Once upon a time, a Chicago Bears team had a strong-armed quarterback who couldn't always find his receivers -- and often threw to the other team's defensive backs instead. Their coach had been reviled by fans and local media and calls for his firing increased with each game.
That team defeated a Dallas Cowboys squad that was supposed to be one of the strongest in the NFL and did the same to their bitter division rival Minnesota Vikings; won a close one over the Detroit Lions but went on the road and lost 17-3 to one of the best teams in the league, getting a quarterback injured in the process, and then in Week 9, won an exciting game at home against another team considered prior to the season to be a title contender. After that win, that Bears team was 6-3; fans were excited because it had been several years since the Bears had seriously contended and they had Super Bowl dreams.
The 2010 team, right? No, I'm describing the 1971 Chicago Bears, who did everything mentioned in the previous two paragraphs -- the 17-3 loss was to the Rams, not the Giants, and the exciting win at home was over the Redskins, not the Vikings. In fact, that win over Washington on November 14, 1971, an extra point scored after quarterback/holder Bobby Douglass fumbled the snap and had to look for a receiver -- and found Dick Butkus, who had reported as eligible before the play. In 1971, there was no two-point conversion rule, so when Butkus caught the ball, the Bears had the one point they needed to win 16-15. The Tribune (no link available) described the situation in Cooper Rollow's game recap the next day:
Butkus, blood streaming from a gash above his left eye, lined up in the backfield along with fellow linebacker Doug Buffone to block for [Mac] Percival's extra point attempt with the score tied at 15-15...
When center Gene Hamlin's snap to Douglass, the holder for Percival, forced Bobby to leap for the ball, Butkus lumbered into the end zone, frantically waving at Douglass.
The Bear quarterback scrambled to his left, carefully evaluated the situation, then heaved the ball over Willie Holman to Butkus, who made an over-the-shoulder catch and fell to the ground.
Still lying on the AstroTurf, Butkus elatedly hurled the pigskin into the air and scrambled to his feet to challenge an official who had dropped a yellow penalty handkerchief.
"I wanted to make damned sure he knew I had reported in," explained Dick, who wears a linebacker's number and thus must check in, along with Buffone, whenever he comes into the backfield as a blocker for extra points.
With Butkus hovering over him, the official quickly retrieved his handkerchief and and signalled the successful conversion.
With apologies for the somewhat florid 40-year-old sportswriting style ("handkerchief"?), now that's football (and yes, Soldier Field had really ugly AstroTurf until well into the 1980s). I saw this whole thing on TV and it unfolded exactly that way. Bears fans were excited -- they were 6-3, seemingly headed to the playoffs. At the time, there were only three divisions and one wild card in each conference, but the 6-3 Bears were only one game behind the Vikings -- who they had already defeated -- and only half a game behind the 6-2-1 Redskins for the wild card spot (in those days, pre-overtime, more tie games occurred; there were eight of them in 1971).
It didn't happen. The Bears lost all the rest of their games in 1971 -- five of them, in that 14-game season, to finish 6-8. They scored only 29 points in those five games; after that exciting 16-15 win over the Redskins, they scored only a field goal in each of their next three games, including an incredibly dull 6-3 loss to the Broncos in Denver. Is this an omen? Two weeks after that 1971 Redskins game, the Bears went to Miami and lost 34-3.
Which brings us back to 2010. The Bears have won six games -- but the combined record of the teams they have defeated is 15-38; the combined record of the three teams who have defeated them is 15-12. The Bears lost to the Redskins -- who got destroyed last night by the Eagles. What does that portend for the Bears' matchup with the Eagles a week from Sunday? You might be excited that Jay Cutler threw three touchdown passes and threw for 237 yards on Sunday. Big whoop -- 13 NFL quarterbacks threw for over 300 yards in the week just completed and Kyle Orton -- remember him? -- threw four TD passes against a supposedly good Chiefs team.
The 2010 Bears beat the Lions on a technicality and the Packers beat themselves with 18 penalties the day they lost to the Bears. They nearly lost to a winless Bills team; they could easily be 4-5 or even 3-6. They rank 23rd in the NFL in points scored, and have a curious character leading them in Cutler who never seems happy no matter how well he or his team does. The "Pouty QB" isn't someone who you enjoy rooting for.
And maybe that's my problem with this year's Bears. With the exception of Devin Hester -- who's exciting and fun to watch and seems thrilled to be playing pro football, no matter what he does on the field -- and a couple of others, these Bears seem an unhappy bunch, perhaps a reflection of their coach, who never seems to smile at anything.
Would I like to see the Bears keep winning? Of course I would; I'm a Bears fan. In this weird NFL season where teams ride high for a couple of weeks and then get pounded, it would appear that only the Bills, Lions, Bengals, Cowboys and Panthers are completely eliminated from playoff consideration with seven games remaining. But I keep thinking about that 1971 season and how many similarities there appear to be and simply say to Bears fans: don't make your Super Bowl -- or even playoff -- reservations just yet.