Grin and Bear it
By Dan Wetzel, Yahoo! Sports
January 21, 2007
CHICAGO Ė The snow came slapping down on Brian Urlacher's face as he hoisted the NFC championship trophy and pumped it toward the frenzied fans of this historic franchise who had waited 21 years for the glory to return.
"This is why we play the game," Urlacher said.
This is how they play the game here Ė physical, ferocious and unforgiving, a Monsters of the Midway special Sunday that hearkened back to the days of Grange, Nagurski, Butkus, Ditka, Singletary, Payton and so many others.
This was a day when the Bears returned to their roots, humbled the experts and beat the daylights out of the New Orleans Saints in the midst of driving snow, sleet and misery.
The weather is sure to be beautiful in South Florida for the Super Bowl in a couple weeks, but on this perfect Chicago football day, the Bears delivered a perfect Chicago football performance, sending the Saints marching home, 39-14.
"It couldn't have been a more perfect situation than this for Chicago Bears football," said Thomas Jones, who gained 123 yards and two touchdowns. "It's snowing, [we're] running the football, our defense is playing hard, getting turnovers, making some big hits. The fans are out there going crazy. I mean, this is just a perfect situation."
This is what the Bears do. Pick apart quarterback Rex Grossman if you will. Go ahead and question their offense and even doubt the defense, but for all the style points and highlight plays that were shown coming into this game, it was won where Chicago likes to win: in the trenches.
Chicago attacked the weather with bare arms and Saints QB Drew Brees with naked aggression. They knocked him down, sacked him, beat him, pounded him and caused a fumble, an interception, a safety and probably post-traumatic stress disorder.
The defensive front physically dominated the Saints, forcing New Orleans to all but abandon running back Deuce McAllister (just six of the team's 12 total carries) and try to win through the air on a day when it felt like you were constantly walking into a sneeze. That allowed man-crushing defenders from Urlacher to Adewale Ogunleye to Mark Anderson to unload on various ribs, backs and chests.
"They had two plays the whole game," said linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer of a Saints offense that had 10 drives of five plays or fewer. "They were the No. 1 offense in the league, and we shut them down."
Meanwhile, the Bears' offensive line pushed open holes for Jones and bulldozing back Cedric Benson (60 yards, one touchdown) while keeping Grossman from being sacked.
"I thought they dominated," coach Lovie Smith said.
Benson and Jones, for their part, seemed to lower their shoulder on every run, taking the hit to the Saints first, even on small gains.
"You have to go out there and send a message there is going to be a dogfight," said Benson. "And send the message you're going to win the dogfight."
They played statement football, rough and tough, that paid dividends in the end against a worn-out Saints defense.
On both sides of the ball the Bears seemed to feed off the weather and the fans. As the cold got nastier, so did the Bears. As the snow came harder, so did the hits. The worse the conditions, the better Chicago's play.
And when New Orleans challenged in the third quarter, bringing the game to 16-14 with Reggie Bush's dynamic 88-yard touchdown catch and run, the precocious rookie made a major mistake. He spent the last 10 yards taunting Urlacher before doing a flip into the end zone and a little dance.
And then Chicago really got serious.
"Yeah, that pissed me off," Ogunleye said. "To turn around and taunt Brian Ė taunt basically the whole team Ė was a slap in the face."
They didn't taunt back. Heck, after the game they hardly wanted to talk about it. That isn't Chicago's style. The Bears let everyone else talk; then they punch them in the mouth.
What did you think of Bush's taunt, Urlacher was asked?
"I think we're going to the Super Bowl," he said.
Tradition can be an overplayed part of sports, but then there are days like this when a team delivers a performance so perfectly in tune with what the franchise has been about since the 1920s. It is days like this that demonstrate why Chicago never would build a dome, why the fans always will welcome a kicked-up wind off Lake Michigan, why you can't come to this city and play cute.
This is a results-oriented town, and the Bears are 15-3. Grossman, the erratic quarterback, was anything but sharp Sunday (11-of-26, 144 yards, one touchdown), but he had no turnovers and churned it up on one critical drive that all but clinched this victory.
"The guy wins," Urlacher said. "We've taken on his attitude."
So it isn't pretty, unless you like ugly. It isn't fun, unless you like fury. And it won't stand a chance with the experts, who certainly will pick the Colts, the way most of them picked the Saints.
Whatever. The Bears don't care right now. They'll bring the wood to the Super Bowl. They'll bring Bears football. Maybe it will be enough. Keep doubting them, they said.
In the meantime they were headed out into the miserable weather, into a delirious city, to celebrate on this perfect Chicago Bears day.
Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. Send Dan a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.