By Dave Wischnowsky –
Tom Brady and his golden arm (and his golden locks … and his golden pair of UGGs) are coming to town. The Bears are in first place at 9-3. And, at 10-2, the New England Patriots can say the same.
Even the temperature on Sunday – single-digit temps, snow and whipping winds – is primed for December football in Chicago.
Yes, all the elements – both football and climate-wise – are in place this weekend for the biggest Bears game since that January Sunday 25 years ago when the Bears and Pats met in New Orleans …
Sunday’s 3:15 p.m. tilt vs. New England at Soldier Field of course isn’t anywhere near as big as Super Bowl XX (Da Bears 46, Patriots 10, by the way). But, there’s little debate that it is the biggest game – or, at least, the most hyped – along the lakefront in a long time.
And that got me to wondering just how long?
So, let’s look back.
There wasn’t a game as big in 2009. The Bears started out 3-1 before losing eight of the next 10 en route to a meek 7-9 record for the season.
In 2008, there was a pretty big game. The Bears went 9-7 for the season and, on Dec. 22, had a major Week 15 showdown at Soldier Field against Green Bay. Chicago won 20-17 in overtime to record its 9th win and stay in playoff contention (the Bears lost 31-24 the next week at Houston to fall out).
That same day, the Vikings also lost their Week 15 game to fall into a first-place tie with the Bears for the NFC North lead with one game to play (Minnesota, meanwhile, beat the Giants 20-19 in the finale to win the division)
So, while that 2008 game was undoubtedly big, the Packers were only a 6-10 team in ’08 (not nearly as good as New England is this year) and the Bears weren’t really considered true conference championship contenders that season, which they have to be considered right now this year.
In 2007, there wasn’t a game as big as Sunday’s. Not even close. The Bears were a weak 7-9 for the season and never had even a .500 record during any point of the season.
All of this brings us to the 2006 campaign, during which – as you might recall – the Bears rolled to the Super Bowl. The biggest game that season (besides Super Bowl XLI) was the Bears’ 39-14 victory over New Orleans at Soldier Field in the NFC Championship game during January ’07.
And the next biggest was the Bears’ NFC Divisional victory at Soldier Field the week before vs. Seattle at (a 27-24 overtime victory).
But those were playoff games (always big). And as for regular-season games during December 2006, the Bears hosted Green Bay in the season finale (a 26-7 loss, as Chicago eyed the playoffs). Two weeks earlier, Tampa Bay visited (a 34-31 overtime victory that improved the Bears to 12-2 and secured home-field advantage). And two weeks prior to that, the Bears played host to Minnesota (a 23-13 win that wrapped up the NFC North title).
The Tampa Bay and Minnesota games were both very meaningful in ’06, but Tampa finished only 4-12 and the Vikings 6-10. Neither was good in the way that 2010 New England is good.
And neither had Golden Boy Tom Brady.
So, while I’d say that Sunday’s Pats game is the biggest at Soldier Field since the NFC Championship tilt four years ago, I’m still not sure the last time there was a more anticipated regular-season game by the lake.
But feel free to dive in with your own thoughts …
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com.