erratic performances and loud cries for a change.


"I just kind of hugged him and told him I loved him," Smith said after the Bears earned their first trip to the Super Bowl in 21 years by beating the New Orleans Saints 39-14.

"I just knew what he had been through this year and it was only fitting that he got a chance to celebrate like that."

Grossman was so happy Sunday after kneeling to run out the clock in the closing seconds of Sunday's victory that he heaved a ball into the stands.

He called his exchange with Smith a special moment, as well.

"I know what he's been through, all the things that he's changed in our program and everyone has bought into it and really executed the way he's wanted," Grossman said.

"It's just fun to see good people like that accomplish great things."

When the Bears won in their only other Super Bowl appearance in 1986, beating the Patriots 46-10, they featured a quirky quarterback named Jim McMahon. Grossman was 5 years old at the time.

Now the Bears are finally going back, this time to play Peyton Manning and the Colts. They've been talking about reaching the Super Bowl since offseason workouts last spring.

"We've got one more win before we can call ourselves world champions," Grossman said.

Grossman's numbers -- 11 of 26 for 144 yards -- certainly weren't great Sunday. That's not what mattered, though, on a snowy day at Soldier Field.

Grossman was just 3-for-12 for 37 yards at the half and the Bears twice settled for field goals after getting inside the New Orleans' 10. A couple throws were dropped, a couple off-target.

"I was a little conservative in the first half," Grossman said. "I didn't want to make a mistake. ... We missed a few plays and wished we had touchdowns."

But when Chicago's running game momentarily bogged down in the second half and the game got tight, Grossman stepped up with pinpoint passes.

He completed four throws in a row, three of them to speedy Bernard Berrian during a quick five-play, 85-yard drive.

Grossman lofted a pass into the snowflakes and the ball fell into the arms of a tumbling Berrian, who beat Fred Thomas for a 33-yard TD early in the fourth quarter. That made it 25-14, and the Bears were on their way.

"We felt like we could get behind him all game and then he covered it pretty well. Bernard just saw the ball in the air and made a great play. That was huge for our momentum at that point," Grossman said.

After struggling in the regular-season finale against Green Bay -- his quarterback rating was 0.0 and he admitted he wasn't as prepared as he should have been -- Grossman came back last week in the playoff opener against Seattle and threw for 282 yards.

"I told him numerous times, 'Don't worry what's being said on the outside. You know what you can do. I know what you can do. People in that locker room know what you can do. Listen to the people in this locker room, listen to us,"' offensive coordinator Ron Turner said.

Grossman sat out most of his rookie season after he was drafted in the first round from Florida. He was injured for most of the next two years with a torn knee ligament and broken ankle. In his first three seasons, he also had to work with three different offensive coordinators.

During long hours of rehabilitation to overcome his injuries, Grossman said he never gave up on leading the Bears to the Super Bowl. Grossman is 17-6 as a regular-season starter and now 2-1 in the playoffs.

"When we asked him to do it, he has," star linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "I don't know what his career record, I don't care what his stats are, he's a winner."

Grossman managed the game, let the running game featuring Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson and the Bears' defense control the tempo. He threw when needed and most importantly to Chicago, he avoided the mistakes that have hurt him this season.

"I'm really excited for coach Smith and Rex Grossman -- I mean, the things he's had to go through," Jones said. "We've overcome a lot of doubters, but we're here, we made it and it's definitely a great feeling."
 
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