However, the same can not be said for Smith's quarterback no matter how much the coach appears to be in his corner.
Rex Grossman is entering the final season of the five-year contract he signed as a rookie back in 2003. And despite the fact that he directed the Monsters of the Midway to the NFL title game for the first time in 21 years and put up the franchise's best numbers at the QB position since Erik Kramer in 1995, the former Gator is standing on very shaky ground. Smith, along with GM Jerry Angelo, continues to profess publicly that Grossman is the starter under center no matter what, but the majority of the Grabowskis aren't sold just yet.
Five games into the 2006 regular season, the Bears finally looked like they had their quarterback of the future. Grossman had thrown 10 touchdown passes against just three interceptions, leading his team to a 5-0 record out of the gate. He was named NFC Offensive Player of the Month for September and generating buzz around the league as an early MVP candidate.
But he was embarrassingly bad the next week before a Monday night audience, tossing four INTs and losing a pair of fumbles against an Arizona defense that didn't exactly conjure up images of the Steel Curtain. Grossman would rebound after the bye week with a sensational effort at home against San Francisco, but he was maddeningly inconsistent the rest of the way. He posted a passer rating better than 100 seven times, but he also had five games under 37 – tops in the league.
As the season developed, Grossman became arguably the most heavily scrutinized player in the NFL despite the fact that his team was running away with the North Division and on its way to a No. 1 seed in the playoffs. The Bears would finish with a 13-3 record and won the NFC before falling to Indianapolis at Dolphin Stadium, but there was growing sentiment that the team got to the Big Game in spite of him, not because of him. Some even suggested that Grossman was the worst starting QB in Super Bowl history.
Grossman is the first to admit that he's had some poor performances, but he believes it's unfair to suggest that he had a poor season in 2006.
"In some games, I was bad," Grossman told the Baltimore Sun recently. "I had 13 or 14 games I'm extremely proud of and five or six that were really bad. The swings of criticism were much bigger than swings in my play."
More important than the numbers, Grossman knows that having the support of his teammates is paramount.
"You have your own self-confidence, and you have the confidence of your team," he said. "That's what matters."
If that is indeed what matters, then Grossman is in good shape. Teammates on both sides of the ball have come to his defense repeatedly, insisting that the periodic offensive struggles are not all his fault and that they continue to believe in him. Smith was toying with the idea of pulling Grossman in Week 14 if he got off to a slow start in St. Louis, but the bench erupted in excitement when he unexpectedly sprinted up the middle for a 22-yard gain in the first half.
It was glaringly obvious who the Bears wanted as their signal-caller.
To his credit, Grossman never shies away from the media and accepts the myriad responsibilities expected of him. But he became increasingly agitated answering the same questions over and over again as the Super Bowl approached and started accusing reporters of not doing their homework. His apparent distaste for beat writers and the like only seems to be escalating this offseason.
If one thing in sports is a virtual certainty, it's that making enemies in the press is close to career suicide.
His 23 touchdown passes were terrific, but his 25 turnovers were horrific. The 148 passer rating in Week 2 was unbelievable, but the goose egg he laid in Week 17 was unforgivable. And throwing two fourth-quarter picks against Indianapolis – one of which was returned for the clinching score – will never be forgotten no matter how awful the rest of the team played on Super Sunday.
Just like Elaine said to George on Seinfeld, "To the victor goes the spoils."
Grossman acknowledges that he will be loved after wins and loathed after losses, but learning to deal with it all is the key.
"It's the responsibility of playing quarterback," Grossman said on Media Day during the week of Super Bowl XLI. "Nothing fully prepares you, but you know you're front-and-center next to maybe the head coach. I deserved a lot of the criticism, and I deserved a lot of the praise. In the end, I know the game and I know I can't afford to be sensitive to it."
Grossman admits he was frustrated with some of the media criticism he got least season.
"It's bothered me at times," he said. "But really, it's just part of it. It's a situation where I've played bad and people are going to say negative things. I just didn't realize that the exaggeration either way that comes with it."
Unfortunately for Grossman, like the media, Bears fans tend to exaggerate their loving and loathing, as well.
|John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and Editor in Chief of BearReport.com. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.|