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Monsters Inc. II

The 2006 Bears hope it's sequel time in Chicago, even if no one yet is making comparisons to the 1985 season's strutting `Super Bowl Shuffle' champions

October 16, 2006|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

With an unblemished record, a helmet-splitting defense, a quarterback who puts the ball in the right places, and a schedule any NFL team would love, the 5-0 Chicago Bears are humming along.

But their fans aren't.

Instead of humming along to the tune of the team's fight song, loyal followers seem to be learning the words to "Bear Down, Chicago Bears" -- an indication of how frequently their team is scoring. After every Bears touchdown at Soldier Field, the lyrics scroll across the stadium's banner boards.

"I don't think fans for a long time really knew the words," said Gary Fencik, a star safety on the great Bears teams of the mid-1980s who is now a season-ticket holder. "They'd sing, 'Bear Down, Chicago Bears' and then start humming the rest. But when you score 35, 40 points a game, you're hearing it a lot more than you have in the last 10 years."

The Bears are back, after only two winning seasons in the last decade. They have clobbered opponents by a combined 156-36 -- the NFL's widest winning differential by 53 points, going into Week 6 games. And only four of their next 11 opponents currently have winning records: New England, Minnesota, St. Louis and the New York Giants.

Super Bowl fever has already taken hold in the Windy City, where, the Chicago Tribune reports, the going rate for a package of eight tickets to the Dec. 31 regular-season finale against Green Bay is $10,000. Someone else is selling a parking pass for the next home game, Oct. 29, for $109, a bargain at four times the face value.

The Bears play at Arizona tonight, where the Cardinals will be making their first "Monday Night Football" appearance since 1999. They haven't won a Monday game since 1985, when they were the St. Louis Cardinals. Chicago has lost 14 of 18 Monday night games, including each of the last four. But this is a very different Bears team, one that has been compared to the 1985 powerhouse that was 15-1 and stomped New England in Super Bowl XX.

"That's premature, that's silly, but they are a good football team," said Mike Ditka, who coached that Bears juggernaut. "I just believe that the NFC's got to come through Chicago. ... They have not shown that they really have a weakness. They beat the [defending] NFC champions pretty good" in a 37-6 victory over Seattle two weeks ago.

"They do have the easiest schedule in the league. So when you ask, 'How good are they?' the question really is, 'How good do they have to be?' "

The Bears will look familiar to Arizona quarterback Matt Leinart, even though he'll be making only the second start of his career. He played them in the exhibition season, and, with several defensive first-teamers on the field, completed 15 of 21 passes for 144 yards and a touchdown. He also played well in his debut as a starter last week, throwing two touchdown passes in a loss to Kansas City.

He said his experience "on the highest stage" at USC helped prepare him for games such as tonight's, when he will become the first rookie quarterback to start a Monday night game since San Francisco's Jeff Garcia on Jan. 3, 2000.

"I don't really consider it a lot of pressure out there," Leinart told reporters in Arizona last week.

But it would be a big upset if the Bears were to lose tonight. So far this season, they have gotten unwavering play from their defense and quarterback Rex Grossman. He has 10 touchdowns, three interceptions, and a 100.8 passer rating, second-best in the NFC. One of his favorite targets, receiver Bernard Berrian, has emerged among the league's most dangerous deep threats and is averaging 21.7 yards a catch.

It's enough to make some of those old Super Bowl Bears sit up and take notice.

"They're keeping the games one-sided and beating everybody in the first half," said Richard Dent, an all-pro defensive end in the 1980s and early '90s. "It's still too early to say how good they'll be. They've got 11 more games to go. They're looking good right now. I don't see anybody beating them."

Leslie Frazier, a starting cornerback on the 1985 Bears, now coaches defensive backs for the Indianapolis Colts, the NFL's other undefeated team. He has been keeping tabs on his old team, though, and says the excitement in Chicago is "unparalleled" when the Bears are rolling up victories.

"It's a fantastic place to play when the fans are so passionate," he said.

Fencik, a key member of that secondary, is hesitant to make any comparisons between the 1985 Bears and this season's team. It's not that he doesn't see similarities. It's that he wants to give these Bears their own time in the spotlight.

"I grew up in Chicago, and I remember the '63 team," he said, referring to the team that finished 11-1-2 and beat the New York Giants in the NFL championship.

"When we had things going in '85, some of them started to visit. While as a player you were appreciative of what they did ... it was, 'Hey, you guys had your day. It's our turn.' "



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Still a long way to go

The Chicago Bears' defense has given up 36 points this season, an average of only 7.2 points per game. The Bears are on pace to give up 115 points in 2006, which would break the NFL 16-game season record (since 1978) of 165 points by Baltimore in 2000. The fewest points given up in a season and points given up through those teams' first five games (since 1978):

*--* Team Year Points After 5 games Final record, playoffs Baltimore 2000 165 55 12-4, Won Super Bowl XXXV Chicago 1986 187 60 14-2, Divisional Playoffs Tennessee 2000 191 78 13-3, Divisional Playoffs Pittsburgh 1978 195 56 14-2, Won Super Bowl XIII Tampa Bay 2002 196 53 12-4, Won Super Bowl XXXVII Chicago 2006 36




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