I never once doubted my faithful Dolphins to, at the least, uphold the legacy of the legendary undefeated 1972 Dolphins. But, today they did it not only with fervor, they did it with an amazing display of showmanship and grace, leaving the fans at Soldier Field open-mouthed, stunned and wondering if they were in a dream.
For Chicago quarterback Rex Grossman, it must have felt more like a nightmare. But blame that on the coaching staff of Chicago who, apparently, only looked at the Dolphin’s record this season when preparing their team. The Bears threw their 7-0 undefeated weight around quite a bit, and walked into their home stadium with an air of assumption, not confidence. Had they done their homework, or remembered the Dolphin’s last season, or at least the Dolphin’s overall against the Bears (a 2:1 win ratio for the Dolphins), they might have prepared a bit better.
But mostly, they should have remembered nothing but the historical December 2, 1985 game in which the Dolphins defeated the Bears 38-24 and served them the only loss of their championship season. Every Dol-fan remembers that game like the ’72 season itself. Apparently the Bears had forgotten how bittersweet their Super Bowl win was that year. Today, the Dolphins helped remind them not to mix their Super Bowl ambitions with Destiny.
Before the game, coach Nick Saban had said, “Nobody gives us a chance to win this game. This is a test. We should look at it as a challenge, and it’s everybody’s choice as to how we respond to that.” The Dolphins didn’t look like they were taking a test. It looked more like they had torn up the test, broken their #2 pencils, and had become bullies and thugs – using the offense of the Bears as their target.
Never mind that they were in a stadium filled with devoted Bears fans. Ditka’s “Da Bears” were not at home, and neither were Shula’s Dolphins. These were Saban’s bullies and he used them without mercy or afterthought on an unsuspecting Bears football team, at one point creating such havoc that the Bears fans actually booed their own quarterback.
On defense, Channing Crowder, Will Allen, Zach Thomas, and Yeremiah Bell all performed like polished actors on a stage. And the roguish pirate Jason Taylor helped in his own outrageous way, forcing a fumble with a massive sack on Grossman, and intercepting a Grossman throw returning it for a touchdown. He almost had a repeat performance of that interception later in the game as well. The Bears never once kept Taylor in his cage. It was like trying to watch a football game with a lion roving about the field. I’ve seen teams focus on Taylor and, although never really keeping him at bay, they managed not to let him upset the general flow of the game. I sat in bewilderment, wondering what kind of team would not put more attention on Taylor and the only answer that popped in my head was this: an unprepared team. A team that refused to show respect. As an opposing head coach, I would rather show some respect and win, then rest on a 7-0 record and lose.
I used to see this disrespect show up from time to time when watching Marino – those were his 400+ yard games. I would wonder how, after 7-8 years of Dan Marino heroics, a professional football coach would decide that a nickel defense was going to work. Did they just spend all week golfing? What else is videotape for? If coaching stas can’t watch magic acts like Marino and Taylor and learn something from it, you almost wonder if this is the right sport for them to be coaching.
Offensively, the Dolphins just managed – which is all you have to do when your defense is creating such misery and turmoil – and scoring points, too – but, in one huge area, they excelled. Ronnie Brown shook off any vestige of Ricky Williams’ shadow and pounded out 157 yards against the Bears. A few more yards and I thought they might let him keep running all the way back to Miami. Being a lifelong Marino fan, it is exciting and rare to see a solid running game. It is almost ecliptic to see 150 yards running by a Dolphin – against a powerful Bears defense – in Chicago.
Critics of the Dolphins will say the Bears handed the win to them. Six turnovers by the Bears, although many forced, and mistakes contributed to a Dolphin win. Let’s just avoid the nitpicking and agree to agree, agreed? Sure, the Bears screwed up, but the big difference for Dol-fans was that, this time at least, the Dolphins capitalized on nearly every misstep of the Bears, making them eat the football at every turn. Another big difference is that the Dolphins didn’t let their own mistakes, of which there were an uncomfortable few, throw them off balance. It almost seemed like they came back more polished, more determined, and more aggressive after each mistake. It got to the point where I was thinking that if the Dolphins made another error, the Bears were going to have to resign from the game and tip their King. Each Dolphin blunder would always turn to the Dolphin’s favor within minutes. It was cosmic if you were a Dolphin, but deadly if you were a Bear.
In a bizarre move, the Chicago Tribune stuck its neck out more than their own team was willing to do on the eld. Some of the Tribune sports columnists, like David Haugh, should have to fight to keep their jobs after predicting that the Bears would win 30-6. Colleague Terry Bannon got a little of the koolaid in his morning coffee too and went a bit further in his prediction: 41-9. And columnist Alex Marvez jumped on the pile and wrote a piece mocking the ritualistic pre-game rituals of the Dolphins (that I’m sure the Tribune will remove from its site soon). Maybe the Bears should follow the Dolphins lead and start a few pre-game rituals of their own, like watching some tapes and seeing that despite the Dolphin’s present record, they are hardly a team to be treated like a college practice squad.
Chicago fans, misled by the failed studies of both the Tribune and the Bears coaching staff, overwhelmingly predicted in the Tribune’s online poll that the Bears would win big (73 %) or win close (18 %). I don’t know what NFL team has fans that confident, but clearly their fans aren’t being informed of all the facts, like how close the prior Dolphin losses were, or how dangerous their defense can be, or how hyper-intelligent Saban is about the game of football. The fans should sue the Tribune and the Bear’s coaching staff for not warning them. You can’t expect Chicago fans to read South Florida newspapers, and even if they did, the pathetic and traitorous writings of some columnists in South Florida would have only served to delude them further. Even Ditka coming out of the woodshed and declaring that the 2006 Bears are most like the 1985 team is a bit on the irresponsible side, especially after only seven games.
You can’t blame the Chicago fans, that’s for sure. Like the Dolphins fans, they’ve been waiting a long time for some hope on the horizon, a return to glory, and they latched on to the fool’s gold being peddled by the media and coaching staff in the Windy City.
So, now things go back to normal for the Dolphins. Despite never wanting an AFC East rival to win, I’m patiently rooting for the Patriots to defeat the Colts tonight and end all this year’s crazy speculations about undefeated teams. It would be nice to get on with the rest of the season. At 2-6, the Dolphins clearly have much work ahead to turn things into a respectable season. Today’s smash and grab of the Bear’s spotlight was an excellent start. But, if the Patriots can’t finish the job today, or any other NFL team between now and December 31, the Saban Dolphins will be called on to finish what they started here today, but this time in Indianapolis. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. The boys in South Miami from the 1972 team, especially the great Don Shula, are getting a bit too old to have their hearts palpitating all season. I hear the champagne has already been partially dipped into, but they are saving the rest of the collection for the Colt’s fall from perfection.