Remembering the Strange Odyssey of the 2001 Chicago Bears

Clay CunninghamCorrespondent IMay 8, 2009

I became a Bears fan in 1991 at the age of seven. It has certainly been a mixed-bad from an emotional standpoint.

In that time, I've seen them win 136 games while loosing 152. I've seen a mere three playoff victories. I've seen countless heart wrenching draft busts.

However, I acknowledge it could be worse. Unlike several people who have experienced fandom in that same time frame, I have been lucky enough to at least see my team reach the SuperBowl. So with all the crap I've had to weed through, one would likely assume the 2006 season was easily the highlight of my sports viewing life. Was it the highlight? Probably. But was it easily the greatest season I ever saw? Hardly.

The Bears entered 2001 having achieved loosing records the previous five seasons, and a talent pool that indicated a sixth was on the way. What followed was one of the most improbably, and arguably fraudulent, 13-3 campaign's in NFL history.

Don't believe me, here's a refresher of the more insane moments of an insane season:

  • Two touchdowns drives of 66 and 67 yards in four minutes to wipe out a 15 point deficit and force overtime against San Fransisco
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  • Two touchdowns in 28 seconds, including a Shane Matthews to James Allen hail-mary as time expired to force overtime against Cleveland.
  • Mike Brown's game winning pick-six in both games. Even odder, these games occurred in back-to-back weeks!
  • Three missed field goals by Jason Hanson (who has missed three or fewer field goals in three entire seasons mind you) to help the Bears earn an ugly, 13-10 win against the then winless Lions.
  • A go-ahead touchdown pass on a fake field goal for a comeback win at Washington. This play featured the ho-hum TD combo of Punter Brad Maynard to emerging stud Linebacker Brian Urlacher.
  • A 67 yard interception return by 340 pound behemoth Defensive Tackle Keith Traylor against Jacksonville
  • Anthony Thomas, yes Anthony Thomas, winning rookie of the year. His primary competition? A little known back by the name of LaDanian Tomlinson (now that's a great "Stump The Schwab" question if I've ever heard one.)

The entire season seemed like a formulaic movie with turn after turn that would make you roll your eyes thinking that what you saw would never actually happen. Looking back it's hard to believe that a team quarterbacked by Jim Miller and Shane Matthews could even call itself a playoff contender, let alone a #2 conference seed. Thus was the magic of the 01 season.

Of course it didn't end magically. January 19, 2002 was a weird day in Chicago. For starters, Michael Jordan was playing at the United Center in a Wizards uniform. And the miracle Bears just ran out of whatever pixiedustesque material that had been sprayed on them all season, getting thumped by the visiting Eagles 33-19, in the last game to be played at the old Soldier Field.

The playoff loss was disappointing, because it gave the Bears a chance to prove they weren't a fluke. Sure they had some good fortune and, aside from the miracle San Francisco, game hadn't beat a team with more than nine wins all season. But as a fan you still never want to believe any success is fraudulent. Sadly, the lethargic effort put forth in the Divisional Playoffs sort of proved it was.

The fluke theory came full-circle in 2002, when what was essentially the same team stumbled to a disastrous 4-12 campaign. One year later Dick Jauron, NFL Coach of the Year in 2001 was gone, and the Bears wouldn't get back to the playoffs until 2005.

But whether or not the success was truly deserved, I think it's crucial to continuously celebrate what an amazing ride the 2001 season was. We finally saw the Bears overtake the Packers for the NFC Central title and could throw it in their fans faces. It didn't matter that they beat us twice and were unquestionably a much better team, we won the division!

Above all, we should always celebrate the memories created by that team, which are much stronger than the ones created by most 13-3 teams that bow out in the second round of the playoffs (does anyone think Titans fans will remember 08 in the same way we remember 01?).

History may not remember the 2001 Chicago Bears with wonderment, but I know I will. It wasn't the same as the 2006 NFC Champions, because that was a genuinely good team made up of players who were equipped to make a run at a championship. By all accounts this team should have won five or fewer games, yet they miraculously won 13! A mostly rag-tag bunch of players who somehow were able to put together a season whose success wasn't just surprising, it was mind- boggling.

So here's a final toast to the 2001 Bears. The most fortunate, and more importantly, the most fun team I have ever had the honor to watch.