Win One for Walter
It was supposed to be a typical regular-season game for the NFL's longest-storied rivalry. I remember this week as if it was yesterday, back in November of 1999. It was on a Monday that an icon in the city of Chicago had passed away, and the Bears had paid tribute all week to the man who was the face of the franchise for 13 seasons. So the game with the Packers meant more than just another rivalry game with them.
I remember that I had gone on a trip to the beach in North Carolina with some former coworkers for fishing that weekend. I had went out fishing with them on that Saturday and had gotten sick on the boat, too. Let's just say I ate the worst thing you could before getting on a boat, and I'll leave it at that.
Nonetheless, the other guys went out again that Sunday, and I decided to stay behind to watch the games. The guy who took us out on the boat stayed behind as well and invited me to his beach house. Little did I know I would catch a break.
He was a Panthers fan, and he had the DIRECTV package to watch any games he wanted. So I told him that I was a huge Bears fan, and he flipped back and forth between that game and the Panthers, too.
After the Panthers got out to a big lead over the Eagles, he decided to leave the Bears game on for me because he had some fish to cut up from the day before anyway.
The Bears had lost three games in a row, including a 48-22 beatdown in Washington, where the Redskins had led 45-0 at halftime in the previous week. The Packers were coming off an embarrassing home loss to Seattle and were very eager to get back on track against their arch-rivals.
The Packers had history on their side as Chicago had not won in Green Bay since 1992, Brett Favre's first year as starting quarterback. Chicago Bears icon Walter Payton died on Nov. 1, 1999 and past and current Bears players had mourned the death of him just the day before in a memorial. So, on Nov. 7, 1999, the Bears coincidentally enough had their arch-rivals to play that day.
The NFL had done a great job in recognizing Payton with a moment of silence at all the games that weekend. You could clearly see it in the eyes of the Bears that they were very emotional about the loss of one of Chicago's all-time best sports heroes.
You could see a sign on the Bears sideline that said "Win One for Walter". The reception in Green Bay was great for the most part, and it was the site of what can only be described as a miraculous day for the Chicago Bears.
Things looked bleak early on, as starting rookie quarterback Cade McNown injured his knee during the second series of the game. Already down 3-0, the Bears went to their third-string signal caller in Jim Miller because Shane Matthews had been injured against Washington, too.
The Bears had problems in the running game on the season after Curtis Enis was returning from ACL surgery, and James Allen not fairing much better that year. But this day was different.
Miller came in, and the Bears used an impressive drive, where the running game had put them ahead on the scoreboard. Enis and Allen each had at least an 11-yard run on the drive that ended with a touchdown as return man Glyn Milburn scored on a 49-yard run to give the Bears a 7-3 lead.
It turned out to be the longest run of the year for the Bears, and it was Milburn's only touchdown of the season, too.
The Bears held the lead until a costly interception by Jim Miller led to a seven-yard touchdown pass from Favre to Tyrone Davis, as the Packers took a 10-7 lead into halftime. The Bears had rushed for 120 yards in the first half of the game, and Favre had 130 passing yards.
Chicago came out in the second half with a drive deep into Packers territory. But the Bears fumbled inside the Packers' 10-yard line, as they squandered an opportunity to take the lead. However, the Packers were forced to punt after going three-and-out on their next drive, as Chicago got the ball back at its own 45-yard line.
This time, the Bears finished off the drive, as Miller connected with Bobby Engram on a six-yard touchdown pass in the left corner of the end zone to give them a 14-10 lead at end of the third quarter.
The Packers immediately drove down the field on the Bears but had to settle for a 26-yard field goal to cut the lead to 14-13. The Bears then took the next possession down inside Packers territory, but kicker Chris Boniol missed a 34-yard field goal after Chicago had chewed up over five minutes off the clock.
After both teams went three-and-out on their next drives, the Packers had put themselves in position to win the game. Instead of going for the touchdown, Packers coach Ray Rhodes wanted to make sure that the Bears didn't get the ball back as they only needed a field goal to win it.
Favre had led the Packers down to the Bears' 10-yard line, with kicker Ryan Longwell, who had made 83 percent of his field-goal attempts on the season, coming on to give Green Bay the win. With seven seconds left on the clock, the Bears appeared to be on their way to losing their fourth straight game.
As the Packers lined up for a 27-yard attempt, I was standing up in the living room at the beachhouse, not feeling good about the Bears' chances of winning the game. As the Packers snapped the ball, I noticed it never made it up in the air. The kick was blocked by defensive tackle Bryan Robinson and recovered by safety Tony Parrish, as the Bears held on to win! I was like a kid getting excited after Robinson blocked the game-winning kick attempt for Green Bay.
"I think Walter Payton picked me up because I can't jump that high," said an emotional Bryan Robinson after the game. "I just got my hand on the leather, and it felt so good. It's for you, Walter."
"I hit the ball pretty good, but I need a lane to kick through, and obviously somebody made a great play," said Longwell. "Somethings happen that you can't explain."
The Bears were one of the worst rushing teams in the league that year, but their 160 yards on the ground for this game was a season-high. Enis had a career-high of 83 rushing yards on the day. Chicago had the 29th-ranked defense in the league in 1999 but allowed just one touchdown in this game.
They had lost 10 straight to Green Bay and had lost six in a row at Lambeau Field, but they won this game. They had lost three straight regular-season games and were embarrassed just the week before against Washington, but rebounded in Green Bay.
And even in this game, they had four turnovers and the Packers had just one. The Bears missed a golden opportunity to put the Packers away on a field goal and fumbled away a sure scoring drive earlier in the third quarter.
But despite all that, the Bears were destined to win this game for Walter Payton.
In sports, we sometimes forget the power of human will, determination, and emotional strength in games after a trying period of time for athletes as well as the unexplained happenings. In an otherwise dismal season, it's hard for me to think of many more games where I was more proud to be a Bears fan than this one.
The team was in transition under new coach Dick Jauron and played their best defensive game of the year, as Bears fans and "Sweetness" from up above watched a miraculous and emotionally lifting win for a mourning city. Against all the odds, an unlikely hero by the name of Bryan Robinson had blocked a kick with "Sweetness" giving him a little help.
Destiny was on the Bears side that day, and it couldn't have been a "sweeter" ending to a game for Chicago.
Since it was this week, nine years ago, and the fact that I'm a Bears fan, I wanted to talk about a game that Chicago remembers well. Tomorrow, I'll resume the FSD History Flashback, and it's one of the most important events in the history of sports, too. So you don't want to miss that one.
Photo courtesy of Geocities.
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