Football

Happy Thursday and welcome back to THE VAULT, my weekly sermon where my pulpit is a Dave Wannstedt-run sideline and my scripture is just whatever relevant pages and boxscores I can find on Pro Football Reference.

Today’s Vault is a deep dive into the Monday Night Football tilt between the Bears and a visiting, defending Super Bowl Champ Dallas Cowboys team that took place on September 2nd, 1996. It was a Week 1 surprise Bears victory over a Michael Irvin-less Cowboys team where Deion Sanders had twice as many passing targets as any Bears player, and seven more targets than anyone else on the Cowboys. Of Deion’s 67 passing targets in 1996, 15 of them came in this Monday night opener. What a weird fucking timeline.

How weird was this game? Take a look at some of these goofy ass stats:
-The only passing TD thrown in the game was from Curtis Conway to Raymont Harris
-Bears punter Todd Sauerbrun had more passing yards than Curtis Conway, also from a pass that was completed to Raymont Harris.
Bryan Cox was responsible for as many points (6) as the entire Cowboys team
Herschel Walker caught two passes for some reason

This Cowboys team was still stacked with declining talent left over from their time as the dominant team in the NFL: Aikman, Irvin, Smith, Sanders, Moose Johnston, Leon Lett, Charles Haley, Darren Woodson. The Bears had Curtis Conway, Raymont Harris, Erik Kramer, Walt Harris, and Mark Carrier. Yet somehow, they came out on top.

I was looking back on the 1996 NFL Draft because I love second-guessing Bears drafts from the past, and aside from the amazing players they passed on, it should be noted that current Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri came out in the 1996 NFL Draft. Surreal.

The Bears were overmatched in this game, but they pulled out all the stops and got a W. A ton of trick plays and some key turnovers were the difference, so with that I’d like to take a second and praise Raymont Harris, or as you may know him, THE ULTRABACK (emphasis mine).

It’s hard as hell to find any good Raymont Harris tape on Youtube, and it’s a damn shame. By comparison, I found dozens of Jason McKie videos, and he wasn’t nearly as cool and certainly didn’t have a dope nickname. Raymont Harris has a fan page on Facebook with 39 likes and no profile picture. Players from the 90s that weren’t superstars will always get a raw deal in my eyes because they’re young enough to still know how to open a PDF but don’t have their middling highlight tapes available for me to peruse when I’m avoiding lesson planning. Like, they know they’re missing out, you know? Think about the fact that Donnell Woolford doesn’t have a sick Youtube compilation. I guess I’m really just hoping to watch old Bears videos and see if these players were actually good or fun to watch, and while there’s no good Curtis Conway videos there’s a Marcus Robinson 2000 highlight tape that I could watch if I so choose. It should be noted that I chose to watch that Marcus Robinson hype video and they spend half of the time talking about Dez White, Bobby Engram, Marty Booker, and Kaseem Sinceno.

You read that right, during a Marcus Robinson highlight video, the name Kaseem Sinceno was said.

I digress. Obviously fullbacks don’t have much room in today’s NFL so it’s not really that interesting of a thought experiment to ponder how well he’d do in the modern league, but he had a rare size/speed combo that looks good in the videos I can find of his time at Ohio State and various Sportscenter clips of Bears games from this era (I miss your voice so much, Stu Scott). He was apparently named the “toughest running back in the NFL” by a poll hosted by the Denver Post in 1997, and signed a one-year tender to compete for lead back duties that season with Rashaan Salaam, another player I loved.

To really wrap this Vault, I should mention that while Rashaan Salaam has a couple dope highlight videos of his on-field play, all the videos you can find of him came after his tragic death on December 5th, 2016; I’m not complaining but in an age where I’m so used to watching highlight tapes where players are making huge plays with like a Lil Wayne track as the backing music, it’s surreal to watch Salaam run through people at Colorado while Erik Satie’s “Gymnopedie No. 1” plays in the background.

Bears won in 1996, Bears win in 2019. Go watch some obscure Bears on Youtube if you can. Or just settle for watching Raymont Harris do a cameo on Married With Children.

Football

Welcome back to THE VAULT, my weekly sacrifice to the Dark Lord of Bears fandom. Through a combination of a shrine to Josh Bellamy and a woven idol made entirely of Bobby Engram’s discarded trash, I hope to write 750 words and pay tribute to the fans before me so that one day during my darkest hour the spirits of men in mustaches and sweater vests whisk me to safety. Also if this blog blows up and I make this my full time job, I hope to one day be in the position to insult Jay Mariotti to his stupid face.

Speaking of Jay’s that I’ll never be cool enough to even insult, Jay Cutler’s 2015 Bears were a John Fox led 6-10 dumpster fire that shares an uncomfortable level of talent with Mitch Trubisky and Matt Nagy’s 2019 eventual 7-9 shitshow. Let it be noted once again, if prime Jay Cutler was under center for this team, they’d be playing a lot better until he inevitably got hurt and the Bears had to turn to one of their menagerie of garbage backups (the 2015 season being highlighted by Jimmy Clausen’s outstanding performance against Seattle- a game that might not look out of place this year).

The Bears were 3-5 going up against the then 4-4 St. Louis Rams, in a game won handily by the good guys, 37-13. Not only did Jeremy Langford out perform Todd Gurley in every statistical category, Ka’Deem Carey also gained more yards on the ground than Gurley. Langford caught a screen pass and took it EIGHTY THREE (shouts out to Clark from Des Plaines) yards to paydirt. Hell, even Zach Miller scored from over eighty yards out, grabbing 5 balls for 107 and 2 touchdowns. Zach Miller was the last capable Bears tight end and that’s sad because he was literally a journeyman though he played way above his pay grade in his time in Chicago.

It’s always been a testament to the various Bears offensive lines that so many mid-round, ostensibly just average running backs have found success in the blue and orange. Jeremy Langford got 537 of his career 762 rushing yards his rookie year despite backing up Matt Forte for more than half the season, and was then replaced by Jordan Howard three games into the next year. Jordan Howard is a beast and should be on an NFL roster, but he is about a league average running back depending on his situation. The John Fox-led Bears was the perfect situation for a relatively slow, grinding running back that gets more effective as the game goes on.

Jeremy Langford, Alshon Jeffery, and Marty Bennett are the Bears players on the offensive side of the ball for this team that the Bears turned loose for one reason or another, and the only one I really think could’ve stayed and made a difference on the field was Marty. Notable castoffs on defense are Adrian Amos, Bryce Callahan, and of course a now retired Willie Young. Goddamn I loved Willie Young.

You can see some of the building blocks of last year’s NFC Champion Rams on this 2015 trash heap football team, mainly Gurley and Aaron Donald. Sure, Jared Goff is just blonde Mitch, but he had a core intact that made Sean McVay look pretty damn smart for a year. Sounds familiar, somehow. Also, we have a Big Dick Nick sighting, as America’s favorite cocksman was the godawful Rams QB of the week!

Also, James Laurinaitis was on this team! The son of BIG JOHNNY himself! This game took place years after the John Laurinaitis/CM Punk feud, but I’d still like to think the Bears won this one for Phil Brooks as well as themselves. Even though CM Punk ignored me when I yelled “HEY YOU’RE CM PUNK” while reeking of weed walking down North Avenue last spring, I still believe in CM Punk, and I think Zach Miller knew in his heart that breaking two tackles and racing down the field to score was basically hitting a Go To Sleep in the heart of one disappointed father.

It’s narratives like that, ones that I’ve just totally made up, that provide the much needed subtext to make this game between two shitty teams mean something to you in 2019. Zach Miller, CM Punk, John Fox, what does it mean? Well, for one, it means the Bears aren’t winning jack shit anytime soon.

We’ve already seen Todd Gurley break down, and the 2018 Rams lost all their momentum near the end of the regular season. The then red-hot Bears exposed the weaknesses Goff and friends had on primetime, and Sean McVay no longer looks like the greatest coach in the history of coaching. It’s entirely fatalistic and somewhat reasonable to suggest that Matt and Mitch are already at 2019 levels of McVay/Goff regression, with less to put on their resumes. It’s eerie to look at these two teams in 2015 and see foreshadowing somehow, but it’s there and it’s hideous.