Football

Welcome back to THE VAULT, fellow travelers on the cosmic highway that is Bears fandom. Today I’m gonna torture you by recapping a game that is in my opinion the “Worst Game of Football Ever Played.” Now, I’m not counting those 1930s slug-fests between teams named goofy things like the West Aurora Kings or the Providence Beavers; this title goes to a modern game. I’ve seen 2019 Bengals games that were inherently more watchable than this, shit I’ve seen Despicable Me 2 as a summer camp counselor and I’d rather watch it back to back with kids aged 5-11 in a rec room with mats that smell like pee than watch this again.

I’ve written about the 2011 Bears several times in this column, because I’m a hack and that team was a beautiful trainwreck that was 7-3 before the injury to Jay Cutler against San Diego, and went to 7-5 after this shitshow where they lost Matt Forte. The 7-3 Bears ended up 8-8, that’s the type of legendary implosion that accompanies the loss of the best Bears QB in franchise history to injury. Yes, I said Jay Cutler is the best Bears QB in the history of the franchise, please @ me because I love talking shit on Twitter.

The Bears came into this abomination at 7-4 with a real chance to right the ship against a Chiefs team led by Tyler fucking Palko, in for an injured Matt fucking Cassel. Kyle fucking Orton came in for Palko in this game because he was playing so bad, threw a flea flicker that was 10 yards underthrown, and got hurt on that play and was taken out for Palko again. That’s the most depressing carousel I’ve ever seen, and I’ve gone to Kiddyland with a drunk father who got into it with someone at concessions. Can you imagine that QB room? I’m fucking bored just thinking about it, like they’re all gonna sit there and talk about tax write-offs and complain about the mayo on the sandwiches in the practice facility being too spicy.

I had to drink an energy drink just to get through the highlights, and it’s gonna fuck up my sleep schedule. I can’t believe this shit-ass game from 2011 is going to fuck up my life for a day in 2019. Fels, you need to pay me more dude because this is an exercise in masochism. Forte got hurt in the first quarter and Marion Barber and Khalil Bell picked up the slack in the most boring, shitty way possible. They combined for 18 carries and 78 yards, 41 of those coming on two runs. Think about that, outside of two carries that were 41 yards, two NFL RBs rushed for 37 combined yards on 16 carries. Caleb Hanie went 11-24 for 133 and three interceptions, and was sacked seven times. Some of these numbers don’t even feel real, like there was talent on this team! Hester, Knox, Earl Bennett… those dudes are all at least replacement-level players at their position, but this was a Mike Martz offense so you know that the playbook looked like a Necronomicon with the spirit of Greg Olsen flying out every time you open it. Marion Barber caught a wide open pass on the goal line for the Bears but it was called back via penalty because he wasn’t set, and the Bears got their only three points of the day.

The Bears defense played good enough to win (sound familiar?), but the Chiefs pulled out a win despite Thomas Jones rushing for 36 yards on 16 carries, somehow even worse than Barber and Bell combined. Dexter McCluster had himself the only good game on the ledger: nine carries, 61 yards, four catches for 46 yards, and the game’s only touchdown, a hail mary he brought in off a Brian Urlacher tip right before the half. How many times have we seen something similar: a hail mary caught when a player does what they’re trained to do: knock it down? I say catch that shit or bat it as far away as you can, but I’m literally sitting here in sweatpants thinking about ordering takeout so take that with a grain of salt.

Dwayne Bowe had zero catches on nine targets, Steve Breaston had zero catches on seven targets. For the Bears, Knox went 0-for-8 and Hester went 0-for-4. Despite all of this absolute garbage, the Bears were in position to score with four minutes left when a Caleb Hanie pass hit Roy Williams in the chest on a slant route on about the twoyard line. The ball, as it tends to do around Roy Williams, bounced out and was batted around before an ugly interception ended this ugly ass game.

 

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

Ali/Frazier. Jordan/Bird. Brees/Orton. Some match-ups loom larger than the game itself, as two titans of the sport go head to head in a winner take all showdown. It was week 17 of the 2007 season, with both teams eliminated from playoff contention a mere 12 months removed from their previous encounter in  the NFC Championship. Both games were won by the Bears, which in January of that year took them to the Super Bowl, and in December it dropped them two spots in the next years draft, and it would’ve been sweet if Ryan Clady was the Bears pick instead of *checks notes* uhhhh Chris Williams? Jay Cutler would’ve been much better as a Bear if they had Clady, so I’m retroactively blaming the lack of success of the next few years from an offensive line standpoint on this Week 17 Bears game.

This Bears team has a lot of the holdovers from the Super Bowl squad from the year before. You know all the big names, but it’s always the middle of the pack dudes that I love remembering, so let’s reminisce and see how these hidden gems performed that cold December afternoon.

My Favorite Forgotten Bears from 2007 (in no order):

5. Rashied Davis- (1 Kickoff Return, 5 Yards): I have a soft spot for special teams wide recievers (I might be the only person in Chicagoland that misses Josh Bellamy), and Davis was exactly that. Earl Bennett without the flash, somehow.

4. Garrett Wolfe- (4 Carries, 7 Yards, 1 Catch, 32 Yards): I was at NIU when Wolfe all of a sudden played NCAA Football on Rookie mode, and he was electric. I had no idea that I was hoping for him to be Tarik Cohen until I saw Tarik Cohen. Turns out he wasn’t very good and I was so bummed. Fun fact: this was his longest career catch. Bonus fun fact: I drafted Garrett Wolfe in my fantasy league that year, and there’s a harsh noise/grindcore band called Garrett Wolfe and no they aren’t football fans.

3. Israel Idonije- (1 Tackle): Izzy is a guy that nobody outside of Bears fans from this era remember, but those of us that do will always remember how much of a team player Izzy was. He did everything he was asked and played pretty much every spot on the defensive line, while also always being on the punt return teams. There are so many Devin Hester highlights where you can see a huge dude with a 71 on his jersey throwing a key block or escorting Devin to the endzone.

2. Mark Bradley- (1 Catch, 19 Yards) Give me all the special teams wideouts, please. All things considered, Bradley was a bust as a second round pick in the 2005 Draft, but when I looked at the other picks in the 2005 NFL Draft’s second round, they didn’t miss out on anyone that would’ve made sense. 92 career catches and 9TDs in 57 career games is not remarkable, but like I said, dude could block and he just looked the part. I’m also super biased because I crushed Madden 2006 with Mark Bradley, my favorite Bears WR in Madden after Kevin White in Madden 17.

1. Adrian Peterson- (1/1- 9 Yards, 1 Passing TD, 21 Carries 91 Yards, 1 Catch 9 Yards) The OTHER Adrian Peterson. You know, the one that’s lawful good as compared to the lawful evil Hall of Fame running back of the same name. The biggest difference between the two is the talent, but Good Peterson played with the Bears for his entire 8 year career and sure if he was starting you knew someone was hurt, but oh man he gave his all. You’d see him come in on a random 3rd and 18 and catch a 7 yard pass and then cover the punt (since he was always the punt team QB), return to the sideline only to be seen again the next time the special teams was on the field. It’s surreal to think that if your fantasy league played through week 17 that Adrian Peterson would’ve been an RB 2 that week and won your league. If this Adrian Peterson helped you win your Fantasy League in 2007 you should probably Venmo him ten bucks or something. Not because he needs it, but for the principle of the thing. He had the second most receptions on the team that year. Wow that’s ugly.

Anyways, this game was won by the Bears, with Devin Hester scoring twice, once on a long pass and another on a punt return. This was one of those Hester returns where he already has a giant hole to run through and isn’t even touched on his way to the endzone. Before I sound like I’m being critical of the Windy City Flyer or whatever his nickname was, I should establish that he is the greatest returner of all time and absolutely should be in the Hall of Fame.

That said, if you go back and watch his touchdown returns from this era, he is untouched on about half of them. I think a big reason why I have a soft spot for so many of the dudes that anchored the Bears special teams in that era is because the team kept a core together for that purpose and that purpose only and it paid dividends. Bradley, Peterson, Izzy, Brendon Ayanbadejo… those dudes opened up some massive lanes for Devin to take advantage of.

Watching these old highlight reels makes me miss having a solid special teams core like the Bears of that era. The Ryan Pace era has been an improvement in so many ways than the GMs before him, but I do miss the commitment to a group of backups simply because of what they brought to that part of the team.

I hope at some point between now and Sunday’s kickoff, you take a moment and really think about your mid to late aughts Bears players. Sit back and think about Brandon McGowan, won’t you?

Everything Else Football

Content Warning: Self-Harm

I got a text at 11:45pm this last Monday from my main football watching homie that just said “I can’t do it anymore, thank you for always being real. Love ya.”

I wake up at 5am for work so I was asleep and therefore missed it, but as soon as I saw it I messaged him until he woke up. Turns out he was drunk and sad and lonely and in a very very dark place, and had no recollection of sending me that text message. I told him if he ever tried to hurt himself I would beat him to death with my own hands.

My guy has been there for me since I was 17, so pretty much exactly half my life. We’ve lived together and helped each other out, and if I had a “real” wedding, he’d be the best man for sure. Football is a big part of that bond, as I’m sure it is for a lot of the people reading this and their friends. It takes a special kind of friendship to be able to sit there in silence for hours except for the occasional snarky comment or mention of how awful your fantasy team is looking this week.

You know the old adage: “If horseracing is the sport of kings, then surely football is… a very good sport as well.” What makes sports so great for me, my buddy, you reading this: the escape. Fuck your dead-end job or your overdue car payment, and that term paper can wait until Sunday night, because it’s Bears football. The thing you grew up watching. The team that means so much to you even though there’s no logical reason to explain why.

That Sunday time is a sort of collective unwinding time for those of us lucky to not be at work, leaving us (hopefully) recharged for the next week of new or repeating nightmares. It’s for that reason that I stopped being so emotionally invested in the outcome of Bears games and just love the experience of watching “My Team” play on Sundays, regardless of what the final score reflects.

Writing “The Vault” has become one of my favorite assignments during the week, because as I’m looking at box scores and game notes and trying to remember how to spell player names, I’m also going back to old memories. I can remember where I was when so many of these games happened, from the couch I sat on to what I ate to how it felt watching Johnny Knox damn near break in half.

My friend was there for so many of those afternoons or nights. The amazing second half comeback against Arizona in 2006. The entire Super Bowl run, when we looked at each other after Devin Hester’s opening kickoff touchdown and knew this was the year without saying a word. We were horribly wrong and smoked the saddest blunt when we got home.

I knew he was lonely and depressed, but one of the hardest things to break out of is the mask of masculinity that we all wear, especially when a lot of the time you spend with someone is spent watching hours of the most bro sport in existence.

Sometimes it doesn’t get any deeper than “what should we get for lunch?”, but I need to do a better job. We all need to do a better job. Maybe it isn’t a good time to ask if someone is doing okay emotionally when the Broncos go ahead late with a 2-point conversion, but football brings us closer together and I hope we can use the bonds we’re strengthening with every yell at the television to notice when our football friends aren’t acting like we’re used to. Prince Amukamara posted the picture and caption on Instagram that I used for the banner image this week, presumably to let his friend Roquan Smith know that he has his back no matter what, and that, combined with my friend’s scary text on Monday really changed how I wanted to do this piece today.

As I sat down to write this, I looked back at the 2015 Bears/Raiders game, and I watched highlight videos. I looked up how to spell Sebastian Janikowski, I looked at how open Marty Bennett got for a Jay Cutler pass, and I got sad. All I could think about is how hard it would be to reminisce on these games if I lost the friend that I spent so many weekends watching them with. So I hope you’ll understand if today’s Vault is more of a reflection on why it is that Bears football means so much to me, and also a plea to you, the reader: check in with your friends, because okay doesn’t always mean okay.

Football

Welcome back to The Vault, a weekly series where I dust the THC cobwebs off my brain and try my best to remember how to spell player names, information that is surely replacing things like “how to change a flat tire” or “my home address” in my limited memory bank. Catch me on the shoulder of the Eisenhower at 5pm looking at a flat and mentally spelling out “Brandon Manumaleuna” over and over again whilst in tears.

Let’s set the scene for this throwback recap: it’s late 2009, the 11-3 Vikings arrive in Soldier Field for a Monday Night Football tilt against our beloved 5-9 squad. The Bears sucked that year. This was year one of the Jay Cutler experience, and the acid hadn’t kicked in yet. Their first pick was Jarron freaking Gilbert, a player I had to look up on Monday night when a friend and I were trying to remember the guy the Bears drafted because there was a Youtube video of him jumping out of a pool and landing on his feet. He had 1 career tackle, and is cousins with NBA ICON Javale McGee. That pool video is cool as fuck though, not gonna lie to you. You can’t coach those kind of pool-jumping skills.

I watched this game at a local restaurant/bar, which is rare for me. I hate going to bars to watch games, mainly because you can’t smoke pot there and food is way cheaper at home. This bar, however, had one of those free halftime buffet deals and I was going back to college, so I took my Rodney Dangerfield lookin-ass down to this bar in the dead of winter to watch the 2009 Chicago Bears. Woof.

The game itself was a classic: a 36-30 overtime shootout that found the local boys victorious. The Bears jumped out to a 16-0 halftime lead behind the leg of Robbie Gould and a Jay Cutler to Greg Olsen TD pass.The free halftime buffet was destroyed before I even got up there, but hey no big deal, as long as the game is good, right? (about here is when I started going outside to chainsmoke instead of paying for bar food)

Even with a two score lead, any Bears fan could’ve told you Brett Favre was going to make the game uncomfortable. He left his training crocs in the locker room (probably to creep out any female staff members), and mounted a comeback that turned the fourth quarter into a legendary shootout. Each team scored a touchdown in the final 5 minutes. Look at some of the names of the players that drew pistols in this duel: Favre. Cutler. Peterson. Shiancoe. Bennett.

Side Note: Earl Bennett never got the recognition he was due. Not only was he a starting-caliber punt returner that didn’t get to do it since Devin Hester was there, but he was the best Bears possession WR of the last 10 years. His stats don’t do him justice, and if Jay stayed healthy all those years he might have made a Pro Bowl as a slot WR.

…okay maybe Pro Bowl is a bit of a stretch.

Despite these heavy hitters, it was Devin Aromashodu that truly drew first blood, in the sense that he won the game in overtime after a clutch Adrian Peterson fumble gave the Bears the ball with a chance to win it. Win it, he did.

Being a Bears fan means holding permanent grudges towards people you’ll never meet, for things that happened so long ago that they don’t even matter anymore. Brett Favre is one of those people that I will ALWAYS, ALWAYS resent. Yes, he was a creep and was sending the most awkward dick pics to team staff when he was in New York. Acts like that are unequivocally gross and should condemn anyone’s reputation. Yet any Bears fan could’ve told you he was suspect as fuck judging by the way he always dismantled the local boys. It always seemed like he took perverse pleasure in ruining my childhood Sundays. Beating Brett that night was great, and gave me a completely unearned sense of smug self-satisfaction the entire solo walk home back to my apartment with a margarita buzz on.

Fuck Brett Favre.

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

Leahy looks at the new deal, including the end of 12/26 at the UC: PD

Here are the 26 in camp: BH

Does Bolland to 2C feel a little like Hester to WR to anyone else?: ESPNChi

Want to make me happy, here’s an idea WIN GAMES: CSN

The farm is fairly stocked: HF

A closer look at the teams we hate: CtA

Bergevin and Les Habitants send Gomez home: PHT

hahahahhahahahah… but no really ahahahahahaha good luck with that hahahaha: NM