Sidney Brown is known as the go-to guy for hockey info on Regal Radio, but what you may not know is that he has quite the encyclopedic brain for all sports. In “Sid Ranks Em’ All” you’ll get to read his unique take on the best and worst of sports with specific lists spanning all playing fields.
Here, Sid provides the last part of our Chicago Bears season preview (read the previous three parts here, here and here) by listing his five favorite wins by the Bears in Week 1 as we prepare for Sunday’s season kickoff against the Buffalo Bills.
BACK TO FOOTBALL.
No corporate sporting slogan deserves our attention more than the National Football League’s, used every late summer to get the majority of American sports fans back into their most precious routine, their favorite routine — watching glory and disappointment unfold on 100 yards of turf every Thursday, Sunday and Monday night.
Opening days in other sports may be more romanticized, but the dawning of another NFL season can be as electric as any other. There’s a reason why “kickoff” is typically used to describe when anything, sporting or otherwise, begins.
More and more, the NFL season has become an event, stretching out to a Thursday coronation for the defending champs, as is being done tonight in Seattle as the Seahawks take on Green Bay, but for this fan the first Sunday of the NFL season never loses its gleam, especially when I think back on the many memorable Week 1s my Chicago Bears have had.
By the end of most of the seasons I’ve watched the optimism provided in the first game wasn’t matched by its end, so these particular Week 1s — where so much was possible and some wild stuff played out in front of Bears nation — stand as monuments to optimism and imagination and hope … three things no Bears fan should lack, for our own sanity’s sake, if anything.
With all that said, here is my top five list of the best Bears Week 1 games of all time:
5) Bears 31, Vikings 14 — September 3, 1995
Coming off a playoff victory in the Wild Card round in Minnesota the previous January, the Bears were expected to take a big step forward in 1995 and they got to set this campaign off with the team they upset earlier.
The Bears indeed got off to the start they wanted in blasting the Warren Moon-led Vikings out Soldier Field. Bears quarterback Erik Kramer threw three touchdown passes including, including two to wide receiver Curtis Conway who totaled 5 catches for 110 yards. On the other side, Bears defensive tackle Jim Flanigan led the team with two sacks.
Momentum from this win didn’t last long nor was it consistent — the team would finish 9-7 and miss the playoffs despite this being a rare season where the Monsters of the Midway were more menacing on offense than defense, ranking in the NFL’s top-10 in overall offense and featuring two receivers (Conway and Jeff Graham) with 1,000 yard seasons. Sounds kind of familiar, huh?
4) Bears 20, Chiefs 17 — September 12, 1999
After the firing of Dave Wannstedt in the winter, the Bears turned to new head coach Dick Jauron to lead the team back to glory. In his coaching debut, Jauron quickly got results and defeated Kansas City (who were featuring their own rookie coach, Gunther Cunningham) in Soldier Field with quarterback Shane Matthews completing 25-of-38 passes for 245 yards and two touchdowns. Rookie quarterback and future disappointment Cade McNown also got into the action and went 6-of-9 passing for 77 yards.
The big star for the Bears on this day was second-year running back Curtis Enis, who had 22 carries for 64 yards and five catches for 69 yards and a TD. On a sadder note, this was the last Week 1 game for Chiefs legend and Hall Of Fame linebacker Derrick Thomas, who would pass away the following February due to injuries sustained in a car accident.
It was a new era for the Bears, but growing pains overrode everything as the team would finish with a 6-10 record while waiting until the 2001 season for another, long-waited playoff berth.
3) Bears 27, Lions 24 — September 16, 1992
After losing the NFC Central division title by one game the previous year to those same Lions, the Bears — who lost in the NFC Wild Card round — were intent on a return to the playoffs and perhaps a Super Bowl run under then-coach Mike Ditka.
In this Week 1, neither team yielded much to each other through three quarters. It wasn’t until the fourth when Lions running back Barry Sanders ran thru, around and over the entire Bears defense for a 43 touchdown run where the game ramped up with Detroit holding a 17-10 lead early in the fourth. A series of exciting scoring drives ensued before Bears wide receiver Tom Waddle scored the game-winning touchdown in the final seconds, sending the Soldier Field fans home with a smile.
Bears quarterback Jim Harbaugh finished the game with 19-of-30 passing for 227 yards and two TDs while running back Neal Anderson rushed for 72 yards and a TD and also caught three balls for 32 yards and another score. Meanwhile, Steve McMichael led the defense with 2 sacks. The 1992 Bears got off to a 4-3 start but the team lost eight of their final nine games and finished with a 5-11 record. The late season collapse was the last stand for Da Coach as Ditka was fired that January. Middle linebacker Mike Singletary also retired in the offseason and an era came to an end.
2) Bears 19, Lions 14 — September 12, 2010
Almost 20 years after Waddle stunned the division rivals from Motown, a catch that wasn’t sent Detroit back home shocked once again.
Starting its second year with Jay Cutler at the helm of the offense, the Bears were looking for a return to postseason play for the first time since the 2006 Super Bowl run and they couldn’t have asked for a better opponent to open up with than the Lions, who finished 0-16 in 2009.
Surprisingly, the young Lions dominated the first half, but the Bears turned things around when defensive end Julius peppers sacked Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and caused a fumble. That led to an 89-yard Matt Forte reception for touchdown, which pulled the Bears within 14-10 at halftime.
Stafford left the game in the second half with an right shoulder injury and with only two field goals in the second half by the Bears, the Lions were poised to make their move. Lions backup QB Shaun Hill drove his team on a potential game-winning series, capped off by Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson’s dramatic effort in the back of the end zone, he thought he had secured the catch for the touchdown, but replay showed that Johnson did not complete the entire process of catching the football. Yup, did not secure it…that was the NFL’s story and they stuck to it.
So, the Bears escaped with the win and came away with great days for Cutler (23-for-35, 372 yards 2 TD passes) and Forte (50 yards rushing, 7 catches for 151 yards) and the kind of encouraging finish that could help propel a team to a division title and a deep playoff run, both of which the Bears got done until the hated Green Bay Packers ruined everything in the NFC Championship game.
1) Bears 26, Packers 0 — September 10, 2006
Nothing could be ruined — not by the Cheeseheads, not by anyone — in Week 1 of the 2006 season, the first victory in the franchise’s most successful season since 1985.
After losing in the NFC Divisional round the previous season to the Carolina Panthers, the Bears’ expectations were Super Bowl or bust and a lot of eyes were on the team as they got to open this season in the national late-afternoon game at their eternal rival’s house, Lambeau Field.
Any chances Fox may have hoped for a competitive game were done in easily by the determined Bears, who got a 49-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Rex Grossman to receiver Bernard Berrian just under three minutes into the game. Muhsin Muhammad wound up with six receptions for 102 yards while Grossman finished one of his best contests as a Bear with 18 completions on 26 passes for 262 yards.
The Bears defense recorded three sacks and we witnessed the birth of the Devin Hester phenomenon, he scored his first NFL touchdown on this day with a punt return for 84 yards in the fourth quarter.
On the other side, Packers quarterback Brett Favre had one of his worse games against a team he typically tortured in the 1990s, it was the first time that the Bears shutout Favre in his career.
A 7-0 start followed this complete victory, eventually the team won NFC North title and the NFC title, each in impressive fashion and reached the Super Bowl for the first time since the legendary Super Bowl Shuffle Bears.
In many years, the Bears’ Week 1s can be a mirage of hope but this time around it was as clear a signpost for better things to come as anything we’ve seen. You always got to start somewhere if you’re going to do anything great, that’s why Week 1 is always a time I’ll cherish as a fan.
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