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Bears focus on the job ahead of them

They might lack big names and carry the underdog tag, but merits are seen in unselfish play and motivation to beat Manning and Colts.

January 23, 2007|Lonnie White | Times Staff Writer

CHICAGO — For a team that has won 15 of 18 games this season, the Chicago Bears are unusually comfortable with being underdogs, and it's a role they will have again when they play the Indianapolis Colts, who have been made a touchdown favorite in the Super Bowl on Feb. 4.

"When you look at what the Colts' bring to the table, I can see why people see us as underdogs," Chicago Coach Lovie Smith said Monday, one day after his team defeated New Orleans in the NFC championship game. "We've been in that role before and our guys like being in that role. I wouldn't bet against the Bears if I was a betting man."

The Bears, who will play in their first Super Bowl since they won it in 1986, may not have the big-name characters that Chicago had the last time it reached the big game, but that does not mean Smith's team lacks character.

"The thing that impressed me so much about this team is how unselfish everyone is," said Chicago wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad, who signed with the Bears as a free agent from Carolina before the 2005 season. "Everyone is here to do a job and that's how we've gotten this far."

The Bears have not played Indianapolis since Nov. 21, 2004, when the Colts crushed Chicago, 41-10, at Soldier Field in Smith's 10th game as coach. Peyton Manning threw four touchdown passes, Edgerrin James rushed for 204 yards and the Bears turned the ball over five times.

More than half of Chicago's roster played in that game, but the Bears said they have enough motivation beyond that game.

"Any team, if you think your defense is good, [wants to] go against Peyton Manning," Chicago defensive end Alex Brown said.

"That's how Super Bowls are supposed to be won. You have to beat someone like Peyton Manning."

Smith said he's looking for a different result than when he coached with St. Louis when the Rams lost to New England in Super Bowl XXXVI.

"That feeling I will never forget," Smith said. "I have a scar that will never go away from that loss in the Super Bowl. It's something that I don't want that feeling again."

With two weeks between the Super Bowl and the conference championship games, Smith said this year's game will be much different for him because of the extra time. When he coached the Rams' defense, Smith had only one week to prepare for the game.

"I like the two weeks in between," said Smith, who will practice the Bears twice this week before leaving for Miami on Sunday. "There's a lot of things you have to get ironed out. First off, taking care of getting all of your relatives down to Miami takes a couple of days in itself right there. The two weeks give you a chance to enjoy it more."

*

Smith, on the final minutes of Sunday's victory over New Orleans: "It's one of those feelings that every football coach should have a chance of going though, to see all of the hard work pay off and to get a chance to see your team celebrate on the sidelines, being able to put their hats on....

"Just look at the elements of yesterday. Late in the game, we saw the snow coming down and the Chicago Bears running the football, pounding the football. You can't get a better site than that.

"I went home and got to bed at around 2 or 3, somewhere around there. I got a good night's sleep until about 5.... It was one of those type of nights."

lonnie.white@latimes.com

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