1990 had started with a holdout, and so would 1991. This
time, new starting quarterback Jim Harbaugh was holed-up, playing golf in
nearby Galena, IL, waiting for a new contract from the team. Harbaugh actually
was contacting reporters in Chicago, reasoning with them so as not to look
money-hungry. Harbaugh's asking price was $1.4 million per season; in 1990 Neal
Anderson was given what he was demanding. Harbaugh's demands were met, and he
signed a two-year deal before camp broke. In '91, the Bears were still on top
of the NFL, at least in popularity if not in the standings. The Saturday Night
Live skit "Da Bears" had people all across the country pledging allegiance to
the team. Chicago made its 3rd trip overseas since 1986 in the preseason, this
time to Berlin to take on the San Francisco 49ers. The trip was relaxing for
the players-but those types of excursions never lend to opening the season in a
prepared fashion. Other distractions were taking away from the team that
August. All-pro left tackle Jim Covert was out with ruptured disks in his back,
and it was not known if he would return to football. Rookie first-round pick
Stan Thomas, a questionable draft pick whom Mike Ditka was stubbornly opposed
to taking at all, had an injured shoulder. All-pro safety Shaun Gayle had a
problem with his leg, and both running backs Anderson and Muster were nursing
sore hamstrings. And to top it all off, the "Refridgerator", William Perry, had
balooned to an astonishing 370 pounds. With all these question marks, who would
have known the team would turn in their most exciting season since 1985.
The season started at home against the Minnesota Vikings.
Minnesota had been a thorn in the Bears' side among generally weak NFC Central
opponents, beating the Bears in 4 of the last 6 matchups. The game would pit
Bears' rookie tackle Stan Thomas agains Chris Doleman-one of the best
pass-rushers in the game. Chicago was dangerously weak at receiver, with Ron
Morris out and rookie Anthony Morgan starting. No-name receiver Tom Waddle, who
had been cut 4 times by the team, would play the slot receiver position.
Chicago ground it out against the Vikings, and the defense played tough. Just
before halftime, the slow-as molasses but sure-handed Waddle caught a 42-yard
strike from Harbaugh, and Chicago took the lead. The Bears ended up winning
10-6, helped by last-minute heroics from Steve McMichael, who caused a Wade
Wilson interception as Minnesota was driving in the waning moments. The
following week, Chicago travelled to Tampa Bay, and LB John Roper gained player
of the week honors for a two-sack performance as the Bears beat Tampa 21-20. On
September 15th, the World Champion Giants invaded 90-degree Soldier Field in a
game not many thought the Bears could win. Jim Harbaugh hit Wendell Davis on a
75-yard scoring strike, and Neal Anderson scored on a diving, 42-yard TD run,
and the Bears led 20-17 with seconds left. The Giants lined up for a chip-shot
field goal, but it was blocked by none other than the 370-pound
"Refridgerator", clinching the victory over the world champs. The following
week on Monday night, New York's other team, the Jets, came to Chicago.
Observers noted that Chicago was not winning games in '91, but barely squeaking
by. The same would occur on that surreal Monday night.
Despite a 28 completion, 303 yard performance by Jim
Harbaugh, and nine-catches by the clutch Tom Waddle, the Bears trailed the
Jets, 13-6 with less than a minute left. As was beginning to be common in 1991,
Chicago couldn't maintain a solid running game. Fullback Brad Muster had left
the game early after re-aggrevating his hamstring injury. So New York settled
in to run out the clock. Steve McMichael had different plans. He stripped Blair
Thomas of the ball, and Chicago had the ball back in their own territory.
Several plays later, Harbaugh, Waddle, Davis, and Anderson had the team 3rd
down and inches from the Jets' one yard line. The QB attempted a sneak from the
shotgun formation, and was stuffed just short of the goal line. With time for
one final play on fourth down, Harbaugh rifled a pass in the flat to Neal
Anderson....TOUCHDOWN! as time expired. The game went into overtime, and New
York drove down the field to attempt an easy, game winning field goal. Not much
of the crowd had left, despite the situation looking grim. In another freak
twist of fate, the Jets blew the field goal attempt. Fate gave Chicago one more
shot, as time was winding down in the extra period. Several passes later,
Harbaugh hit tight end Cap Boso on a rollout, Boso was driven over the goal
line, popping up with a face full of sod. The Bears had won the game, and they
headed into the locker room full of jubilation....or so they thought. The
officials ruled Boso down at the one-yard line, and the players were called out
of the locker room to get back on the field. Finally, Jim Harbaugh scored on a
sneak, and the Bears had won a game they shouldn't have by the score of 19-13.
The team was 4-0.
After the Monday night madness, the Bears were faced with
playing 1991's Super Bowl teams, Buffalo and Washington, in back-to-back games.
Despite beating both teams statistically, they lost both games on the
scoreboard, and were suddenly 4-2. Then came another 5 game winning streak
featuring a shutout of lowly Green Bay, and a shocker at undefeated New
Orleans. After this streak, the team stood at 9-2, then they lost 2 more to
fall to 9-4. Two more wins brought them back to 11-4, and a season finale
matchup at San Francisco.
The finale by the bay was significant. If the Bears won,
they would finish 12-4 and win the Central for the second year in a row over
Detroit by virtue of a tiebreaker. If they lost, they would finish as the
wild-card team, and may eventually have to travel to Detroit for a rematch in
the Silverdome. The Bears controlled their own destiny, and were facing a 49er
team that did not make the playoffs, and was playing with backup QB Steve
Young. The Monday night audience settled in. This audience was bombarded with
live shots of Wayne Fontes and the Detroit Lions in the Silverdome restaurant,
hamming it up in hopes of a Bears loss. And the Bears did lose, 52-14 in one of
their worst defeats under Mike Ditka. With each Bears mistake, ABC would cut to
a cigar-smoking Fontes, rubbing in the frustration to a national TV audience.
Chicago returned home and hobbled into the wild-card game against the Dallas
Cowboys. Dallas had finished 1-15 just two years earlier, but was loaded with
The Bears finished the 1991 season in less-than-spectacular
fashion, losing to the Cowboys 17-13. Chicago had made four trips inside the
Dallas 10-yard line, but came away with only one touchdown. Neal Anderson was
held to 34 yards rushing, the aging offensive and defensive lines looked tired,
and despite the electrifying atmosphere of the 1991 season, many questions
faced the team going in to 1992.