Tales From The Wind Bowl
After Sunday's 35-7 trouncing of the Packers, Love Smith declared the 23rd of December, 2007 the beginning of "the unofficial 2008 season." Technically, the game meant nothing for the Bears (except perhaps a lower draft pick) but Chicago played with a pride and respect for their fans that cannot be measured in numbers or stats. I was one of many Soldier Field patrons who braved the minus 18 windchill and 30-mile-an-hour wind gusts to witness a classic Bears performance. Frozen beer in hand, my cheers caught and smothered by the wind before they could reach the field, I watched as all three phases of the team outplayed a listless, passionless Packer squad. Bears fans everywhere appreciated the heart the team showed Sunday, but none more so than those who were so busy high-fiving and dancing in the stands they barely felt a chill on the coldest, windiest day of the year.
I flew into town from Los Angeles late Saturday night, pleasantly surprised by the balmy weather that greeted me. According to Weather.com the temperature dropped from 50 degrees at 3am that night to 17 degrees by 4am–a change of 33 degrees in just one hour. It was almost as if the weather gods were readying things for a hungry Bears team, ready to pounce. When I rolled out of bed at 8am to start layering up for tailgating, the weather was listed as "feeling like" -1 degree. As the temperature continued to drop and the wind began to pick up, my Super Bowl date winner, Alan, and I met up with his friends to tailgate. We certainly didn't get better weather than Miami, but we hoped for at least a better result. Cups, chips, chairs and anything else not weighted down flew about the parking lot and sometime cinefiles shouted American Beauty quotes at the plastic bags making circles in the sky. After downing enough beer to create a "liquid blanket," we shoved hand warmers into our shoes, gloves and pockets and set off for the stadium. We sat down next to and in front of a few Green Bay fans, so I immediately got to work staking our claim on the section. I began by badgering a 10 year old in a Favre jersey (no shame), then fed the clueless Packer fans next to me inaccurate facts such as "you guys have the 1 rushing offense in the league." At one point I had even convinced them that Brett Favre was on the field, even though the Packers were on defense. Chicago may not have been favored to win on the field, but I was determined to win the battle in the stands.
Thankfully, it wasn't long before the Bears gave the thousands of freezing fans huddled in Soldier Field a reason to cheer. After a slow-moving opening drive that took nearly the entire 1st quarter and ended in a Robbie Gould field goal, the Packers offense and their legendary gunslinger took the field. Ineffective and clumsy, Green Bay recovered their own fumble on third down and were forced to punt. Jon Ryan's kick was blocked by Darrell McClover and recovered by Brendan Ayanbadejo at the Packer 7. That marked the first time in 12 years that a Packer punt was blocked, and momentum seemed to be on the Bears' side. Another Gould field goal midway through the 2nd gave the Bears a 6-0 lead and Chicago fans hugged and cheered their way to warmth. Then, as I kindly informed the Cheeseheads next to me that Ryan Grant was a great young player and all they'd have left to cheer for when Favre retires, he broke through the line for a 66 yard touchdown. The stadium (particularly those who'd heard my commentary) let out a collective groan and suddenly fingers and toes started aching again. The game would be a long, cold one if the Bears got behind.
Late in the 2nd quarter Chicago's special teams struck again, pressuring Ryan into shanking the ball of the side of his foot for a measly 9 yard punt. On the ensuing Chicago drive, the little big man Garrett Wolfe broke out for a 33 yard run to set up an 8-yard Adrian Peterson touchdown. The Bears were only up 13-7 at the break, but something about the intensity and tenacity of Chicago's play created an undeniable buzz of optimism in the stands. After calling out a drunken Packer fan trying to cut 20 people in the line for the bathroom I received a round of applause from the shivering mass of lady Bears backers. Truly, the team and its fans were firing on all cylinders.
The 2nd half of the game featured more classic Chicago ball. Alex Brown picked off Favre's first pass of the half to set up a Captain Neckbeard-to-Desmond Clark touchdown. Orton followed that up with a rare 2-pt conversion to a stretching Greg Olsen in the corner of the end zone. (On several other occasions Sunday the Bears went for it on 4th down, proving that Ron Turner can flash some onions–even if only in meaningless games). Moments later, Peanut executed the "corner roll" play that worked against the Broncos to perfection once again, deflecting a Ryan punt to a waiting Corey Graham for the 7 yard score. 28-7 Bears and they say, like the Grinch's heart, the fans' frozen smiles grew three sizes that play. Early in the 4th, Pro Bowl snub Brian Urlacher added to the rout with an 85 yard pick-six, the first of his career. Favre completed the picture, lying helpless on the frozen grass of Soldier Field, watching 54 cruise into the end zone. The future Hall-of-Fame QB said after the game, "I've been playing 17 years and those were the worst conditions I've ever played in." Just as the "Frozen Tundra" was outdone by the "Windy City" so too were the Packers outdone by the Bears.
After the game Alan and I got to go down to the Bears' friends and family room to warm up a bit while the players showered and dressed. In the attached bathroom one of the player's wives/mistresses/sisters/friends who had obviously watched most or all of the game inside, remarked "Wow, I can sure tell you were outside for the whole game." I looked in a mirror for the first time since 9am and was shocked to discover that my face, frozen and windburn, looked like a cross between a plate of prosciutto and a skinned deer; the sign of a true fan. While a lot of the players rushed out the back to catch flights home for Christmas, I did get a chance to meet and talk with Ayanbadejo, Wale Ogunleye and Adam Archuleta. I also waved at Greg Olsen, Robbie Gould, John Tait, Danieal Manning, Lovie and a few others. I was amazed to find that I was as tall as or taller than a lot of the players walking by–but I was not at all amazed to find they were much, much stronger. And after Sunday's game, the team itself seems stronger. Olin Kreutz said of the win: "What does it do for us? I don't know, but it seemed to help the Packers last year." While a true Chicagoan never wants to emulate a Cheesehead, Bears fans do hope the team can turn things around the way the Packers did after winning their season finale last year. Until the 2008 season begins, fans can be content to appreciate the early Christmas gift the Bears gave them–a Packers sweep in The Wind Bowl.