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Bears Are Big Losers, but NFL Is Gaining Fast

October 12, 1998|J.A. ADANDE

TEMPE, Ariz. — Sit through enough games like Sunday's Chicago Bear-Arizona Cardinal matchup and you might wonder if it's the NFL that should be making a presentation as to why it should be a part of Los Angeles, not the other way around.

Unless two inept offenses producing 13 turnovers is your idea of fun. That's provided the prospect of Bears versus Cardinals would be enough to lure you to the stadium in the first place.

Because Bears-Cardinals is about the norm these days. There was no difference between this game and Buffalo at Indianapolis, New York Jets at St. Louis, San Diego at Oakland.

Unless you're keeping track of your fantasy football players, there's no compelling reason to watch most games. There are just enough teams to produce a good matchup for Monday nights, plus a couple of appetizers on Sunday if we're lucky. The only games to anticipate this week were Denver at Seattle and Kansas City at New England, and only Denver-Seattle came close to meeting expectations.

And just wait till you see the games on tap for next Sunday (a warning: Denver and Kansas City have byes).

Here in the Valley of the Sun, a game that turned out to be "huge" and "a very important victory," according to Cardinal players, didn't generate much excitement.

Large chunks of the Sun Devil Stadium upper deck went unoccupied, and those who stayed away didn't miss much.

What's wrong with this picture: the Bears had four fumbles and four interceptions, yet the Cardinals only won, 20-7.

Arizona's two touchdown drives covered a total of 35 yards. The Cardinals' longest gain of the first touchdown drive came courtesy of a nine-yard pass interference penalty.

Neither team surpassed 300 yards in total offense and the Cardinals had five turnovers themselves. Quarterback Jake Plummer still has a long way to go. Adrian Murrell has made a little reputation as an unheralded running back, but if you've ever seen him you'll know there's a reason he's unheralded.

Cardinal linebacker Ronald McKinnon received a game ball for his three interceptions and alert fourth-down play in which he grabbed a blocked punt and ran 31 yards for a first down. But he wasn't the biggest hero on the field.

That honor belonged to an 82-year-old man, former Chicago Cardinal Mario "Motts" Tonelli, who was honored at halftime.

Tonelli was in the NFL for one year before he joined the Army in 1941. He spent 42 months as a Japanese prisoner of war and survived the Bataan Death March.

The only thing that kept him alive, he said, was his desire "to see America again, see the flag flying."

All of those football players who refer to their Sunday games as "wars" should listen to veterans such as Tonelli before they make these battlefield references. Even though players risk serious injury and even death when they play, at least they're opponents aren't armed.

"When you're in war, you'd better do the right thing or you're not here tomorrow to think about it," Tonelli said.

If a unit committed the equivalent of eight turnovers in battle they would have a much greater concerns than a 1-5 record. For that, the Bears should be thankful.

If you were a Cardinal defender and you didn't come up with a turnover on Sunday, you just weren't trying. Cornerback Aeneas Williams needed only five plays to get an interception, and he spent most of the rest of the game on the sideline after spraining his left ankle during the return.

Defensive lineman Eric Swann's creaky knees made him questionable right up until game time. Not only did he play, he forced a fumble and he tipped a pass that led to an interception.

He's part of a defensive line that is the only worthwhile part of the franchise. On one end is Simeon Rice, who recorded 12 1/2 sacks as a rookie in 1996. He had a fumble recovery Sunday.

On the other end is rookie Andre Wadsworth, who doesn't act like a rookie and therefore isn't treated like one by his teammates.

"They didn't even haze me," he said.

So the Cardinals are all excited about their team and their 3-3 record, which has them one game behind the division-leading Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East.

As for the Bears?

All you need to know is, until they got a 79-yard touchdown catch by Bobby Engram with 2 1/2 minutes remaining, they were not only outscored by the Cardinals but by a 63-year-old Phoenix resident who kicked a 25-yard field goal in a halftime promotion.

If this is what we got from the NFL's oldest rivals, what can we expect from the next two expansion teams?

Bear Coach Dave Wannstedt spent a good five minutes yelling at his team in the locker room afterward. From the hallway outside a few words were audible, but they aren't printable.

You're better off not knowing. And when it comes to most games the NFL has to offer, you're better off not watching.

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