All they needed was a field goal. All the Chicago Bears had to do to beat the lowly Washington Redskins in Week 1 was kick a field goal on one of their final three possessions. Instead what they got was a Kyle Orton pick, a Kyle Orton sack and a Kyle Orton fumble.
And like many of you, I sat there and wondered, how did they get here? How did the Bears -- with nine months to prepare, with hundreds of players available, with thousands of man hours, millions of dollars and (presumably) a competent, full-time personnel staff at their disposal -- find themselves banking their entire season on an unproven 22-year-old rookie QB? How did an actual professional football franchise that finished dead last in nearly every passing category in 2004 find itself counting on a QB whose only redeeming quality (so far) is that he named his dog Elaine, after the "Seinfeld" character?
How does a team go through 27 changes at quarterback during its last 92 games and end up with this?
It's simple, really.
So simple, in fact, that I can sum up the Bears' QB Carousel from Hell in one sentence.
Now, you might want to start in 1993 when Jim Harbaugh begat Peter Tom Willis (honest) who begat Erik Kramer-Steve Walsh-Dave Krieg-Rick Mirer and Steve Stenstrom (that's a real dude, I swear), but for a franchise as horribly troubled as the Bears, to me it only seems appropriate that the Bears QB Carousel from Hell begins with journeyman Jim Miller, who by the end of the 1999 season appeared to have found a home in Chicago, that is until he was suspended for the final four games after testing positive for a banned substance he inadvertently ingested from an over-the-counter supplement (of course, happens to everyone's quarterback, right?) -- thus ending his attempt to become the only Bears QB other than Sid Luckman (in, oh, 1943) to break the century mark in QB rating; now, if memory, Google, the Bears' media guide and the collective brainpower of my football fanatic friends from Chicago serves me correctly, that season Miller beat out someone named Moses Moreno and then replaced the ineffective No. 1 pick Cade McNown who, himself, had been filling in for the injured Shane Matthews; which didn't really make sense in the first place since the Bears traded away their chance at some guy named Daunte Culpepper (whatever happened to that guy?) to take McNown (not to be confused with McNabb, McNair, McMahon, McCown-Luke, McCown-Josh or McDonald, Ronald) -- who ended up being very offensive in his own way (he got nailed for parking in handicapped spaces at UCLA), just never on the actual playing field, which, of course, didn't stop then-coach Dick Jauron from having him lead the 2000 team to a 1-8 start until, mercifully, Miller was reinserted for two games at which time he blew out his Achilles tendon and had to be replaced by Matthews, who was dumped, again, for McNown, who went 14 for 40 for 133 yards, one TD and one pick in the final two games of the season (and pretty much his NFL career) after which things finally began to calm down behind center in Chicago in 2001 when the Carousel from Hell went a little something like this: Matthews in then Matthews hurt, Miller in for Matthews then Miller hurt, Matthews in, props to Matthews, whose legendary noodle-arm did muster one sweet Hail Mary against Cleveland, then Matthews out, Miller in for the playoffs, Miller knocked silly by Philly, Matthews in, playoff hopes over-and-out, causing the 2002 Bears team to do what any cutting-edge NFL brain trust does when in need of a talent infusion at quarterback: look to Rhode Island and Calgary -- meaning, former RI QB Ken Mastrole who was cut in favor of former CFL'er Henry Burris, which was a big mistake because Mastrole went on to play for the Firecats in Arena2 which, frankly, sounds like a made-up league, while Burris went 0 for 1 as a Bears starter with a passer rating of 28.4, by far the worst rating of the eight players -- Miller, Chris Chandler, Cory Sauter, Marty Booker, Leon Johnson, Brad Maynard and Brian Urlacher (39.9 passer rating after missing on one pass) -- who filled in for the chronically banged-up Miller during a 4-12 season that so thoroughly discombobulated the Chicago front office it reasoned that after Jake Plummer turned down huge coin to become a Bear, the answer for 2003 was former Steelers QB Kordell Stewart and his run-first-pass-worst style, which might have worked had he not been, sadly, sidelined by an (un) injury thus subjecting fans to the QB known as Chandelier whose play was so gross, man, the Bears had no choice, man, but to insert 2003 first-round pick Rex Grossman who, after becoming the first Bears rookie QB in 22 years to win his pro debut, started the last three games of the Jauron era and the first three games of the Smith era only to blow out his left wheel diving for a TD in Week 3 of 2004, something that, of course, the Bears were totally prepared for -- right? -- because seamlessly in stepped Jonathan Quinn, from the Cradle of Quarterbacks known as Middle Tennessee State, to throw for a net 34 yards in Week 5 and 49 more in Week 6 before being replaced by Craig Krenzel, who cranked things up a notch, exploding for 69 yards in Week 7, which is enough to make the QB Ring of Honor in a place like Chicago, until he was re-re-re-replaced by Quinn and then by Jerry Jones reject Chad Hutchinson who, luckily, was there to lead the team to dead last in nearly every major statistical passing category and a QB nadir of such incalculable depth that the team actually signed Jeff George, a guy disliked more in locker rooms than impetigo, who, thankfully, wasn't invited back to 2005 camp, which left room for the kind of quarterback who embodies the Bears QB Carousel from Hell: Kurt Kittner (cut by five teams in seven months last season); and recent No. 1 QB Hutchinson (3-11 as an NFL starter), who was cut along with -- I swear -- someone named Ryan Dinwiddie, whom the Bears still preferred, presumably, over other available 2004 free-agent QBs such as Kurt Warner, Jay Fiedler, Brad Johnson, Jeff Garcia, Drew Bledsoe, Kelly Holcomb and Lance Covington (no, that's a made-up name, I just wanted to see if you were still paying attention) who had all signed with other teams long before Grossman broke his ankle in the preseason; leaving only Jeff Blake (because, obviously Steve DeBerg did not return their calls) and bringing us (directly, simply, effortlessly ... finally) back to Orton who -- God love 'em -- even in light of what this week's opponent, Detroit, did to Hall of Fame QB Brett Favre in the 2005 season opener, still thinks he could be the one to end the Bears' QB Carousel from Hell, saying, "I know the recent history, so I know the city and all the fans want a talented quarterback who is going to go out there and play well and win a lot of football games. Hopefully, I am that guy -- I think I will be"; to which I respond, after taking a much-needed deep breath:
Well, sure, Kyle, that's what the 30 guys before you said too.
David Fleming is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine. His book, "Noah's Rainbow," a father's emotional journey from the death of his son to the birth of his daughter, will be published in the fall of 2005 by Baywood. Contact him at Dave.Fleming@espn3.com.