Commentary

Green's 42-second meltdown has made him a commercial icon

Updated: December 23, 2007, 1:09 AM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

Oct. 16, 2006. Chicago Bears vs. Arizona Cardinals on "Monday Night Football." Dennis Green's personal physician watches from home and fears for his patient's health. There's enough steam coming from Green's ears to press four shirts and a pair of pants.

His Cardinals -- and this is damn near impossible to do -- have just lost a game to the unbeaten Chicago Bears after forcing six turnovers, not allowing an offensive touchdown and leading by as many as 20 points late in the third quarter. The Cardinals control the ball for nearly 40 minutes and limit the Bears to nine first downs.

Mark J. Rebilas/US PRESSWIREDennis Green was even angry after last year's game against the Bears, and it's turned into a legendary beer commercial.

And they lose! Lose! I watched the whole thing, and more than a year later I still can't believe it. It's one of the great football collapses of our time, a career low point for a coach who would rather sip phlegm than lose a game like that.

But that's not what we remember. We remember Green walking grimly to the podium for his postgame press conference, keeping it together for a few moments, and then watching his head explode on national TV.

"The Bears are who we thought they were!"

It was perfect. Eight words that came directly from the heart, and from the inner reaches of Green's anger. Eight words that have transformed Green from unemployed football coach to employed beer commercial star.

"You know what," says Green, from his San Diego-area office, "I had had it. We had had a run of such bad luck that I was at a boiling point. Maybe if I had had an extra 10 minutes, maybe I would have calmed down. But I don't even know if 10 minutes would have made a difference."

Thank God he didn't wait. Instead of pure, undistilled emotion, we might have gotten the usual Bill Belichick-like postgame mush. And you don't see anyone rushing to do a TV endorsement gig with Coach Hoodie, unless Sony or Panasonic have called about its camcorder line of products.

Green is on TV more than Oprah these days. Who knew you could begin your career as a football coach and end it cashing checks from Coors?

"I would say this: This caught on," says Green, who is trademarking the phrase. "I wouldn't say it's more important than winning 117 [NFL] games, four division titles, drafting Randy Moss, coaching Jerry Rice … I've done a few things in my career."

Green didn't invent the phrase that night after the Bears loss. A day earlier, during a meeting with the MNF announcers, Green reminded the crew of the Cardinals' 23-16 preseason win against Chicago. Sure, the game didn't count, but Green liked the way his team had played against the Bears, liked the matchups, and liked his chances less than two months later.

The Bears are what we thought they were. They're what we thought they were. We played them in preseason. I mean, who the hell takes the third game of the preseason like it's (expletive)? (Expletive)! We played them in the third game, everybody played three quarters ... the Bears are who we thought they were! That's why we took the damn field! Now, if you want to crown them, then crown their ass! But, they are who we thought they were, and we let them off the hook!

--Dennis Green, Oct. 16, 2006

"We went against this team in preseason and they're exactly what we think they are, which is a one-dimensional team," he told that MNF crew.

There was talk that the unbeaten '06 Bears had the same football DNA as the legendary 1985 Super Bowl Bears. Green had coached at Northwestern during Chicago's '85 championship run and knew better.

"I knew what a good team was," he says. "I saw a good team. This ['06 Bears] team was nothing like the '85 Chicago Bears at all. … Now we go to play and they are just like we thought. We knew how to stop them. We knew how to score on them. We knew how to pick up their blitz."

They knew everything except how to avert a collapse. A 20-point lead had dwindled to six with 3:17 remaining in the game. Then a punt settled into Devin Hester's arms and 19 horrifying seconds later, the Bears were tied and then ahead by one. That's how it ended, 24-23.

Without scoring an offensive TD, the Bears had won a game with a punt return, a field goal and two fumble returns for scores. The one-dimensional team would reach the Super Bowl and be exposed by the Indianapolis Colts for exactly what Green thought they were.

Meanwhile, Green got fired by the Cardinals. Months later, his phone rang with an offer. It was his agent, who wondered how Green would feel about being in a beer commercial.

The twist: The Oct. 16 postgame tirade would be the star.

Jim "Playoffs?" Mora and Mike Ditka did the first set of Coors ads in 2005. Dick Vermeil and Green's longtime friend, the late Bill Walsh, starred in the 2006 series. Now the beer company wanted Bill Parcells and Green.

"Even from the start, I knew if I was going to decide to do it, I was just going to be a good sport about it," Green says.

It isn't easy seeing one of the worst 42 seconds of your professional coaching life reduced to a beer commerical punch line. The endorsement money helps, but still, you have to relive the moment over and over and over again.

There you are in full scowl, your heart sliced open by the Bears and fate. A week earlier, your kicker misses a 51-yarder against Kansas City that would have sent the game into overtime. You figure you should be at least 4-2 instead of 1-5.

You're seething. A reporter asks about the Bears and the turnovers and that's all it takes to light the fuse. You say the phrase, you drop a few curse words, you slam the side of the podium and the microphone fears for its life. You storm out of the room.

But Green decided he could relive it all because, well, there are worse things in life than a loss to Chicago. When he got a preview copy of the spot, he watched the commerical with his wife, and guess what? He thought it was funny.

"First of all, it had healed," Green said of the memory. "And you move one. Everything that you do, it's part of who you are."

Green and the famous eight words are now joined at the hip. He used to be recognized by football fans. Now he's recognized by housewives and 20-somethings who didn't have a clue he coached at Northwestern and Stanford (when the Cardinal upset No. 1 Notre Dame), led the Minnesota Vikings to the playoffs eight times, had the great Walsh as a mentor, Rice as a student, and Moss as a draftee and star. Instead, he's the psycho in the beer commercial.

"The first thing people say is, I was right," Green says.

He was right. And now, by pure accident, he's something of a pop culture/beer-selling icon.

"My doctor thought it was a hell of an idea that I didn't hold back," Green says.

We second the opinion.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter