Jim Harbaugh, Bears QB 1987-1993
Many visitors to this page will shake their heads with
amazement wondering why on earth Jim Harbaugh would be featured as an
"unforgettable player" of the Chicago Bears. The purpose of this page is to
argue that Jim Harbaugh wasn't nearly as bad as we thought-and was pretty
special in many ways.
Harbaugh was drafted by the Bears with the 26th pick of the
first round in 1987 out of Michigan. He was voted Big Ten MVP as a senior
during the 1986 season, and set many Michigan records. Despite these facts,
coach Mike Ditka wasn't sold. Ditka wanted to take linebacker Alex Gordon from
Cincinnati, but was overruled by personnel boss Bill Tobin and President
Michael McCaskey. The Bears' major downfall in their disappointing 1986 finish
was the lack of a healthy quarterback. In those pre-free agency days, teams
could afford to draft a player and let them develop for 4 or 5 years, which was
the plan with Harbaugh.
He played sparingly in 1987 and 1988, making his first start
in the latter year as both Mike Tomczak and Jim McMahon were injured. He traded
starts with Tomczak in 1989 before finally winning the job for good in 1990.
'90 was his first breakout year, as he started the first 14 games before being
sidelined with a separated shoulder. In 1991, he entered the season the club's
undisputed starter, an put up numbers unseen by a Chicago team in years.
In '91, Harbaugh set Bears records for attempts and
completions, and fell just 55 yards short of the team's single season record
for passing yardage. He was the first Bears quarterback to start all 16 games
since Vince Evans in 1981. There were 2 major highlights for Harbaugh in 1991.
Against the Jets on Monday Night, he threw for 303 yards and spearheaded the
team's come-from-behind overtime win. And against New Orleans, he was terrible
for the first 3 and a half quarters, and was about to be pulled for backup P.T.
Willis. But with less than a minute left in the game, he threw several strikes
to Wendell Davis and Neal Anderson, and beat the undefeated Saints with a TD
pass to Tom Waddle. Pulling out tough games like this takes leadership, an
intangible posessed by the tough-as-nails QB.
Harbaugh's leadership never shined brighter than on opening
day, 1992. Chicago was hosting 1991 division champ Detroit, and the game was
even at 17-17 with just over a minute left. Harbaugh drove the Bears down the
field, completing the game-winning touchdown pass to Tom Waddle with 1 second,
and no timeouts, left. With such a miracle opening to the season, many expected
the team to do big things for the remainder of the season. It didn't happen.
After beating Detroit, the team was beaten badly by New Orleans and the New
York Giants. They then defeated Atlanta behind a fine Harbaugh performance.
The Bears then marched into Minnesota and held a commanding
20-0 lead in the middle of the third quarter. Then it happened-the play that
would basically end Harbaugh and Ditka's careers in Chicago. The Bears faced a
third-and-short inside their own 30 yard line. Despite the horrific noise in
the Metrodome, Harbaugh called an audible at the line of scrimmage. Apparently
halfback Neal Anderson didn't hear it called, and he failed to break off his
pattern into the flat as the quarterback had called it. Harbaugh threw a short
pass into the flat, and CB Todd Scott intercepted it & took it in for the
touchdown. Mike Ditka threw an absolute temper tantrum on the sideline, and
less than a quarter later, Minnesota won the game 21-20. Unfortunately,
Harbaugh will be remembered more for the ill-fated audible against Minnesota
that sealed Mike Ditka's fate, than for any of his miracle finishes.
Harbaugh played one more season for the Bears in 1993. New
coach Dave Wannstedt decided he needed a quarterback with a stronger arm and
quicker reads than Harbaugh, and brought in Erik Kramer from Detroit. Harbaugh
went on to lead Indianapolis to within a hail-mary pass of the super bowl in a
brilliant 1995 campaign. During that season, Harbaugh made his first Pro Bowl
and led the NFL in passer rating. Harbaugh will begin his 15th season in 2001,
still posessing the toughness & versatility that brought him into the