One of my favorite things about watching these old Bears’ games is taking in all the names from Bears’ history that pop up. It’s one blast from the past after another. Just as a refresher, here’s some of the lesser known names that I saw on the field (or on the sidelines) for the Bears in this one: LB Michael Stonebreaker, S David Tate, S Markus Paul, FB James Rouse, DB John Mangum, S Maurice Douglass, QB Peter Tom Willis. Remember how awful of a draft pick Stan Thomas was? You got a good lesson in this game, because he gets dominated by New York’s Jeff Lageman.
This 1991 Bears team had quite a few remnants from the magical 1985 season. Richard Dent, William Perry and Steve McMichael still occupied the defensive line. Mike Singletary was still the heart of the defense at middle linebacker. Ron Rivera has worked his way off special teams and into more of a playing role. On the offense, the line from 1985 saw it’s first departure, when Jimbo Covert had to retire from a ruptured disk in his back. The aforementioned Thomas started in his place, but was replaced at times by Ron Mattes because Thomas was just plain terrible. But Van Horne, Thayer, Hilgenberg, and Bortz were still intact. Kevin Butler was still drilling field goals. And, of course, Da Coach is still in charge.
But plenty of non-Super Bowl Bears played vital roles. The secondary featured a young Donnell Woolford at corner and a young Mark Carrier at safety, both with promising futures. The offense’s new feature man was Neal Anderson, who dealt with an injury in ’91 that resulted in the first bad season of his career (Little did we know, he was beginning the end of his brilliant but brief career.) Quarterback Jim Harbaugh threw the ball to WRs Wendell Davis, Glen Kozlowski, and Tom Waddle and TEs James “Robocop” Thornton and Cap Boso. Johnny Bailey handled all return duties, and Chris Zorich sees special teams work in his rookie season.
This particular game places the Bears against the New York Jets. Bruce Coslet is the head coach, Ken O’Brien is at quarterback, and Blair Thomas teams with Freeman McNeil in the backfield. Rob Moore and Al Toon make up part of the receiving corps. On defense, Dennis Byrd plays well just about a year before his career would be ended.
The first half was a flag-fest, and neither team did much worth mentioning. Brad Muster would exit the game early after aggravating a hamstring injury suffered earlier in the season. It’s not the first half of this game that people, remember anyway. Your score after 30 minutes: 3-3.
Halftime news brief host by ABC7 Chicago’s Mary Ann Childers, talking about Illinois Governor Jim Edgar and president George Bush. I also saw a preview for the movie Necessary Roughness in one of the commercials. Ahh … memories ….
The fun in this one doesn’t begin until the fourth quarter. The Bears entered the final frame down 13-3, and a Butler field goal a few minutes into the fourth made the score 13-6. Momentum continues to shift on the next series, as a Richard Dent sack forces the Jets into a 3rd and 22, and the Soldier Field crowd starts to come to life. The noise only gets louder as Harbaugh begins shredding the Jets’ secondary, and the Bears drive deep into the red zone as the clock ticks under five minutes. The camera pans to a nervous-looking Jets’ defensive coordinator Pete Carroll on the sidelines. On 2nd and goal from the 4, Rouse gets upended at the 3. Third and goal now. Anderson gets a pitch to the left. Thomas gets toasted by Lageman, who turns the play back inside, and the interior pursuit of the Jets’ defense swallows Anderson at the line of scrimmage for no gain. Bears quickly call timeout to discuss their plans to go for it on fourth and goal from the 3-yard line. ABC commentator Dan Dierdorf is calling for Harbaugh to get some sort of run/pass option on the outside. Harbaugh is back in the shotgun, two receivers split to each side, and Anderson at his left hip. Number four takes the snap, and darts toward the end zone on a QB draw. The hole looks open at first, but is closed quickly by Jets’ safety Brian Washington and he’s stopped inches short. Washington had lined up as a middle linebacker, and must have been assigned as a spy on Harbaugh on the play. Carroll goes crazy on the sidelines.
The Jets turn to their ground game, which had been successful all night. New York gets one first down, and near the two minute warning, Chicago linebacker Ron Cox gets whistled for a personal foul, giving the Jets a first down that appears to end the game. Dierdorf says, “Son, you’d better head for the tunnel.” For all intents, this game is over. I’ll bet a few thousand televisions were turned off at this instant, and all kinds of Bears fans went to bed angry. As they go to commercial, Al Michaels says, “Barring disaster, the Jets will have a very happy plane ride back home.” Ha!
As Michaels and Dierdorf are talking about retiring MNF crew members, they almost miss Steve McMichael ripping the ball from the hands of Blair Thomas and falling on it. Soldier Field erupts! The Bears get the ball at the 36 with 1:54 to go and no timeouts. Harbaugh is sacked by Byrd on first down, losing nine yards, then nearly throws a pick to James Hasty on second down. In front of a lot of empty seats at Soldier Field, Waddle continues his stellar night, stealing a pass that probably should’ve been picked by Hasty, again. An inside trap to Anderson picks up the first down on 4th and 4, and two more completions give Chicago first and goal from the eight with one minute left. Anderson plows ahead for four, and Harbaugh loses them back on a sack by Lageman. With the clock still running (no timeouts, remember), Harbaugh scrambles to the 4-yard line on third down, and is tackled in the middle of the field. Players scramble to their positions for the final play of regulation. The clock ticks down 7 … 6 …. 5 …. 4 … snap to Harbaugh in the gun he fires left to Anderson, TOUCHDOWN BEARS! The entire city of Chicago goes crazy, Dierdorf is screaming, “I can’t believe this!” Butler nails the extra point, and we’ve got overtime, folks!
The Jets opening drive accomplishes little, and they punt to the Bears. Chicago is able to drive into New York territory, but not close enough for a field goal attempt, and Maury Buford’s punt bounces into the end zone for a touchback. The Jets respond by taking a long drive deep into Bears territory, benefitting from a Singletary roughing the passer penalty. With the ball at the 11 and 3:54 to go, Pat Leahy comes on for the potential game-winning kick. Dierdorf says, “He’d better make this, or Bruce Coslet just made one of the worst calls I’ve ever seen.” The kick is up … and pulled left! You were saying, Dan?
Harbaugh cranks up his arm again, leading the Bears down the field, using the always-reliable hands of Waddle on several occasions. On first and 10 from the 25, Harbaugh rolls out to the right and launches downfield to Boso, who cradles it in at the five and falls into the end zone for the touchdown!! Once again, Soldier Field turns into pandemonium. Boso is mobbed in the end zone, with a chunk of the field stuck in his facemask. As the celebration continues, the officials are shown gathering in the middle of the field and replays indicate that Boso may not have crossed the goalline. Boos rain down from the crowd, and Harbaugh is ripped away from an interview with Tim Weigel and sent back out to the field. As the players come back to the field, Michaels predicts, “I think you’re going to see a Harbaugh quarterback sneak.” Thirty-five seconds are showing on the scoreboard as Harbaugh settles behind center and sneaks in for the game-winning touchdown. The refs wait a bit and, of course, say that the play is under review. More boos from the crowd, but replays say that Harbaugh was in. The head official signals touchdown, and this one is all over: Bears 19, Jets 13, in one of the most unbelievable games in Bears’ history.
Some final numbers:
Harbaugh 28 for 42, 302 yards and 1 TD
Waddle caught 8 passes for 102 yards
Davis caught 9 passes for 96 yards