Locker Room Chat: Lovie Smith

Sunday's victory over New Orleans was significant on many levels. Not only are the Bears headed to Miami for Super Bowl XLI, but Lovie Smith became the first black head coach to lead his team to the NFL title game. Smith addressed the media in the Soldier Field interview room after Sunday's victory, and Bear Report was there to hear what he had to say.

Opening Statement:
I'll tell you, it doesn't get any better than that. You start off early in the year - mini camps, training camps, all those things - you see how hard the team works. You lay out a plan, and they buy into it. You want it to end this way.

Going into this week, we heard a lot. We went into the game with the best record in the National Football League, and we really didn't get a lot of respect. Not many people gave us a chance to win the football game, but our guys didn't buy into that. They bought into each other, had a lot of faith in each other, and, of course, this is where we end up.

Offensively as we started the football game, of course, getting that 16-0 lead, you felt pretty good. But of course, we knew that it wasn't safe. Sean Payton has done a super job with his Saints team. They came back, made a good run at us, and from there our offense. Rex didn't start off as well as we wanted him to, but we finished real strong. Thomas Jones and our running game, of course, was outstanding. And the offense kind of put the game away there at the end.

Defensively, we talked a lot about getting back to what we do, and that's getting takeaways. I think we got four or five, had a fourth down stop. Of course, all of those were big.

The crowd was outstanding. We got another takeaway with our special teams. All four phases kicked in today. It's just a great feeling.

I was asked about what I was thinking about all week. "What was my dream like?" and all that. I saw us presenting Mrs. McCaskey with the George Halas Trophy on our home field. Again, I'm just rambling away here.

When you're in this position, you don't know exactly how to act, what type of emotion you're supposed to have, but they're just all natural right now. We can not wait.

Are they celebrating in Big Sandy, Texas right now?
I assume they are. I saw a sign there with "Big Sandy" on it. You normally don't see a lot of signs at Soldier Field with "Big Sandy" on it. I'd say we have a lot of Bears fans celebrating everywhere.

The moment you had after the game with Mrs. McCaskey, what was that like?
I got a chance to talk to her. We didn't have to say a lot. You could see it in her face how excited she was. This is a dream for her for a long time. We told her we would do that. The team told her that they would bring it to her. Of course, she's happy right now, but the next game she'll be even happier.

What do you think was the difference for Rex Grossman in the second half?
It's a 60-minute game. You can't just look at one phase when you talk about finishing the game, and that's what Rex has been able to do all year. He's fought through adversity throughout the season. Each game is, of course, the same. There will be highs and lows, and you just have to work through him. That's what he was able to do.

Will you talk about what this means for being the first African-American coach to go to the Super Bowl?
It means quite a bit for me being the coach of the Chicago Bears and being able to lead our team to another Super Bowl. But being the first black coach to lead his team, of course, our players knew about it, and they wanted to help us make history today. So I feel blessed to be in that position. [I will] feel even better to be the first black coach to hold up the world championship trophy.

You had a special moment with Grossman on the field at the end of the game. What did you say? What was that moment like?
Again, right now you don't have to say a lot in these type of situations. But [I] just kind of hugged him and told him I loved him. You know, it's easy to say that when your team, guys say that always, people don't realize that. But I just knew what all he had gone through this year, and it was only fitting that he got a chance to celebrate like that.

When you were hired, you said you wanted to beat Green Bay and win the Super Bowl. You haven't won the Super Bowl, not yet, but are you surprised this has happened to quickly?
That was our plan. What we had was, of course, to beat Green Bay, to win the division title. We've been able to do that a couple years. But it's all about that third goal that everyone has each year, and all you want is an opportunity. And we have an opportunity now to achieve that goal.

The players get asked all the time about the 1985 Bears, and for you that means comparison to Mike Ditka. I want to know what that's like, and does this give you your own identity?
Of course, Mike Ditka was the head coach of the Chicago Bears, and I'm really into our tradition and what it stands for. Of course, we talk about the George Halas Trophy, all the great head coaches that come before me. It's a standard that they've set, and I'm just trying to get our football team up to that same standard that Mike had for his team, especially that `85 Bears team.

You mentioned how much faith you have in Grossman, and he got off to a slow start. What was it like when he went 4-for-4 on that scoring drive?
Well, of course, they had momentum at the time, and we needed to do something. Again, going into the game, we thought we could do some things in the passing game. Last week we played Seattle, Rex made a couple of big throws there late, too. Again, that's what your quarterback is supposed to do. He's supposed to take you out of some holes like that and lead you to victory when you need it, and he stepped up at the perfect time.

Was it a situation where the running game set up the passing game a little bit?
It's like that each week for us.

What about the play-action off the "42 Mike" play?
It's like that each week for us. We're a running football team. Our run sets up the pass. We like to make teams put an extra guy in the box to stop the run and be able to go one-on-one on the outside, and we got some of those situations today.

Can you talk about the big-play ability of Bernard Berrian?
Bernard has been that way all year. He's got excellent speed. He's a tough guy. And again, our guys were in tune. What we wanted to do today was the best of all of our players, and we got a chance to see the best of Bernard today.

If Tony Dungy and the Colts make it, what would it mean for you and the sport to have you and him there?
Well, it would mean quite a bit. Of course, you know where my loyalty is - for the Chicago Bears. But we have to play someone, and in my perfect world, of course, I say it, I would like to see the Colts be that team. Tony Dungy has done an awful lot for our game. He hasn't had an opportunity to coach in the Super Bowl, so I'm pulling for him to do that.

Can you talk about the fact that a lot of people around this country picked the Saints in this game?
You were one of them.

Yes, I was. Do you think what you guys did today will convince people like me and the others that this team deserves the respect you talk about?
Not really. We won 14 games, and we didn't convince you then. But that's not really our plan. Our plan is once you win it - if you can win it all - then get respect. You don't get respect until then. I liked what the New Orleans Saints did all year, too. I liked their football team. But as far as we're concerned, we get our respect once we're able to hold up that ultimate trophy.

Can you talk about the play in the trenches? Your offensive line was terrific - no sacks - and then your defensive line shut down their running game. Talk about the physical nature of how you guys took it to them.
Good question and a good point. Again, we talk about that each week. It does start up front. If you're a running football team, you have to have a good offensive line, Olin Kreutz, Ruben Brown, John Tait, Fred Miller have all done a great job all year, opened up quite a few holes today, set the tempo. On the defensive side of the ball, we play seven guys. They all did a super job of just setting the tempo. Again, that's our plan for success, our formula for success. We go into each game that way. Of course, today I thought they dominated.

Deuce McAllister had such a great season and a great game against Philly. How did you shut him down?
They passed a lot more than they ran this past week. Of course, that was a great play that Sean called with Reggie Bush to get them back in the game. Deuce McAllister is a great football player, and we were able to slow him down a little bit, but that's about all you can normally do.

Were you surprised that they ran him as few times as they did today?
Well, no. The game dictated that. They were having success with the pass. I see why they stayed with it.

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