Football

Welcome back to THE VAULT, my weekly “REMEMBER THIS IRRELEVANT BEAR” article where I threaten Fels that I’ll go be a scab for Deadspin if he doesn’t let me write 750 words about Johnny Knox. For what it’s worth, he didn’t get mad when I wrote an entire article about weed so I think I’m earning the coveted “Respected Journalist” title. I’ll be angling for a press pass so I can get into Halas Hall and score some free lunch and yell stats at the players I love. I got to go to Halas Hall in early 2018 and lemme tell you, I INSTANTLY found a pic of Corey Wooton sacking Brett Favre on what would be the last play of his pro career and was high on fumes for days after.

Today we’re going to hop back into the time machine and look at the second Bears/Lions matchup of 2011. I was fortunate enough to be at this game, a Bears win (37-17). I was at this game and in a weird place emotionally, since this ticket was originally promised to a friend who beat brain cancer, only to have that cancer reemerge months later and take his life. On top of that, Bears tickets had run in my family since the early early Soldier Field days, but they were sold in 2009, so this was my first Bears game since then and also my first Bears game with friends instead of my father. My dad was in recovery for alcoholism growing up (proud of you, pops) so I never drank at a Bears game, so even though I was 25 this was my first experience with two things central to the Bears gameday experience:

1. The $9, 8oz beers at Soldier Field
2. Tailgating next to racists

For real, I was drinking in the parking lot with some friends and there were Lions fans next to us, and at one point the guy leaned in close to ask me a question, the type of gesture that coming from a stranger usually means they’re about to say something racist or ignorant. He leaned in, smelling of Busch Light and Faygo (probably) and asked me where all the black people were. He was confused when I gestured broadly at the city of Chicago surrounding us, and he specified that he was talking about people who go to tailgates and collect cans for the return deposit. I hit him with a Big Lebowski line: “obviously you’re not a golfer” and that was the end of our conversation. He walked away and I finally saw the name plate on his apparently custom Lions #40 jersey, and it read simply “Kid Rock” and everything made sense. Say what you will about Juggalos, but when it comes to hanging in parking lots with people from Michigan I’d take a bunch of face-painted clowns who will talk to me about pro wrestling over the average Kid Rock fan any day of the damn week. Shit they might even put me through a table. Woop woop.

The Bears came into this game at 5-3, looking at a potentially deep playoff run on the heels of their NFC Championship loss to the Packers the January prior. After this victory, the Bears were on a roll that would eventually be snuffed out by Jay Cutler’s thumb injury the next week and the team then dropping their next five games. Yet on this Sunday afternoon, the orange-uniformed Bears looked like a team primed for another postseason run. This team dominated the Lions in all phases of the game, scoring on offense, defense (twice!), and special teams. Matt Forte scored on the ground, Devin Hester took a punt back 82 yards, and both Major Wright and Charles Tillman took 3rd quarter interceptions to the house. Brian Urlacher almost took a first quarter Calvin Johnson fumble back for six as well, but since 2011 Brian Urlacher didn’t have the requisite amount of hair to break away in the open field, he was caught from behind.

Hester took a punt 82 yards for a score, his last punt return touchdown in Soldier Field. Earl Bennett led the Bears with 6 catches and 81 yards, and future felon and NIU alum Sam Hurd even made the stat sheet. This one was a blowout, folks. The score was 37-6 when Tim Jennings picked Stafford off for the 4th time in the game, and the frustrated frat boy grabbed a blocking DJ Moore by the shoulder pads and whipped him down, leading to a minor brawl after Moore returned the favor by getting up and absolutely trucking a kneeling Stafford.

NFL fights are almost always the most disappointing brawls in all the major sports, save the Andre Johnson/Cortland Finnegan one from 2011, which is without a doubt the Ali/Frazier of NFL fights. If that was Ali/Frazier, the DJ Moore/Matthew Stafford dust up of 2011 was like watching a World Star video. If my memory serves me right (which it may not because the tailgating and beer vendors most certainly over served me right), that got the crowd HEAVY into the “Detroit Sucks!” chants.

The Kid Rock fans were already gone when we got back to the parking lot.

 

Football

Welcome back to THE VAULT, the much celebrated weekly history column where I try to remember why I still care about this team in spite of the many heartbreaks they’ve given me. I’m going to spend these next couple weeks while I’m between jobs rewriting Kanye’s magnum opus “808s and Heartbreaks” to make it about the Bears, so look for me in the FFUD “Album of the Week” section crooning over some reverb-drenched synths. My version of “Love Lockdown” is gonna be about Nathan Vasher. Million dollar idea right there.

Potential album titles:
“85 Bears and Tears” (doesn’t rhyme but I’ll make it work)
“Jim Miller is a Homophobic Idiot” (true but not as catchy)
“One Night Stands and Josh Bellamy’s Hands” (there it is)

2003, week 9 of the NFL season. The Bears limped in to this home tilt against the San Diego Chargers at 3-5, and the Chargers somehow hobbled into Soldier Field at 1-7. Bear in mind this Chargers team had Drew Brees at QB and LaDainian Tomlinson in the backfield, with noted PED user and future “Crime in Sports” episode subject David Boston lining up outside next to perennial “undersized with a big heart white WR” Tim Dwight. Tim Dwight was always one of those wideouts that announcers described as “a student of the game/a gym rat/sneaky fast” which for some reason are only superlatives given to white wideouts. Whereas receivers who are nonwhite are always considered “freak athletes.” It’s weird.

Casual racial bias aside, the wildest thing about this game is the fact that DREW FUCKING BREES was benched in this game for DOUG FUCKING FLUTIE, who massively outperformed the QB who would go on to define this generation (screw Tom Brady, he’s just the best system QB of all time- Brees is the GOAT). It’s almost a fever dream to think about a Bears team led by Chris Chandler, Anthony Thomas, and David Terrell sticking it to the Chargers with two future Hall of Famers in their backfield so severely that they thought it prudent to bring in Doug Flutie.

The 2003 Bears were, you guessed it, a fucking mess. The QB carousel featured the aforementioned Chris Chandler coming in to start for Kordell Stewart for his 3rd game in a row. The 2003 Bears had hotshot Rex “Sex Cannon” Grossman on the bench as a rookie, which is kind of like having the opportunity to re-watch a movie knowing how the tragedy is going to unfold. They also drafted useless defensive lineman Michael Haynes in that first round. After that nightmare first round, they picked up Charles Tillman in the 2nd and Lance Briggs in the 3rd, which is almost “Sayers-Butkus” levels of draft success. As much as it sucks to see that the Bears could’ve drafted Troy Polamalu instead of Haynes, at least they didn’t pull a Detroit Lions and draft Charles Rogers with the 2nd overall pick, he of the multiple failed drug tests. Fun Charles Rogers fact: three career failed drug tests, four career receiving touchdowns. Trust me, I’m not trying to shit on a dude that would’ve maybe had a chance in the NFL a few years from now, when players are finally allowed to use marijuana to help with pain relief. I feel bad for those players who can’t medicate with something that isn’t a habit-forming painkiller that actually shortens people’s lives.

The Bears went on to hold off the Flutie-led Chargers 20-7, keeping LT to a measly 82 total yards on 16 carries and four catches. Drew Brees went 7-15 for 49 yards and an interception in this game, with his pick lobbed into the hands of Charles Tillman before Peanut was suplexed to the ground by the aforementioned David Boston, who looks like those cat memes where people sketch in preposterous muscles on pics of napping kitties. Tillman also downed a punt at the 1-yard line, which is always a play that gets me going. His downed punt led to a game-sealing interception of Flutie by Jerry Azumah, a regular here in THE VAULT.

Anthony Thomas led the team with 31 carries (!), 111 yards, and two scores. Honestly, as bad as those teams were, it’s refreshing to watch the old highlight videos of the Bears lining up in the I-Formation and running up the middle with success, instead of watching the offense line up in the shotgun and send the smallest player on the roster up the gut on 1st and 10 when the other team has 36 men in the box. David Terrell and Dez White each had seven catches, which would be a career day for most of the players on the 2019 squad. Bobby Wade, Justin Gage, and even my all-time favorite Bears undersized useless WR Ahmad Merritt caught a pass from Chris Chandler. Man, I miss Ahmad Merritt, who didn’t do anything in the NFL but was a BEAST in NFL Europe, catching 6 TDs for the Berlin Thunder. What a weird fucking sentence.

The Bears in 2003 finished 7-9, before finishing 5-11 in 2004 with what is considered one of the worst offenses in NFL history. Welcome to heartbreak.

Football

The Vault: Chicago vs Washington, 2001

Welcome back to THE VAULT, the place where I wax nostalgic over players that eventually let us all down in one way or another (save for Peanut Tillman, he could never let me down). The overarching theme of these so far has been “remember this time the Bears sucked?”, so today I’ll highlight a win from a Bears team that had a strikingly similar vibe to the team that the field in 2018. Seriously, look at the 2001 and 2018 Bears side by side. They each had:

-Dalton-Line level quarterback play given their respective eras
-A young defense that just absolutely wrecks shit
-An inability to sweep the Packers
-Offensive players who were useless in fantasy football
-A young, potentially dominant middle linebacker
-A free safety known for defensive touchdowns
-Beaten in the playoffs at home by the Eagles

The 2001 Bears were the first squad that really gave me hope. It was destiny: the back-to-back Mike Brown overtime walk-off pick sixes were only two of the five comeback wins that season. Jerry Azumah was about to be Devin Hester before Devin Hester was a thing, and Anthony Thomas ran for over 1100 yards, which looks like a typo but I swear is accurate. Looking at the Bears offense in 2001 is awful, but we’re two weeks into 2019 and I don’t want to watch current game tape because it’s SO SO SO BAD, so not much has changed.

A lot of the 2001 team is etched into my memory. I won an award in 2016 that the Bears sponsored, so when I won they asked me who my favorite Bear of all time was. Out of the 16 teachers that won, there were three players listed: Brian Urlacher, Walter Payton, and Mike Brown. Guess which one I picked. I really do believe Mike Brown could’ve been Ed Reed if he stayed healthy, because he was always around the ball. Book it: the Bears win Super Bowl XLI if Mike Brown doesn’t get hurt in the Arizona comeback game and Daniel Manning isn’t put back there and toasted to a crisp by Peyton Manning. Tony Parrish used to lay motherfuckers out, and Rosevelt Colvin looked like an all-time great pass rushing LB. It was literally impossible to run up the middle on this defense, sporting 700 lbs of combined BEEF between Keith Traylor and Ted Washington. Just looking at the defense lined up on Youtube today looks downright goofy with all that space those two managed to occupy. It’s also weird to see the 4-3 look so good, since the NFL seemed to make the switch wholesale to 3-4 being the dominant defensive front a few years after this season.

This shit-ass offense managed to beat Washington in 2001, but it took Brian Urlacher’s first ever offensive touchdown on a pass from the illustrious Brad Maynard on a fake field goal to push the Bears to a win. The box score tells you all you need to know about this game:

Jim Miller: 13/26, 98 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT- 59.3 QB rating
Brad fuckin Maynard: 1/1, 27 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT- 158.3 QB rating

Brian Urlacher was the second leading receiver for the Bears in this game, but the defense managed to sack Tony Banks six times and force two fumbles. This was the second of four straight wins for the 2001 Bears, a streak that took them straight into the woodchipper against the Eagles in the playoffs as demolition crews sat outside Soldier Field to begin renovations. I heard totally unfounded rumors years later that the Bears were paid to throw the game so construction could start (I’m pretty sure the dude who told me that was wearing a Korn shirt so take that shit with an entire shaker of salt), but if there’s anything that could undermine a team as fated for the Lombardi Trophy as the 2001 Bears were, it would be Chicago political graft.

To end on a positive note: two weeks after this game the Bears played the Jaguars, and Keith Traylor returned an interception 67 yards. No politician, regardless of how corrupt they are, could ever take that from us.

Football

Today we’re going to look at another moment in timeless Bears lore, and since I’m a sadist AND a masochist, we’re going to flash back to one of the most depressing games I’ve ever seen: Bears-Broncos 2011. Week 14, each team coming in at 7-5 with playoff aspirations. Well, maybe that’s saying too much since the Bears were starting our recurring Vault QB Caleb Hanie. When I watched the NFL Throwback video of the game, a majority of the offensive starters were a who’s who of players I never want to think about again: Hanie, Roy Williams, Lance Louis, Kahlil Bell. It’s amazing that this lineup had any juice left at this point. I missed Jay Cutler a lot, don’t fucking @ me. He broke his thumb trying to tackle a DB on an interception return, and I blame all the meatball fans who called him soft from the NFC Championship the year prior (last week’s Vault). Jay had to MAN UP and tackle a streaking Antoine Cason even though the Bears had an 11-point lead in the 4th quarter and Matt Forte was also rushing back to knock him out of bounds, which he eventually ended up doing anyways.

Maaaaaan lemme tell you: 2011 was a heady time. I was seeing this really nice lady at the time, but she was not even trying to pretend to be interested in football so I went to watch the game with some friends at an apartment in downtown DeKalb, Illinois. I drank like three Thai iced teas and probably took too much adderall and talked through the entire game. I had finally found some friends in the local DIY scene who liked sports and weed just as much as I did, so while I’m not 100% sure of it I could reasonably assume we were all listening to Replacements records during commercial breaks and trying NOT to complain about our dads. Like I said, it was 2011. I tied an onion to my belt, which was the style at the time.

Anyways, this game happened during Tebowmania, which is like Linsanity but mixed with Russell Wilson levels of Jesus-infused comeback wins in improbable fashions. Seriously though, he had five comeback wins in less than two months! The Chicago one would be his last in the regular season, and the last of his heroics until he would torch Pittsburgh with one decently thrown slant in the Wild Card round that season. Imagine being Eric Decker or Demaryius Thomas and having to catch passes from this goober, who scrambled around like he was being controlled by an 11-year-old playing Madden.

As a natural-born edgelord, I HATED Tebowmania. Why was it that he could beat a defense featuring all those 2000s Bears icons (Urlacher, Briggs, Tillman, Peppers), but would go 0-21 with eight picks if the other side just read Richard Dawkins books instead of hitting or covering? I was all about keeping religion out of football, because for some reason I cared what this dude believed in like it affected me in any way at all.

Naturally for me, I’ll always remember this as the Marion Meltdown. Marion Barber was thrust into the starting role when Matt Forte got injured the week before against Kansas City (which was the actual worst game of Bears football I’ve ever seen in my life), and Marion the Barbarian carried the ball TWENTY SEVEN times that day. He was a beast and I was so glad that the Bears had him as an insurance policy when Forte went down, until the Broncos game. The Bears were up 10-0 with 2:08 in the 4th and lost this game in overtime, no thanks to Marion Barber running out of bounds during the Bears last possession of regulation and as a result keeping precious seconds on the clock for Tebow’s miracle comeback.

Oh yeah, and the Bears get the ball to start overtime and actually drive down the field. On a 3rd and 7 on Denver’s 38 yard line, Marion gets a handoff and has a lane open up the size of a Texas megachurch. For one beautiful second, there was nothing stopping the Bears from winning this game and holding on hope that they could stay relevant until Jay returned. As he breaks through the line, green grass and a victory opening up before him, Wesley Woodyard’s right hand comes out and rips the ball out of Barber’s hands, and since the lord works in mysterious ways it lands right in front of Elvis Dumervil. Denver ball, Zack Bowman gets worked by Demaryius Thomas, Matt Prater is good from 51. The Broncos win, and Tebowmania hits its zenith. Seriously, watch any highlights from those weeks and Rich Eisen sounds like a preacher. It’s embarrassing.

2011 sucked. Fuck 2011.

 

Football

A new season is upon us, friends. Back to school sales and 90 degree days highlight the end of July and beginning of August, but as a teacher I gotta tell you that the anxiety I get from the end of summer is always easier knowing that football is starting up again.

It’s also the time of the year where the constant search for “Song of the Summer” has really hit it’s groove; we’re all looking for that iconic track that we can play as the days of aimless BBQ and Naturday pounding roll on. So, in an attempt to reconcile these major phenomenon, I’ve made a summer mixtape themed by previous Chicago Bears training camp moments.

1. Miley Cyrus- “Wrecking Ball”: Curtis Enis reports to training camp in 1999 in a Hummer. The only thing that dude could wreck were the hopes and dreams of Shane Matthews asking for decent blitz pickup. Also worth mentioning: that dude can wreck a buffet. The best thing Curtis Enis brought to my life was the time my friend’s dad stitched a “P” on the back of one of his jerseys. My dad’s friend was a Packer fan, so it took me a few years to appreciate his comic genius.

2. Chance the Rapper- “Groceries”: Darnell Autry looks like he can play pro football in 1997. I was 11 and I would’ve bet all the Beanie Babies on Earth that he was going to be a future MVP. Whoops. Two local products, one of which is a globetrotting artist with a Grammy, and one that couldn’t stay in the pros.

3. Meat Wave- “It’s Not Alright”: Mike Glennon touted for his leadership during 2017 training camp. Does this need an explanation?

4. Pelafina- “Significant Weather”: The 2015 shift to a 3-4 defense for the first time in franchise history. The chorus to this song is “this heaven is ours”, and all I can do is picture Roquan Smith and I skipping through a field laughing. Somewhere, Ted Washington and Keith Traylor are upset and hungry. The Bears shifting to a new defensive front 4 years ago has been absolute heaven for me.

5. The Beatles- “Tomorrow Never Knows”: 2007, fresh off a Super Bowl appearance, the Bears move Devin Hester to wide receiver. Did this move ruin the greatest return man in history? Would he have continued his tear as a punt returner if he wasn’t also tasked with learning the offense?

6. Jar’d Loose- “Coming Like a Nightmare”: 2003, the rookie campaigns of both Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman. Fun fact, Jar’d Loose named their band as an homage to the “Peanut Punch” created by Tillman. This one is less training camp based and more of me bragging that I know a metal band named after the greatest Bears defensive back of all time.

7. The Red Army Choir- “National Anthem of the Soviet Union”: Roquan Smith (or any Bear) holds out of training camp because of a salary dispute. Now, I’m not a Communist, but when a player holds out for more money I inherently take their side, because the McCaskey’s sure as hell aren’t taking long term body/brain damage for my entertainment. PAY THE MAN!

8. Any Hatebreed song: Training camp brawls. Look, I don’t want to see fights during training camp, but if you aren’t at least entertained knowing that Kyle Long is ready to demolish anyone by early August, I got nothing for you.

9. Judas Priest- “You Got Another Thing Coming” RE: all the pundits predicting a Green Bay division title in 2019.

Everything Else

I couldn’t think of a theme for today’s post, so I’m just going to spray to all fields because I’m bored.

– Sadly, found myself watching the second game of the Subway SuperSeries last night between Team QMJHL and Russia. But I was rewarded when Phillip Danault had a much improved game. He was vaulted up to the team’s top line with Jonathan Huberdeau — who will probably be a Panther in about a month. So he wasn’t on straight defensive duty, and his puck-pursuit was on much more on display. He didn’t scratch a point but definitely opened up space for everyone else. Feel like we’ll get a much better read on him when and if he makes the World Juniors for Canada, though I don’t think he’ll be left out. Fournier was eh. Shalunov looked good again but not as good as Monday.