Five steps to setting free the Bears
They knelt. They kissed the ring. They served. The king is old now. He is fat, and he is slow, and the years have blunted his teeth. But he is still the king. He is still the Bear of Chicago, and the Buccaneers are nothing if not loyal to the throne. As usual, the Tampa Bay Bucs came to Chicago on Sunday bearing gifts. They snuck into town, careful not to anger anyone, and they meekly handed the Bears another football game. This time, it was 31-14. The Bucs were doomed as soon as they realized the team plane had landed in Chicago. They saw the big C in the middle of Soldier Field, and it was all they could do not to faint away.
You see, the Bears have ruled the Central Division, which has ruled the Bucs, for about a thousand generations now. And the Bucs are the last team in the NFL to realize the Bears' dynasty is long gone. Want to hear something funny? Defensive tackle Santana Dotson said after the game that the Bucs were just as talented as the Bears. Want to hear something else funny? He's probably right.
These are no longer fearsome Bears. This isn't Payton and McMahon and Marshall and Hampton and Covert and Gault. This is a team that is old and slow, with a quarterback who throws pop flies and a coach who is becoming unraveled. There have been years, most of them, that the Bucs had no business on the field with the Bears. This isn't one of them, but that secret is safe in Chicago. But if the talent is close, what does it say about the Bucs that the game was not?
How do you lose to the 1992 Bears? Perhaps you, too, are a member of an NFL team and you want to keep the Bears afloat for purposes of keeping Mike Ditka's head from exploding.
If so, try these five simple steps:
Step No. 1: Give them a head start. The way the Bucs started the game, you would have thought the defense was coached by Adm. James Stockdale. The team battle cry seemed to be, "Who am I? What am I doing here?" The Bears marched for 9:29 the first time they touched the ball and 6:41 the second, and the only two things that stopped them at all were the end zones and the restraining walls beyond. It was 14-0, and the Bears had run 25 of the game's 28 plays for 159 of the 161 yards. It was the kind of beginning that 70-3 games are built upon, except the Bears immediately started wheezing from the effort.
Step No. 2: Perseverance. When the score was 21-7, the Bucs were about to get back into the game. But on first and goal, Vinny Testaverde threw to the Bears' Alonzo Spellman (hey, he was open), who dropped the ball. Undaunted by the near-miss, the Bucs' Gary Anderson fumbled on the next play. You see, you have to be determined to make a turnover.
Step No. 3: Darryl Pollard. Yes, he had a 75-yard interception runback Sunday (see: blind pig and peanut), but he also made Tom Waddle look like Jerry Rice. There were times when Jim Harbaugh's passes came to Waddle as if dropped from the angels, and Pollard laid back as if Waddle had a right to a fair catch. Harbaugh went after Pollard as if he was the key to an incentive clause.
Step No. 4: Make sure your safety can block. In the third period, Pollard was busy trying to hold Anthony Morgan to a 15-yard completion when teammate Darrell Fullington came in and blasted him off the ball carrier, and Morgan sailed for an 83-yard touchdown pass. Most agreed that no matter how badly Pollard had played, Fullington's hit was just an accident, and it was classy of the rest of the Bucs not to pile on.
Step No. 5: Killer instinct. In the fourth period, the Bucs trailed 21-14 and had a drive to tie the game. But on second down, Testaverde threw an interception to Shaun Gayle to seal the game. It was important that Testaverde did this on second down. Had Gayle dropped the ball, Testaverde could have thrown to him again on third down.
Put all of that together, and it even can fool the fans. Behind the Bucs' bench Sunday, a particularly rowdy group sat and jeered. If this is indeed a new Bucs team, it somehow escaped these guys. "The fans were behind us with their megaphones where we could hardly hear ourselves talk on the sidelines," Sam Wyche said. "They were calling us every name in the book. They do have a vocabulary here in Chicago."
Uh, one question, Sam. The way the Bucs played, how do you know these were Chicago fans?
Gary Shelton, The St.Petersburg Times 1992