First Impressions

Call it a season to remember or one for the ages, but this group of Bears weren't given much of a chance to do anything, let alone make the playoffs this season.

Rodney Dangerfield would laugh at this one. In a recent Time magazine article on the Bears and their memorable season, there was a bit of an error.

The article, titled "The Good-News Bears," recapped a dream season highlighted by two overtime wins over the San Francisco 49ers and Cleveland Browns, both on interceptions by safety "Mark" Brown.

Most Bears fans know the real guy in this story, free safety Mike Brown, a second-year pro from Nebraska, who is one of the NFL's fast-emerging stars.

"They can call me Mark as long as we're 13-3 and in the playoffs," Brown replied.

That's been the approach by the Bears all season. Shake off the negativity, continue to play hard and good things will happen.

From worst to first Nobody gave the Bears much of a chance, if any, this season. Most publications had them picked as the worst team in the NFL, camped out in the cellar in the NFC Central Division, and Dick Jauron as the division's worst coach. Most predictions had Chicago around the 3-13 mark and a fifth straight last-place finish in the NFC Central.

But the Bears became the feel-good story of the season as they won games in stunning fashion (Brown's interceptions for touchdowns), and with special players making special-team plays (Brian Urlacher on a fake field goal TD catch against the Redskins).

And we can't forget about Keith Traylor, all 380-plus pounds of him, rumbling down the sideline 67 yards at Soldier Field with an interception against Jacksonville.

It's truly been a season to remember. "I think it motivates us if people put us down and say we can't do it," Bears defensive end Phillip Daniels said. "I'm always motivated by somebody telling me I can't do something. I'm pretty sure the rest of our team's the same way.

"Keep picking us as underdogs; maybe we'll keep winning. I don't know if it takes the pressure off, but it definitely gives us some encouragement to go out and kill somebody that game. It's been motivating us all year."

That motivation and we-told-you-so attitude has lifted the Bears to new heights this season. The Bears are 13-3, clinched their first playoff berth since 1994 and have one of the NFL's most talented and exciting defenses.

Chicago will face Philadelphia today in the franchise's first home playoff game since 1991. It will be the second meeting of the postseason at Soldier Field between the two teams. The Bears won "The Fog Bowl" 20-12 on Dec. 31, 1988.

Randall Cunningham and Mike Tomczak were the quarterbacks in that game. This time around, you're looking at Mt. Carmel's Donovan McNabb, the Eagles' rising superstar who was second in MVP voting last season, and Jim Miller, the Bears' journeyman signal-caller.

"I've had butterflies since I've been in the league and even when I was sitting on the sideline," Miller said of the playoff excitement. "That's just part of it. The fear of failure, or whatever, or the thrill of competition and being able to play at such a high level.

"If you don't have the butterflies, it's just like Coach said, 'You shouldn't be in this business.' "

The Eagles come in with playoff experience, playing two games in the postseason last season and winning last weekend against Tampa Bay.

The Bears have little experience to boast about. Traylor has played in 11 postseason contests, including 10 games with the Broncos and two Super Bowl appearances. Fellow free agent defensive tackle Ted Washington played in nine playoff games.

Besides long-time Bears offensive tackle James "Big Cat" Williams, there's not much big-game experience on the team. And Williams, who has played his entire 11 seasons in Chicago, has participated in just three postseason contests.

"What about Baltimore?" Bears center Olin Kreutz asked, referring to last year's Super Bowl champs. "I don't think they had much playoff experience.

"We think we've been in enough big games this year that we think we're ready now."

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