This is the first in a series of posts about Chicago Bears teams from days gone by. Throughout the course of this season, I will turn back the clock by the decade and look at the Bears teams of yesteryear. We’re gonna start by going back one decade. Reset your clocks to 2006.
You may recall that the 2006 Bears started the year with high hopes. This was the beginning of Lovie Smith’s third season and after making the playoffs in 2005, Bears fans were pumped! After 2005’s surprising run to the NFC Playoffs as they won the NFC North with an 11-5 record, the Bears started off strong, winning their first 7 games in ’06. They won the NFC North with a 13-3 record, then went on and beat Seattle in the Divisional round 27-24 in OT, then dominated the NFC Championship 39-14 over New Orleans at Soldier Field before losing Super Bowl XVI (41) to Indianapolis 29-17.
Lovie Smith was at the height of his coaching tenure in 2006, winning the NFL Coach of the Year Award. The Lovie Era started in 2004 and ended at the conclusion of the 2012 season. He coached nine years with Chicago, making the playoffs three times (2005, 2006, 2010). At this moment in time, Lovie managed a staff of coaches including Ron Rivera as his DC and Ron Turner as his OC.
Here’s what the roster looked like for much of the year:
QB’s Rex Grossman, Brian Griese, Kyle Orton
RB’s Thomas Jones, Cedric Benson, Adrian Peterson (from Georgia Southern)
FB’s Jason McKie, J.D. Runnels
WR’s Muhsin Muhammad, Bernard Berrian, Rashied Davis, Justin Gage, Mark Bradley, Airese Currie
TE’s Desmond Clark, John Gilmore, Gabe Reid
LT John Tait, LG Ruben Brown, C Olin Kreutz, RG Roberto Garza, RT Fred Miller or John St. Clair
DE’s Adewale Ogunleye, Alex Brown, Mark Anderson
DT’s Tommie Harris, Israel Idonije, Dusty Dvoracek, Tank Johnson, Ian Scott
LB’s Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Hunter Hillenmeyer, Leon Joe, Jamar Williams
CB’s Charles Tillman, Nate Vasher, Ricky Manning Jr.
S’s Mike Brown, Chris Harris, Todd Johnson, Danieal Manning, Brandon McGowan
K Robbie Gould, P Brad Maynard, KR/PR Devin Hester, LS Patrick Mannelly
The Bears had 8 Pro Bowlers in 2006: Olin Kreutz and Ruben Brown from the offense, Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, and Tommie Harris from the defense, and Devin Hester, Robbie Gould, and Brendan Ayanbadejo from the special teams. What an outstanding special teams this was! Special teams coach Dave Toub was a “special” coach. His units consistently won games the Bears would have otherwise lost. His return units were inventive and truly a “3rd” phase that the “4th phase” (nickname for Chicago Bears fans in this era) cheered and admired.
2006 was quite a season in Bears history. This was an excellent team that gets lost in history because, like most teams that lose the Super Bowl, if you don’t finish #1 then people think you’re OVERRATED rather than awesome in your own right. The truth lies somewhere in between. Lovie’s Bears fell 12 points short of Tony Dungy’s and Peyton Manning’s Colts in a rainstorm in which key cogs Mike Brown and Tommie Harris didn’t play because of injury. Go back and watch. Peyton Manning took advantage of inexperienced safety Danieal Manning missing a coverage which resulted in a long TD pass to Reggie Wayne. If Brown were in there, does he get burned? I would bet that he would not. As we saw in later years, without a premier DT like Harris and a solid FS like Brown, Lovie’s Cover 2 defense was simply not as dominating.
But that’s the bad side of the story. How about the good side? You’ll remember the controversy of fans calling for #8 Rex Grossman’s job while Lovie consistently and defiantly stated “Rex is our Quarterback”. You’ll remember superstar rookie athlete #23 Devin Hester wowing fans and opponents alike on kickoff and punt returns. He scored 7 times (3 punts, 3 kickoffs, 1 FG) on returns in ’06 including the opening kickoff of Super Bowl 41. You’ll remember #20 Thomas Jones setting the tone with a dominating running game. You’ll remember the takeaways that the defense drooled over as the coaching staff taught them to punch at the ball, creating the “Peanut Punch” by #33 Charles Tillman. You’ll remember one of the all-time athletes at linebacker in #54 Brian Urlacher as he flew from sideline to sideline making truly amazing tackles on speedsters like Reggie Bush. You’ll remember rookie phenom pass rusher #97 Mark Anderson blowing up quarterbacks, finishing with 12 sacks. You’ll remember #30 Mike Brown always being in the right place at the right time, somehow finding a way to pick off a pass or pick up a fumble and run it to paydirt. It’s both a gift and preparation…..and luck. You’ll remember their jersey numbers.
You’ll laugh when you think of the late Arizona Cardinals coach Dennis Green, who just passed away in July, slamming his fist on the wooden podium after his Cardinals team squandered a big lead on Monday Night Football in Week 6……”The Bears are who we thought they were. That’s why we took the damn field! Now, (slaps podium in disgust) if you wanna crown ’em, then crown their ***! But they ARE who we thought they were!…..and we let ’em off the hook!”
The Bears comeback at Arizona from a 20-0 halftime deficit to win 24-23 was a huge momentum changer and confidence builder that propelled Chicago all the way to Miami. Even though the ultimate crown wasn’t to be, the memories of Brian Urlacher holding up the NFC Championship Trophy, the Halas Trophy, in the snow at Soldier Field will remain a fantastic memory for Bears fans forever.
I can’t believe it’s been a decade.