Despite their long and storied tradition, the Chicago Bears have not won the Super Bowl in over a quarter century. They did, however, return to the big game back in '06 but failed to win the big prize.
Meanwhile, how did they do it? Were they lucky or was there a plan? Is there something to learn from this and if they do ever get back to the dance, will they be better dance partners next time because of things that head coach Lovie Smith has learned?
As Bears fans, we certainly hope so.
Prior to last season, most of us had very little faith in Smith and his coaches. After a fairly successful campaign in 2010, however, perhaps some confidence has been restored.
But let's face it, the Packers are only going to get tougher as they have players returning from injury and wile they still have Aaron Rodgers at the helm. Plus, guys like Brian Urlacher aren't getting any younger.
We came close last year, but if we get even closer in 2011, assuming there is a season, what lessons will Lovie need to apply from the past?
Let's give him some unsolicited advice, shall we?
As Lovie Smith finally seemed to prove last year, he is capable of adjusting. While the mid-seaosn return to emphasizing the running game isn't a philosophical shift for Smith, it did show that he was willing to work with his assistant coaches to change something that wasn't working.
In 2006 it seemed that Lovie and his coaches were unwilling to adjust during the season. They had a plan, and they stuck to it whether things were working or not.
During the Super Bowl that year, Lovie didn't make the adjustments during the game and got out-coached. Sure, the Colts had more talent perhaps, but you have to be willing to adjust your game plan, just like the Bears were willing to adjust their offense last season.
Mike Martz and Mike Tice joined the Bears in 2010, while Rod Marinelli came to the team in 2009.
That's a lot of former head coaching experience and has been a welcome departure from the the more inexperienced staff that Lovie used to surround himself with.
I used to think that it was insecurity but whatever the reason, having that experience has done wonders to help the team game plan.
I recognize that no matter how loudly Bears fans scream, Lovie Smith will never change his base defensive scheme.
That's what he knows and he will likely never deviate from it.
But as past experience has shown, there is a reason why fewer teams employ it as their base package these days. Lovie needs to learn from this and use it less often.
The cover 2 is actually only called about one third of the time; still, it is the base defensive scheme the Bears employ.
In the last Super Bowl the Bears were in, teams exploited the Tampa 2 by overloading one side with receivers by putting one in motion to that side and hot route them all deep.
By the way, in case you're wondering, there is a difference between "Tampa 2" and "Cover 2". The defenses are similar, except in a Tampa 2 the middle linebacker drops into a deep middle coverage.
It requires lots of turnovers and team speed. With Urlacher getting older, and even Peppers entering his 30s, that speed is just not as great as it was. The defense also relies on solid tackling, and as we saw in the Super Bowl, when that tackling slips, the defense suffers.
Teams that have been successful against this defense have managed to run the ball up the middle past the defensive tackles, or throw passes in the seams between the outside linebackers and the cornerbacks.
Lovie needs to learn that these plays, as well as misdirection plays, can be used to exploit this defense and be prepared to change up as necessary.
Back in 2006, and as Lovie Smith first came to the Bears, there was a strong accusation that he had certain players he liked and others got in his doghouse and the reasons weren't always related to performance on the field.
Last season, perhaps because of the pressure to win after three consecutive seasons of missing the playoffs, the emphasis seemed to be where it should be, and deserving players were on the field for the most part.
Smith still isn't the best at evaluating talent, but he is willing to sit guys down for lack of performance. And that is a huge difference that needs to continue if the Bears are going to win in 2011.
As the Bears' last Super Bowl run showed, the defense that Lovie Smith employs simply must have a strong, capable defensive tackle who can play the three technique, similar to how Warren Sapp played for the Tampa Bay Bucs all those years.
While Tommie Harris was still an effective player in 2006, though he did start his injury history, he certainly hasn't been good since.
Recognizing that, the Bears did go out and draft a guy who, if healthy, appears to be just what the doctor ordered.
Stephen Paea is an animal. The former rugby player from Australia may need to refine his pass rush moves, but he has incredible strength and plays with aggression.
That should bode well for the Bears this year.
If the last Super Bowl run proved anything, it's that you can get away with a bad quarterback for awhile, especially if your defense is great. But when you get into the big game against a guy like Peyton Manning, you need a good QB to compete.
Well, we didn't have one then. We had the very inconsistent Rex Grossman, who was 'good Rex' one week and 'bad Rex' the next. QB ratings of zero do not often win games, except that the defense that year was so stifling.
Our defense is still good, but it's not quite to that level, so the QB play is ever more critical now. It's become a passing league.
So, is Jay Cutler the answer? Well, it depends on the question. Sure, he can be maddening at times, especially in the red zone. But with improved weapons and a better offensive line, he has the talent to be a Super Bowl winning QB.
As the 2006 run proved, if you take care of business against opponents in your own division, you have a good chance at being successful.
That's what the Bears did that year, as their only loss came in the last week of the season against, of all teams, the hated Packers. Up until that point, they had gone undefeated against teams in their division.
Sunday, September 25, is the first division game scheduled for this season, and it's against the Packers. This would not only be a terrific way to begin the season (Week 3), but it would be revenge.
The Bears end the season with consecutive division games and both are on the road.