Sorry, Peyton ... my heart belongs to the Bears
The head says Indianapolis. The heart says stick with the team that won me over two weeks ago. Here are 15 reasons the heart -- and the Bears -- will win Super Bowl XLI, writes Gene Wojciechowski.
MIAMI -- I believe it was the noted football historian Owen Wilson who said, "You know how they say we only use 10 percent of our brains? I think we only use 10 percent of our hearts."
Presenting 15 reasons why the heart wins:
1. So it's media day and I'm standing on the first row of steps at Dolphin Stadium trying to locate Rex Grossman's interview stand. As I'm looking, someone directly behind me starts talking about how Bears players (this team, as well as recent Bears teams) are tired of hearing about the '85 Chicago Super Bowl champions.
I glance back. The guy doing the talking is wearing a suit and a media pass. I look at the credential. It's a former (and fairly recent) Bears Pro Bowl player who will remain nameless because, (A) he didn't know I was looking for 15 reasons, (B) he was chatting with a Bears official, not me, and, (C) militant Bears fans forever trapped in the Super Bowl Shuffle time warp would find out where he lives, stand outside his front door wearing Willie Gault and Steve Fuller jerseys, and chant, "Da Bears ... Da Coach."
But the former player is right: The 2006 Bears, while not nearly as charismatic, compelling or overpowering as the '85 Bears, have just about had it with the Mongo, Fridge, Punk QB tales of yesteryear. They can't say it publicly, of course, because it would be considered sacrilege in Chicago. But nothing would give these guys greater pleasure than stuffing a Lombardi Trophy into the mouths of every Bears follower hell-bent on reliving '85.
2. I know the Colts have Adam Vinatieri, who -- all together now -- is the greatest clutch place-kicker since goal posts were invented. But Bears kicker Robbie Gould missed exactly one more field goal than Mr. Automatic during the regular season (Gould was 32-of-36, Vinatieri was 25-of-28) and led all kickers in scoring.
OK, you got me during the postseason (Vinatieri has made a ridiculous 11 of 11 field goals to Gould's five, though, to be fair, the Bears played one less playoff game than the Colts). But that doesn't mean Gould is a mope. He's going to the Pro Bowl (Vinatieri isn't) and 10 of his 18 games were played at gusty Soldier Field rather than the climate-controlled and windless RCA Dome.
No, he doesn't have Vinatieri's long history of game-winning kicks (this is only Gould's second season in the league), but the guy isn't afraid of pressure.
3. Two words, and then some Roman numerals: Super Bowl XXI. Remember what happened?
John Elway got all the pregame hype as the superior quarterback, but then Phil Simms, who had had a weird, inconsistent regular season (22 TD passes, 21 interceptions), proceeded to set Super Bowl records for most consecutive completions (10) and highest completion percentage (88.0, 22-of-25). He threw for 268 yards and three touchdowns, was named the MVP, said he was going to Disney World and Disneyland (the first MVP to say so), and then celebrated the New York Giants' 39-20 victory against the Denver Broncos.
I'm not saying Bears QB Rex Grossman is going to complete 88 percent of his passes (the best he did this season was 79.3 versus the San Francisco 49ers), but there are some similarities between his 2006 and Simms' 1986. And it won't be a problem channeling the former Giants star. Simms is doing the game for CBS.
4. Just a reminder, but Colts starting left cornerback Nick Harper hasn't practiced in about 1,000 years. He injured his ankle in the first quarter of the AFC Championship Game, and Colts head coach Tony Dungy keeps using words like "iffy" to describe the status of the six-year veteran. Without going all X's and O's on you, that's not good.
Harper has to be the unluckiest player in the postseason. This year it's a sprained ankle. Last year it was a wife stabbing him in the leg with a knife. Hey, it happens. (Ben Roethlisberger's desperation tackle of Harper after a last-minute fumble by Jerome Bettis cost the Colts the lead and almost undoubtedly a trip to last year's AFC Championship Game.)
5. Just another reminder, but Colts starting safety Bob Sanders, who has been in and out of the lineup during the season (but in during the playoffs), is still nursing a bad knee. So in review, half of the Colts' starting secondary has injury concerns. You don't think the Bears will notice, do you?
6. The Bears are seven-point underdogs! Oh, my. Why are we even playing the game?
Here's why: Denver was an 11-point dog to Green Bay in XXXII and won by seven. Washington was a three-point dog to Denver in XXII and won by 32. Kansas City was a 12-point dog to Minnesota in IV and won by 16. New England was a 14-point dog to St. Louis in XXXVI and won by three. The New York Jets were 18-point (it varies) dogs to Baltimore in III and won by nine.
The smart guys in Vegas aren't always so smart.
This year my X-factor choice is Bears defensive end Mark Anderson, who doesn't start, but who had 12 regular-season sacks (a franchise record for a rookie) and another one in the NFC Championship Game.
X-factor honorable mention: Bears wide receiver Bernard Berrian.
8. I think we can all agree Peyton Manning is one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game. And if you don't agree, please report to your HR rep to arrange a substance-abuse test.
No, Manning hasn't won a Super Bowl, but there isn't a coach in the NFL, with the exception of Bill Belichick, who wouldn't trade his quarterback for Manning this nanosecond. But Manning isn't infallible. He has two touchdowns and six interceptions this postseason. He's been sacked five times.
I'm just saying.
9. I think we can all agree that Rex Grossman is not one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game. At least, not yet he isn't.
But Grossman, for all of his mind-boggling ups and downs this season, is a gamer. And his Bears teammates believe in him, which is a helluva compliment to pay a guy who completed only 54.6 percent of his regular-season passes and had only three more touchdowns than interceptions (23-20).
I don't think the Bears can beat the Colts with Grossman simply "managing" the game. I also don't think it's a coincidence that 20 of the 40 Super Bowl MVPs have been quarterbacks.
This is a game made and built around the quarterback position. Grossman, despite his inconsistent play, has the stones to thrive in this type of setting.
10. Colts tight end Dallas Clark has 17 catches for 281 yards and a 16.5-yard average this postseason. That's only eight fewer catches and eight fewer yards than Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne combined.
I guarantee you Clark will be a point of emphasis for the Bears' defense. I also guarantee you he won't do what he did against the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game (six catches, 137 yards).
I'm not blowing off what the Colts have done against the run during the postseason. When you hold Larry Johnson and the Chiefs to 44 rushing yards, the Ravens to 83 rushing yards and the Patriots to 93, you've rehabilitated your defensive image.
Jones and Benson are different types of runners, which helps. And their success (the Bears are averaging 158 yards rushing during the postseason) sets up the passing game, keeps the clock running and, in this case, keeps Manning off the field.
So it comes down to this: Do you totally believe in what the Colts have done against the run during the last three games, or do you totally believe in what the Bears' rushing attack has done throughout almost the entire season?
12. NFC Championship Game: Bears 39, New Orleans Saints 14.
In case you've forgotten, the Saints, not the Colts, ranked first in the league in total offense and passing offense.
13. Dwight Freeney this, Dwight Freeney that. Yeah, the Colts' defensive end has a spin move to die for, and he can make offensive tackles look like blocking dummies. But the Ravens held him to zero sacks in the divisional playoffs, and so did the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. Think Bears left tackle John Tait took a look at the film during the last two weeks?
14. OK, I'll give Vinatieri the edge at place-kicker, but the Bears have the advantage in every other special-teams category. Devin Hester is scary good and punter Brad Maynard consistently pinned the Saints deep in their own territory in the NFC Championship Game.
15. It's true; I flipped on the Bears. I didn't think they'd reach the Super Bowl. I didn't think they'd reach the NFC Championship Game. They still don't inspire total confidence, but neither does the Colts' defense.
Bears 27, Colts 26.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at email@example.com.
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