Bears

Bad blood fueled Bears-Vikings playoff bout profiled in 'Bears Classics: Eclipsing Moon'

Bad blood fueled Bears-Vikings playoff bout profiled in 'Bears Classics: Eclipsing Moon'

From the high ground of hindsight, what unfolded in the Metrodome that day in 1995 was actually quite a big deal. But not for reasons that you could have really understood at the time watching the Bears stun the Minnesota Vikings 35-18 in the wild card round of the 1994 playoffs.

It was not so much the game alone. It was the overall context of the time for the Bears, before and after.

Though the 1995 season would get off to a 6-2 start for the Bears before their near-historic collapse, the Minnesota game would prove to be the high-water mark for the coaching tenure of Dave Wannstedt. This was the postseason, and the Bears looked to be going where then-president Mike McCaskey envisioned when he made the play to beat the New York Giants in securing Wannstedt, who was unquestionably the hot coaching prospect coming out of the Dallas Super Bowl pantheon after the 1992 season.

To fully grasp the situation, you need to understand the undercurrent of venom that had developed between the Bears and Vikings. Bears-Packers might have been the glitzy rivalry, but what had grown between the Bears and Vikings was true hostility, with little of the respect that the Bears and Packers had managed. The Vikings carried grudges for Pro Bowl slights going back almost to the Bears' Super Bowl win. One Bears defensive lineman remarked that his most hated opponent was Minnesota right tackle Tim Irwin, adding, "He's a guy that, if I ran over him with a car, I'd back up over him to make sure I got him." Dwayne Rudd's backpedaling taunt after an interception came a couple years later, but you get the idea.

What's easily forgotten looking back through the mists of time was the epic decision made by Wannstedt to make a quarterback change, from a quarterback he wanted in free agency to one he knew well from their time together at the University of Miami. That was every bit the turning point of the season and the real reason the playoff trip and win ever happened.

The Bears had been annihilated in their first game against the Vikings in the 1994 season — 42-14 — and something was really, really wrong, which become glaringly more evident just a few weeks later, even though the Bears were reaching a 4-2 mark under quarterback Erik Kramer, the centerpiece of an aggressive offseason foray into free agency. But the Bears then lost — badly — to the Lions and Packers, with Kramer throwing three interceptions against Detroit and two against Green Bay, the latter in only 10 pass attempts.

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I talked privately to Kramer after the Green Bay game, specifically about why it was that he was playing his absolute worst against Detroit, Green Bay and Minnesota, all teams with which he was intimately familiar. My thought: You know those defenses and where their people are going to be.

Kramer shook his head: "The 'other guys' I know. It's my own guys. I don't know where they're supposed to be."

It wasn't a comment on his receivers whatsoever. It was Kramer admitting bluntly that he was not getting the West Coast scheme of coordinator Ron Turner and its timing element.

Wannstedt knew it wasn't working and made the change to Steve Walsh, who'd been the Hurricanes' quarterback under Jimmy Johnson when Wannstedt was the defensive coordinator.

That was the tipping point, and Walsh and Wannstedt are among the principals of "Bears Classics: Eclipsing Moon," airing on Monday at 8 p.m. on CSN.

Anyone with any time spent in or around the NFL knows that beating a team three times in a season is incredibly difficult. The Bears had been blown out in the first Minnesota game but had pushed the Vikings to overtime in the second and would have won had Kevin Butler not missed a 40-yard field goal try.

The playoff meeting was No. 3, and after the Vikings put up a field goal in the first quarter, the Bears scored with a Lewis Tillman touchdown in the second and just pulled steadily away from the winner of the only NFL division that produced four teams with winning records.

From there it would be another decade-plus — 2006 season — before the Bears would win a playoff game.

Mock Draft: Bears stick to best player available, wait to take a running back

Mock Draft: Bears stick to best player available, wait to take a running back

Mock drafts are, at best, educated guesses. At worst, they’re blindly throwing darts at a board. 

For the first time since 2014, the Bears will not make a selection in the first 10 picks of an NFL Draft. And for the first time since 2010, the Bears won’t have a first- or second-round selection at all. That makes for a lot more guesswork in projecting this year’s NFL Draft for those outside Halas Hall — and those in it as well. 

“We’re trying to project right now who will be there (at No. 87),” general manager Ryan Pace said of his team’s first pick this year. “So I would just say that third-round cloud, for example, is just bigger than it is in previous years. There’s this bigger pool of players that we’re talking about.”

So with that in mind, here’s a stab at who the Bears could wind up with after the dust settles on Saturday:

Third round (No. 87 overall): Miles Boykin, WR, Notre Dame

Ryan Pace goes for a true “best player available” play here, given the Bears don’t “need” a wide receiver, at least right now. The 6-foot-4, 220 pound Boykin blew up at the NFL Combine this spring by running a 4.42 40-yard dash, vaulting the Tinley Park native into some second-round discussions. But if a team doesn’t take a shot on his outstanding athletic profile and the upside he flashed in his redshirt junior year in South Bend (59 receptions, 872 yards, eight touchdowns), the Bears could. Boykin would be a good fit with the Bears, especially given he’d be provided at least a year to learn the offense and refine his game without necessarily having the pressure of needing to start, as Anthony Miller had a year ago. 

“There’s so many variables and so many scenarios, because there’s so much space before we pick,” Pace said. “There’s a bigger pool of players, so you’re playing out every one of these scenarios. ‘Man, what if this player fell?’ Or there’s just a bigger pool of players we’re talking about. A lot of scenarios. That’s probably the challenge that exists with that.”

More than any pick, No. 87 will be an opportunity for Pace to pluck someone he, Matt Nagy and scouts like who perhaps has fallen further than expected. The Bears don’t “need” Boykin right now. But in a year? They very well could. 

Fourth round (No. 126 overall): Will Harris, S, Boston College

Harris’ 4.41 second 40-yard dash was the fourth-fastest among safeties in this draft class, and he totaled 158 tackles for Boston College in the last two years while steadily improving as a run defender. He doesn’t profile as a ballhawk based on his past production (five interceptions in four years) but the Bears could see Harris as someone with long-term potential to play next to Eddie Jackson in the future. 

If the Bears do take a safety around this part of the draft, remember: Pace unearthed Adrian Amos and Jackson in the fifth and fourth rounds, respectively. While not everyone has become a key starter (Deon Bush, Deiondre Hall), the Bears’ front office does seem to know what to look for in mid-round safeties. 

Fifth round (No. 162 overall): Corey Ballentine, CB, Washburn

Pace has selected someone from below the FBS level in each of his last three drafts: Hall (Northern Iowa) and DeAndre Houston-Carson (William & Mary) in 2016, Adam Shaheen (Ashland), Tarik Cohen (North Carolina A&T) and Jordan Morgan (Kutztown) in 2017, and Bilal Nichols (Delaware) in 2018. Ballentine, from Division II Washburn, participated in the Senior Bowl and is regarded as having the athleticism and makeup to make it in the NFL with the ability to play either outside or in the slot. 

PROJECTED TRADE: Bears acquire a sixth-round pick (No. 204) from New England for 2018 seventh round pick (No. 238) and 2020 seventh-round pick

The Patriots are notorious for hoarding picks and frequently trading down, so if the Bears want to move into the sixth round, targeting New England’s comp pick here makes sense. And trading down would land the Bears, in this scenario, their running back:

Sixth round (No. 204): Travis Homer, RB, Miami (Fla.)

Part of this projection is having all three of Darrell Henderson, Miles Sanders and David Montgomery go off the board before the Bears pick at No. 87. If any one of them — Henderson especially — is available when the Bears pick in the third round, it wouldn’t be a surprise for Pace to jump at the opportunity to draft a running back. 

The Bears waited until the sixth round to address their most obvious need last year — edge rusher, in drafting Kylie Fitts — so we’ll say Pace does the same thing this year (running back in 2019, though, is far less of a need than edge rusher was in 2018). Homer averaged six yards per carry in three years at Miami and flashed some pass-catching potential. At the least, he could be a third-down back as a rookie with some special teams upside — think a replacement for Benny Cunningham — who could have an opportunity find a larger place in the Bears’ offense. 

Seventh round (No. 222, from Denver via Philadelphia): Yosuah Nijman, OT, Virginia Tech 

The 6-foot-6, 324 pound 23-year-old has good athleticism and size but poor technique, making him an ideal prospect for offensive line coach Harry Hiestand to develop behind the scenes. Interestingly, this would be the first time Pace has picked an offensive tackle since the last selection of his first draft (Tayo Fabuluje, who never played in the NFL). 

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Bears fans on social media want Penn State RB Miles Sanders in 2019 NFL Draft

Bears fans on social media want Penn State RB Miles Sanders in 2019 NFL Draft

Even without a pick until the third round, Bears fans are still excited for what the 2019 NFL Draft could bring.

They’ve had to do their homework on prospects available later in the draft, but overall, fans have reached a consensus on their favorite player for the 87th overall pick.

Sports Illustrated partnered with the Clemson Social Media Listening Center to look at which draft prospects have received the most attention from fans on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Bears fans are enamored with Penn State running back Miles Sanders in the third round.

“After dealing Jordan Howard to the Eagles, the Bears are in the market for a back to pair with Tarik Cohen,” Sports Illustrated wrote. “It's easy to understand why Sanders, a savvy runner with an emerging three-down skill set, would be garnering the most buzz among Bears fans.”

Sanders emerged from the shadow of Saquon Barkley to break out in 2018, and a strong showing at the NFL combine bolstered his draft stock.

He might have played his way out of the Bears draft range, but if he’s on the board when Ryan Pace is on the clock, the fans will be clamoring for their favorite running back.