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 musings about Bears history, making me the Carrie Bradshaw of the Bears or at least of this website. If you track the metaphor a little bit deeper, you’ll find that Josh Bellamy is my Mr. Big, whereas Dez White had my love slip through his fingers like so many 3rd down passes.

Today’s blog is, like a Sex and the City article, based on a series of vaguely existential questions; questions that make you really stop and think. Questions like:

“Why don’t Bears fans give Dez Clark the amount of respect and reverence for his time in Chicago as they do Greg Olsen?”

“With an understanding of the roster at the time, is Cedric Benson one of the worst Bears draft picks ever?”

“Was Muhsin Muhammad right when he said Chicago is where receivers go to die? Is Mark Bradley dead?”

“What do you think Tommie Harris is doing RIGHT NOW, and is it more or less interesting than whatever Mark Anderson is doing?”

Finally, and most importantly: “Why is it that whenever any national sports broadcast shows the Devin Hester missed field goal return they never use the WBBM call?” Jeff Joniak CLEARLY has the superior play by play call of that score and Tom Thayer’s exuberant ‘NO WAY!’ is so so so good.

These questions are all above my pay grade as a single woman trying to find love in New York City. Speaking of the Big Apple, the 6-2 Giants hosted the 7-1 and eventual Super Bowl-bound Bears on Sunday Night Football.

This of course was back before we were blessed as a nation with Carrie Underwood welcoming us to the “Nasty Showdown” of the week. Instead,m we were listening to Pink singing roughly the same song with a few major exceptions. Pink’s version has the lines: “All right, Sunday night, where are you? Just kickin back from the things that you do”, whereas Carrie Underwood’s version until 2015 starts: “All right Sunday night, where are you? Waiting for the game that bleeds red, white, and blue.”

Look, I know. I know how this is gonna sound, because both my short and long term memory has been ravaged by decades of recreational drug abuse, but hear me out because I fell in a pretty deep rabbit hole here: the Faith Hill 2010 Sunday Night Football theme song is the first one since the song debuted in 2006 with the patriotic lyrics in the first verse, and it ran until Carrie Underwood’s revamped version hit the air in the 2016 season without those lyrics.

As some of you may recall, the NFL and the Department of Defense were essentially selling the military to fans between the years of 2011-2015, where several teams received a combined amount of more than $5 million in taxpayer money to run promotions for the armed forces (1). It also needs to be noted that the NFL didn’t have players on the field during the anthem as standard practice since 2009 (2).

How much money was Carrie Underwood getting paid under the table to change the lyrics to the Sunday Night Football theme to make it coincide with a massive pro-military, nationalistic push deep into the very concept of the National Football League? How deep does this all go? Did Carrie Bradshaw ever feel like this, like an Alex Jones level journalist, exposing the hidden agenda of the deep (NFL) state? How deep does this rabbit hole go? All I’m saying is if you type “Roger Goodell” into an anagram generator, one of the results is “Old Leg Gore Or” and while I’m not trying to convince you that this is all a ploy to fuck my fantasy football team, I’m not denying the presence of old legs Frank Gore has SEVERELY impeded on Devin Singletary in multiple weeks for me this season.

Okay yes I am trying to convince you that the Department of Defense, Carrie Underwood, Faith Hill, Roger Goodell, and the NFL have all formed a secret cabal to screw me out of fantasy football money.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, the Bears won this game. Rex Grossman looked competent, Thomas Jones was excellent as always, and every time the Bears scored they mocked the stupid Giants jump-shot celebration. Look, if you’re gonna pretend to hit a fadeaway jumper, you better be playing for the same city as the guy who made that move iconic. The Giants should’ve stuck to an iconic New York basketball move of their own, like maybe they could pull an Ewing and celebrate by pretending to miss a wide open finger roll at the buzzer in game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

REAL JOURNALISM HOURS:
1- https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/defense-department-paid-5-4-million-nfl-honor-troops

2- https://www.nbcsports.com/boston/new-england-patriots/nfl-teams-being-field-anthem-relatively-new-practice

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.