Yesterday at 3:00 PM ET time when the Chicago Bears kicked the ball off to the Green Bay Packers nobody knew who third string Bears quarterback Caleb Hanie was, but by the time the game was over that was no longer the case.
The first half of the NFC Championship game had to seem like a script written from a horror film for Bears Head Coach Lovie Smith and Offensive Coordinator Mike Martz.
Green Bay raced out to an early 14-0 lead and was operating with supreme efficiency on offense. Chicago meanwhile couldn’t muster up any points and to make matters worse starting quarterback Jay Cutler appeared to be injured.
Staring down a 14-0 deficit and dealing with a banged up Cutler, Head Coach Lovie Smith opted to start veteran Todd Collins in place of the injured Cutler midway through the third quarter.
Unfortunately somebody forgot to tell Lovie Smith that Todd Collins best days are behind him. The 39-year-old quarterback from Michigan played only two series and didn’t complete any of his four attempted passes. In fact, Collins came dangerously close to being intercepted twice in his short time under center. It became blatantly obvious very quickly that Chicago wasn’t going to race up and down the field with Collins at the helm of the offense.
With Chicago’s first and second string quarterback rendered ineffective it became time for Caleb Hanie (the third string quarterback nobody knew about) to take the field and attempt to pull the Bears offense out of neutral.
By this point Chicago’s chances of mustering up a comeback appeared to be slim to say the least. I mean Caleb Hanie who is his third year in the NFL out of Colorado State only threw 14 passes throughout his NFL career before today’s game. Hanie wasn’t even selected in the 2008 NFL Draft and was only signed by the Chicago Bears a couple days later as an undrafted free agent.
Despite not having a high profile pedigree, Caleb Hanie certainly looked like a capable quarterback as he completed a 32 yard pass to Johnny Knox early in the fourth quarter to set Chicago up for their first touchdown of the game.
This would mark the beginning of an epic comeback led by a little known quarterback from Colorado State who would end up giving Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy and the Green Bay faithful the scare of a lifetime.
Caleb Hanie would go 13-20 and throw for 153 passing yards in his 16 minutes of action on Sunday. Ultimately though, two timely interceptions would prevent Hanie and the Bears from living out their storybook ending and earning a spot in the Superbowl.
While there is mourning in the Windy City and plenty of frustration being vented by Bears fans, nobody can have any ill feelings towards the admirable job Caleb Hanie did with his window of opportunity to shine.
Obviously I can’t predict what the future holds for Mr. Hanie, but I do know that he should at least challenge the aging Todd Collins for his backup spot. The executives and coaches in this league are always searching for fresh talent and Caleb Hanie put together quite an audition tape in front of a national audience on one of the game’s biggest stages.
I won’t go as far to say that we are looking at a starting NFL quarterback and that Caleb Hanie is the “next big thing”, but crazier things have happened in sports. What I do know is that the perfect storm materialized in the NFC Championship game and the result of that storm was that the ultimate “Mr. Irrelevant” almost treated us to one of the most thrilling comebacks in NFL history.