When the NFL released its 2001 schedule, there were some games that Tags and Co. simply wanted to hide. The moribund match-up of the 3-13 Browns against the 4-12 Bears was one of them. Both teams looked beaten and outmatched in 2000, and both teams figured to be near the bottom of their respective conferences this year. No wonder this contest was placed in the creamy center of the NFL season, amidst a rain of byes and unfolding playoff races, where no one was sure to notice.
What the league got was a trip on a time machine. The Browns and Bears are a pair of throwback franchises, defensive juggernauts that dominate opponents, create turnovers, and produce highlight reel hits. The Bears' Brian Urlacher is channeling the combined mojo of Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary--he's supplanted Ray Lewis as the MLB [i]du jour[/i] in the league. The Browns are getting production from all corners--from rookie phenom Gerard Warren to monsterbacker Jamir Miller to first-year wonder Anthony Henry.
So when these two teams meet at Chicago's Soldier Field (a designated 'No Teal' zone, by the way), it produces some of the greatest hits in NFL memory. True to hype, Urlacher is simply all over the place. The insanely versatile linebacker excels in the first series, stuffing runs up the middle, picking up receivers in coverage, and running down sweeps. When Butch decides to air things out, Urlacher pops up at strong safety, scrambling Browns receivers and getting a lethal head of steam on tackles.
After a punt, the Browns match the Bears hit for hit. QB Shane Matthews lasts three plays before he becomes a recipient of the first-ever Courtney Brown-Gerard Warren combo sack. The collision is like something out of an Enrique Fermi daydream. Enormous bodies collide at unthinkable speeds, unleashing a hail of teeth, bone chips, and equipment parts. Chunks of polyurethane from Matthews helmet are later found embedded in the press box, nearly 40 yards away. Hobbled Jim Miller plays the rest of the way, but completes exactly zero passes while losing more than 100 yards on sacks.
With less than a minute remaining in the fourth quarter, the two great franchises have played to a perfect stalemate. Greatness haunts the sidelines. The ghosts of Paul Brown, George Halas, Marion Motley, and Walter Payton drift overhead. Jim Brown and Dick Butkus jaw at each other across the end zone. It is a perfect moment. Cool rain, green grass, fresh mud. The stuff football legends are made of.
And then, Butch Davis puts in Ben Gay. Third and 17 from the Browns 30-yard line, Mike Sellers and Gay line up in a pro set, right to left. Couch hands off to the unheralded rookie, and Gay finds a sliver of light between Ted Washington and Bryan Robinson. Urlacher is waiting, but Sellers crashes into him like a two-ton truck. There's a sound like rocks exploding as Gay cuts left around the collision and turns upfield. Tony Parrish moves in for the tackle, but Gay lowers his shoulder and demolishes the 208-pound safety.
Fifteen yards downfield now, and the clock has run down to 35 seconds. Gay sloshes toward the right sideline, gaining speed and power. Cornerback RW McQuarters has the angle. He slices in on Gay and meets him near the sideline at the Bears' 45. Gay throws out an arm--a punishing stiff-arm that bends McQuarters backward and leaves him flailing at air.
McQuarters has slowed Gay down, but not enough. The big, rumbling back is channeling a football god of his own now, looking for all the world like a young Bo Jackson. Walt Harris is in hot pursuit. The last Bears CB has the angle, but Gay just keeps accelerating. He's racing ghosts now. Red Grange, Marion Motley, Gale Sayers, Jim Brown, Walter Payton, Leroy Kelly. In those waning seconds of a magnificent game, Gay chases history--and finds his future.
Final score: Browns 7, Bears 0.
And that's the way I see it. GMD