The team that thrived on the lack of respect it has received will just have to live with some.
Throughout coach Lovie Smith's tenure, the Bears have had the cliche us-against-the-world mentality. This year in particular they've been able to take the lack of respect mantra even further than Rodney Dangerfield did.
There can be no doubt about the legitimacy of the Bears' playoff or even Super Bowl candidacy following a 31-26 win over Philadelphia and Michael Vick. The final score came nowhere near indicating the severity of the beating the Bears dished out to an Eagles team being hailed as the league's best ever since its 59-28 whipping of the moribund Washington Redskins.
Before the Bears chased Vick out of Dodge Sunday, they had usually been voted the team most likely to fall by the wayside when Howie, Terry, Jimmy, Boomer, Bill Cowher, Dan Marino, Michael Strahan and their ilk quit playing around on their miniature football fields long enough to talk about the sport.
"We’ve got tons of pride and we’ve got a lot of pride walking off that field in front of our home crowd having beaten a good team," tight end Greg Olsen said Sunday. "To us, that is more important than whatever any pregame show says about us."
So now that they have some respect, the Bears say they don't care about it.
What's the average football skeptic to do?
To be certain, there was reason to doubt the Bears. After all, of their seven wins before Sunday, only their 20-17 win over Green Bay came against a team which currently has a winning record.
In fact, beating up Carolina, Buffalo, Minnesota, Detroit, Dallas and a Miami team that had a third-string quarterback probably qualifies as a professional football version of the typical Notre Dame schedule.
But the Bears have no say in who is on their schedule; they can only play who they play. Coming into the season, their schedule actually rated among the toughest in the league based on last year's records.
Even after Sunday, there will be those who question their legitimacy based on the fact that NFL interception leader Asante Samuel couldn't play against them due to a knee injury.
"He’s a great player and sooner or later we’re probably gonna miss a player here and there," said quarterback Jay Cutler. "I’ve missed a game, Lance (Briggs) has missed a game and that’s the NFL.
"Very rarely are your guys going to be able to play 16 straight games."
Pity is a difficult commodity to find in the NFL. No one around the league felt it for the Bears last year when they lost starting linebackers Brian Urlacher and Pisa Tinoisamoa for almost the entire season. So the Bears will take the fact that they have been possibly the healthiest team in the NFL and run with it.
"We knew that this was a big game and whether we’ve gotten enough respect or not, none of that really matters either," coach Lovie Smith said. "Just with us, with our schedule, we get a chance to play the best, supposedly the best teams out there, and of course they stood up today.”
When they can roll up a season-high in points scored, Cutler can match a career-high for touchdown passes (four) and set a high for single-game passer rating (146.2), and Matt Forte can gain more rushing yards (117) than any back has against the Eagles' eighth-ranked defense, there can be little doubt the Bears' offense is finally starting to pull itself up to the level where their own defense and special teams have been all year.
"By no means are we a finished product, but if we continue to take steps each week we'll be in every game," Olsen said.
A few weeks ago no one would have thought that possible, especially before the bye week when they came home 4-1 and lost to Seattle and Washington. More so than the wins over easier opponents, those two defeats probably led to most of the disrespect.
"We kind of stumbled there in the middle of the season with those two home games we lost, and have won four in a row since then," Urlacher said. "We're where we want to be, leading our division. That's where we've wanted to be all season long."
They've also put themselves at a higher level in the eyes of observers, even if they now claim it means nothing.
Gene Chamberlain is a RapidReporter for CBS Sports.com and long-time beat writer covering the Chicago Bears.________________
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