No, that is not a typo in the title; it is not supposed to say 1985. The '85 Bears were an unbelievable team, and the best in my lifetime. However, the 2001 Chicago Bears turned me into the football fanatic that I am today.
Coming off a dismal 5-11 season in 2000, nobody, including me had much hope for that team. Notwithstanding, the Bears produced an incredible 13-3 season, which included two of the most exciting games in Bears history.
The 2001 season was home to the two "Mike Brown Games." In back-to-back weeks, second year safety Mike Brown made himself a household name in Chicago by returning interceptions for game-winning touchdowns in overtime.
The 2001 season also gave Bears fans the Keith Traylor interception return, Anthony Thomas' 173-yard performance, and a Brian Urlacher game winning touchdown reception on a fake field goal. Reliving those moments gave me chills, which is why this 2001 team is my favorite of all-time.
With head coach Dick Jauron at the helm, it was a club built on defense, the mold of a true Chicago Bears team. With a rising young star in the middle in Brian Urlacher at linebacker, this defense held opponents to 17 points or less in 11 of their 16 games.
After a season-opening loss to the defending champion Ravens in Baltimore, and facing a 10-0 deficit to Minnesota in Week Two, the Bears looked like they were headed for another down year.
Then, Jim Miller replaced the injured Shane Matthews at quarterback, and the Bears rattled off 17 straight points for a comeback victory. This started an unbelievable stretch of games that I still remember almost a decade later.
Growing up in Chicago, my family was fortunate enough to receive from close friends a set of Bears tickets to attend one game per year at Soldier Field. When we chose Week Seven against the San Francisco 49ers in 2001, I had no idea it would be one of the most memorable Bears games in recent history.
We took our seats, just six rows from the field on the 50-yard line. The Bears were coming off four straight wins, and the atmosphere in the stadium was electric, as if the fans knew they were witnessing something special. I still remember the roar when the defensive starters were introduced before the game.
However, this one did not start out as planned, as the Bears trailed Jeff Garcia, Terrell Owens and the 49ers by a score of 28-9 with 8:18 left in the third quarter.
The Bears brought it to 31-16 with less than 10 minutes to play. That's when rookie David Terrell caught the first two touchdown passes of his career. The first came with just over four minutes to play, the second an acrobatic catch with less than 30 seconds in regulation. The Bears were now within a two-point conversion of tying the game.
Despite the frenzy of the crowd after the score, Soldier Field went quiet as the Bears called their play in the huddle. Then, rookie Anthony Thomas ran through a pile of Bears and 49ers alike near the goal line. I couldn't tell if he had scored until the fans sitting in the South end zone went crazy.
Even though the 49ers got the ball in overtime, you could tell that the Bears were not letting this one get away. On the very first play from scrimmage, Garcia found Owens, but he was drilled by Urlacher, sending the ball flying into the air and landing in the waiting arms of Mike Brown, who ran it in for a 37-31 Bears victory.
The place went insane. People stayed and cheered for ages, and Bear Down Chicago Bears was sung joyfully over and over again. As we walked back towards Michigan Avenue, the noise in the underpass beneath Lake Shore Drive was deafening. More fans sang "Bear Down Chicago Bears," and we gave high-fives and hugs to strangers.
Now, eight years later, I'm lucky enough to be a season ticket holder, and this is still my most memorable game I've seen in Soldier Field.
What's incredible is that the Bears topped it just seven days later.
Trailing the Cleveland Browns by 14 points with 28 seconds left, the Bears scored on a Matthews to Marty Booker pass and then recovered the ensuing onside kick. On the final play of the game, a Hail Mary pass to the end zone was deflected into the hands of backup running back James Allen, who landed on top of Booker in the end zone to secure the catch.
In overtime, none other than Mike Brown caught another pass deflection, took it 16 yards into the end zone and then kept sprinting all the way into the locker room. It was impossible to believe, but it happened. Those two games happening back-to-back is something that will be tough for any future Bears team to top.
Despite the two losses to the Packers and disappointing defeat to the Eagles in the playoffs, the 2001 regular season was a roller coaster of every possible emotion and brought football to a whole new level in my life.