October 24, 2006

Willing ‘Da Bears’ to Win

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If you were watching ESPN a week ago from last night, you saw one hell of a football game. Despite trailing 23-3 with a little more than a quarter to go and featuring a lifeless offense, the Chicago Bears used three return touchdowns — two on fumbles and one off a punt — to shock the Arizona Cardinals, 24-23.

Now, I could take this opportunity to write about how the win proves that my beloved Bears are a team of destiny, or that they have the best defense ever (they might) or some cliché like that. But, unfortunately, I think only the 20 other Bears fans on campus would appreciate it.

Instead, I want to share you with the real story behind that game. Despite being played over 2,000 miles away, the Bears incredible comeback win was actually sparked by events happening on the 200 block of Williams Street here in Ithaca.

Falling behind 20-0 at halftime and then 23-3 toward the end of the third quarter, I kept searching for a solution to turnaround the Bears’ fortunes. Being the superstitious fan that I am, I had already gone through a half dozen costume changes hoping that, with just the right combination, the team that had trounced Buffalo 40-7 a week earlier would finally show up.

First, I tried wearing my various Bears hats. Next, I put on my Urlacher jersey, took it off, and even made one of my roommates put it on. At some point, I even suggested that my four roommates and I switch seats on each play until we found the perfect alignment. Needless to say, my four roommates got tired of that idea pretty quickly — and it wasn’t really doing anything anyways.

Still, though, I held out hope that Bears could win the game. All we needed to do was find that “lucky state” — the one that would somehow propel them to victory. Fortunately, it found us.

After another hopeless three-and-out by the hapless Bears offense, the Cardinals got the ball back deep within Chicago territory leading 23-3 with less than minute to go in the third quarter. Believing the game to be out of reach, my roommate Jeff left the room to study BioChem.

Immediately, the Bears caught their first break of the night. Coming in untouched from his defensive end position, Bear’s rookie Mark Anderson knocked the ball from Arizona quarterback Matt Leinart and Chicago safety Mike Brown scooped up the fumble and took three steps into the end zone.

All of a sudden, the Bears were back in the game and Jeff, hearing our screams at the play, returned to the living room with a renewed interest in the game.

Instantly, all the momentum Chicago had picked up after the fumble return seemed to disintegrate. The Cardinals continued to run down the clock on offense, as the Bears did absolutely nothing when they got the ball back.

When Rex Grossman threw his fourth interception of the night and Arizona took over the ball with less than six minutes to play, it again seemed that all hope was lost for the formerly unbeaten Chicago Bears.

But, then, Jeff returned to his studies.

Two plays later, Brian Urlacher stripped the ball from Pro Bowl running back Edgerrin James, and Bears’ cornerback Charles Tillman scooped up the loose ball and returned it forty yards to cut the deficit to 23-17

Again, Jeff closed his textbook and returned to the couch, anxious to see if the comeback would actually be pulled off.

Getting the football back after the kickoff, the Cardinals picked up one first down before the Bears forced a punt. Knowing that ESPN would cut to commercial after the change of possession, Jeff ran back to his room to cram in a few precious minutes of amino acids and polymers just before the fourth-down play.

He ended up missing the most exciting play of the game. Weaving through a sea of players, Bears rookie Devin Hester wrote his name into the Chicago record books with an 87-yard punt return for a touchdown.

As I screamed loud enough to wake up most of lower Collegetown, kicker Robbie Gould added the PAT to put the Bears up, 24-23, with under three minutes to play.

Also, it became abundantly clear that Jeff was responsible for the Bears’ woes. In the handful of plays he had missed in the entire game to study, Chicago had scored three remarkable touchdowns and completed one of the most improbable comebacks of the year.

As we all acknowledged this phenomenon, I begged Jeff to leave the room. With over two minutes left, there was plenty of time for Leinart to orchestrate a game-winning drive to complete his coming out party on National TV.

But Jeff refused.

Immediately, what seemed like an incredible victory for the Bears started to crumble away. After a lengthy kickoff return, Leinart began to slice apart the Bears defense. Meanwhile, Jeff — who I think is related to Steve Bartman — would not leave.

Desperate to recapture the magic that stirred the comeback, I decided that maybe it wasn’t Jeff, but the act of studying in his room that had brought the Bears luck. As such, I actually went into his room, sat in his chair, opened his BioChem textbook and started reading.

It didn’t work. When I came back to check on the game, the Cardinals had moved to the Bears’ 22 yard line and had Neil Rackers — one year removed from setting the NFL record for field goals in a season — lining up the game-winning kick. As the Bears called a timeout to ice the attempt, I pleaded with Jeff to get back in his room one last time. Maybe it was that I had finally appealed to his heart, or maybe it was his fear of my intense fanaticism at that moment, but, either way, he finally agreed not to watch the kick.

The rest of it is history — Rackers missed the 40-yarder wide left, the Bears ran out the clock, and I won’t let Jeff watch another Bears game as long as I live.

I guess there’ve been more improbable wins and more incredible comebacks in the history of sports. However, I think it was the context of the Bears victory and my Dad’s voice in my head — saying what he would always say after a game like that — which struck me so strongly. After watching a comeback of that caliber, he would turn to me and say, “You know what that shows — It’s never over until it’s over.”

Being a senior in college, I think that’s some of the best advice I could receive right now. As I try to work through prelims, search for a job, or deal with relationships as they form and disintegrate, it’s the hope, even the faith, that there’s always the possibility that things will turn out for the best that keeps me going. And, if along the way, you find you need a little superstition — or a lot as in my case — to keep that faith alive, go for it. Hope is never a bad thing to have.

Scott Reich is a Sun Staff Writer. Scotty Doesn’t Know will appear every other Tuesday this semester.