No Spare Bears looming on horizon


Saturday, March 12, 2011Posted: 2:25 PM

By John Mullin

To answer one very big question right away: No Spare Bears.

The last time there were lost games in the NFL was 1987, when the records show that only one game was lost from a 16-game schedule. But the cost to the Bears was far, far worse.

This current situation, fortunately, is not on track to be a repeat. Lovie Smith will be spared the dilemma that severely hurt Mike Ditka.

Spare Bears was a phrase that came into the Chicago sports lexicon when the Bears brought in replacement players for the ones who were walking picket lines. The replacement players around the league included Erik Kramer, later a Bears quarterback; Mike Hohensee, who subsequently coached the Ditka-owned Chicago Rush; and Sean Payton, who went on to coach the New Orleans Saints to a win in last years Super Bowl but was a Spare Bear in 87.

This time is completely different.

The current situation is a lockout. Owner-induced. The 1987 situation was a strike by the Players Association. Games in Week Three were canceled.

But while Buddy Ryan, whod moved on by then to coach the Philadelphia Eagles, was contemptuous of the replacement players he was handed, Ditka cost himself dearly with his players when he declared, The real Bears are the ones wearing uniforms on Sunday.

In fairness to Ditka, he was working for a chief executive (Michael McCaskey) who many believed was looking for a reason to rid himself of Ditka and put his own stamp on the franchise. And Ditka quietly campaigned to have the names of replacement players included in the media guide just like everyone else who wore a Bears uniform.


But his declaration irreparably tore the fabric between his players and him.

Its like a marriage, Dan Hampton told me. If you find your wife is cheating on you, you can stay together, but itll never be the same again.

The current impasse, with its yet-to-play-out legal machinations, will engender hard and hurt feelings at some levels. But it wont be a repeat of 1987.

John "Moon" Mullin is's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.