Ironically, no game in Bears history mirrors the 2002 season
opener more than the September 1, 1991 matchup against, yes, the Minnesota
Vikings. Some facts:
Minnesota played at Chicago.
The Bears were coming off their last division championship season, until 2001.
Chicago opened with an unproven left tackle to guard their veteran
Offensive Coordinator Greg Landry's new passing offense was
in its second year, and the teams' overall philosophy focused on running the
ball, controlling the clock and playing strong defense. That is exactly what
the '91 Bears needed to do to win that opener against Minnesota, much as this
2002 team will need to do.
Due to strong play from rookie left tackle Stan Thomas, the
defense, and an unknown wide receiver, Chicago clinched a victory with less
than 2:00 remaining in a 10-6 thriller at Soldier Field.
All eyes were on rookie first-round pick Thomas, who had
been forced into the lineup due to the career-ending back injury suffered by
pro bowler Jim Covert during the offseason. That day, Thomas whould face a huge
test in the defensive end that would line up across from him all day-Minnesota
pro bowler Chris Doleman. After the game's first play, Doleman stared
facemask-to-facemask with Thomas in an attempt to intimidate him, but the
Bears' rookie didn't budge. Thomas stood tall the rest of the game, holding
Doleman to 3 tackles and zero sacks, providing time for QB Jim Harbaugh and
blasting open holes for HB Neal Anderson. Anderson made key runs to keep drives
alive, but was limited to 58 yards on 23 carries. His highlight came on an 8
yard carry to gain a first down, thanks to a crucial block delivered by Thomas.
On the other side of the ball, Chicago's defense was the key
to the successful afternoon. The mix of veteran and young defenders gelled
together to stop the Vikings, led by RB Herschel Walker, on six different plays
inside the Bears' five yard line.
Early in the first quarter, Minnesota uncharacteristically
employed a no-huddle offense and drove 73 yards for a first-and-goal at the
Bears' 2. The defense tightened, dropping Walker for successive losses, then
forced an incompletion from QB Wade Wilson on third-and-goal from the five.
Fuad Reviez kicked a 25-yard field goal, but the Bears' defense emerged
victorious. Later in the game, the defense would intercept Wilson three times
and preserve the win on a Steve McMichael tip that triggered a Markus Paul
Lastly, the Bears discovered an offensive weapon and fan
favorite in an unlikely place-right under their noses on their own scrap heap.
WR Tom Waddle, repeatedly signed and cut from the team since 1989, caught a
crucial, diving 39-yard touchdown pass to put the Bears up for good 7-3 just
prior to halftime. Waddle was forced into duty as the team's third receiver due
to starter Ron Morris' injury. Coach Mike Ditka started a rookie on offense for
the first time since 1983 in speedster Anthony Morgan from Tennessee, but the
tough and important passes went Waddle's way. "He plays the game with his
heart," Ditka said of Waddle after the game, and "Every ounce of talent God
gave him." "I don't know how much talent that is, because he's working too hard
for me to see it," Ditka said.
So what will be the recipe for opening day success against
the Minnesota Vikings in 2002? Perhaps the current team can learn from their