“Some teams are fair-haired. Some aren't. Some teams are a Smith, some are a Grabowski... We're a Grabowski.” -Mike Ditka, 1985
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A long time ago in an NFL galaxy that now seems far, far away… .
…a Los Angeles team exuding Hollywood came to Soldier Field for an NFC Championship game. They were the “Smiths,” aka the Rams. Waiting for them were the Ditka-styled Grabowskis, the Bears. Ditka, missing no opportunity to cast any event in apocalyptic terms, set the game as an epic struggle between the fair-haireds and the scruffies.
History usually doesn’t repeat itself verbatim. But sometimes it can come interestingly close...
Those Smiths were LA Flash. Eric Dickerson running the football. Henry Ellard catching it. Ron Brown with his Olympic gold medal opposite Ellard. All three of them All-Pro’s. A Heisman Trophy winner (Charles White) as a backup. Four of five offensive linemen with Pro Bowls on their football curriculum vitae, topped by Hall of Fame-bound tackle Jackie Slater.
Waiting for them were a bunch of Grabowskis, who had their own elites (No. 1’s Jim Covert, Willie Gault, Dan Hampton, Jim McMahon, William Perry, Keith Van Horne, Wilber Marshall, Otis Wilson, and Walter Payton).
But they were relative mutts compared to the LA Flash, or at least Ditka set it up that way. Jay Hilgenberg was undrafted; Mark Bortz and Richard Dent would’ve been now, being eighth-round selections back then. New England didn’t want Steve McMichael and cut him.
So here’s another bunch of “Smiths,” with seven No. 1 picks (theirs and others’) on defense alone, plus three more on offense (quarterback Jared Goff, running back Todd Gurley, wide receiver Brandin Cooks) and four No. 2’s. All this topped by a head coach – Sean McVay – hailed as the embodiment of the new NFL flash and innovation.
Waiting for them Sunday night will be the “new” Grabowskis, who have their own No. 1’s (theirs and others’): Prince Amukamara, Leonard Floyd, Kyle Fuller, Khalil Mack, Roquan Smith (how’d an actual “Smith” slip in here?) and Mitchell Trubisky. The Bears traded up for their quarterback just like the Rams did for theirs. And their coach Matt Nagy is certainly offense-cool ’n’ all.
There are some similarities. Both have high No. 1’s at quarterback; both teams jettisoned defense-based head coaches (Jeff Fisher from Los Angeles, John Fox from Chicago) in favor of young-ish guys from backgrounds of offense.
But sorry, it’s just not the same.
Aaron Donald’s press conference was national stuff when the Rams made him the highest-paid defensive player in history before this season.
Mack brought his mom and dad to his.
Donald’s original team (Rams) just kept throwing money at him until he signed; Mack’s (Raiders) didn’t want to pay him and preferred college kids in the form of draft choices.
The Rams were hailed for being bold for dealing up to get their quarterback (Goff). Bears GM Ryan Pace was widely dubbed an idiot for doing the same to get his.
The Smiths have arguably the best running back (Gurley) in the NFL. The Grabowskis finish each week answering questions about where theirs (Jordan Howard) is.
The Smiths have a galaxy of star No. 1’s up front on their 3-4: Donald, Michael Brockers, Ndamukong Suh. The Grabowskis don’t have any No. 1’s in their “3” and their best defensive lineman (Akiem Hicks) was cast aside, traded by the team that drafted him (New Orleans) and not re-signed by the team (New England) that traded for him.
The first Smiths-Grabowskis confrontation ended with the snow swirling as Marshall picked up a fumble and was escorted to the end zone where the Super Bowl waited.
This one could end amid swirling snow, and Mack could reprise the Marshall drama. No one expects these Grabowskis to go on to the Super Bowl, of course, but…