This page is being redesigned and will be added to the site in the near future. For now, the original story is below. The new page is being redesigned to equal the current "enhanced" stories on the 1979-1985, '91-92, 2001 and 2005 pages.
The 2002 Chicago Bears
by Roy Taylor,
January 19, 2002 signaled the end of a brief respite from losing for fans of the venerable Chicago Bears professional football club. The team finished 13-3 during a magical, miracle 2001 season which culminated in a 33-19 playoff loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. That game signaled the end of an era in many ways, including the fact that it was played as "old" Soldier Field's final event.
What would lay ahead for the reigning NFC Central division champions? A season of road trips 150 miles away in Champaign, IL. A campaign upon which the team would embark without two vital defensive starters lost to free agency-strong safety Tony Parrish and cornerback Walt Harris. Prognosticators suggested the team could finish 10-6......or 3-13. However the season would prove to turn out, it certainly would prove to be a test of the players, coaches and organizations' fortitude.
In July, the Bears opened their new summer home in Bourbonnais, IL at Olivet Nazerene University. After a deal was struck with the state of Illinois to build a brand-new stadium within the walls of Soldier Field, the team agreed to bring their training camp back to their home state. After each of the public universities in Illinois was evaluated for the camp, Olivet was chosen. All of our readers know that there is no corruption in government, especially in Illinois, but coincidentally Kankakee/Bourbonnais is the home of then-governor George Ryan.
After the teams' remarkable turnaround the previous season, tens of thousands of fans turned out daily to watch the Bears practice. This exuberance spilled over at their temporary home in Champaign. A capacity crowd turned out each week to rally the team, including both preseason contests. In the first match against Denver, it was immediately apparent the crowd would be a factor, much more so than it was at "old" Soldier Field's low seating bowl. The assembled mix of Chicago-area fans, central Illinoisans, and college students made their presence felt all year. Favorite cheers were "Let's Go Bears", DEE-FENSE boom, boom, and the traditional Chicago pastime of replying "WHERE?" when stadium announcer Jim Reibank crooned "There is a time out.......pause.......ON the field."
That the crowds still flocked to see their beloved Bears and the manic energy of their chants can only be a testament to Illinois' collective loyalty. The Bears finished the 2002 preseason with a less-than-encouraging 1-3 record. Promising receiver Amhad Merrit and rookie cornerback Roosevelt Williams were injured and not due back until midseason. Backup quarterback Henry Burris was clearly outplayed by fellow hopeful Ken Mastrole, yet Mastrole was cut in favor of Burris' athleticism. Along the same lines, NFL Europe standout Kenny Christian outplayed other receivers including starter Dez White, but was released. The preseason closed, and a full year of dubious decisionmaking proved to be ahead.
2002's regular season began in windless Champaign on a day which on-field temperatures reached 108 degrees. The University of Illinois' Memorial Stadium featured an Astroplay field, one of the new hybrid-turf fields now in vogue throuought the NFL. Astro Play's surface features woven plastic "grass" sitting on top of ground rubber from automobile tires, making the surface a veritable griddle in hot weather. On this September 8th, Chicago would lose defensive starters Phillip Daniels and R.W McQuarters. Daniels would blame the surface for his injured knee.
Minnesota attacked the Bears' defensive perimeter with their "contain" starters missing on the edge. This was a deversion from most teams' plans the previous season, when DT's Ted Washington and Keith Traylor proved immovable. The result was a healthy Viking running game, and a halftime lead for Minnesota. Both teams traded scores in the second half, and the norsemen led 23-20 with less than two minutes to play. Instead of running the ball and protecting their lead, Minnesota opted to pass in questionable situations. On a third down, Viking QB Daunte Culpepper inexplicablly launched a wounded duck over the middle. That duck landed precisely in Bear safety Mike Brown's hands, and 2001's magic seemed destined to continue amongst the cornfields and farms of central Illinois. Several plays later, QB Jim Miller tossed a TD dart to David Terrell, the Bears won, and Terrell made his way into the stands to celebrate. The Memorial Stadium crown erupted. Although Terrell's catch won the game, more notable was Marty Booker's eight-catch 198 yard performance. Booker dropped two more sure touchdowns on the day, but the Bears were 1-0.
The following week at Atlanta, the NFL watched to see if its newest superstar, QB Mike Vick, could build on the heroics he unleashed the previous week at Green Bay. Vick had thrown for four touchdowns and come within seconds of upsetting Green Bay at home, and now played before a sellout Georgia Dome crowd. Things looked good for Atlanta when Pro Bowl DT Ted Washington went down with an ankle injury in the second quarter. After Washington's exit, Atlanta seemed to exploit his absence with massive rookie RB T.J. Duckett, but coach Dan Reeves opted to feature the nimble Warrick Dunn instead. Chicago trailed 10-7 at halftime, then WR David Terrell scored in the third period to put the Bears up 14-10. With a minute left to play, Atlanta was in position to end the Bears' run of nine straight wins in games decided by seven points or less, but K Jay Feely missed a 46-yard FG attempt, and Chicago prevailed. Washington's loss would prove to be a bad omen, as well as the Bears' failure to convert two short third-and-one opportunities during this game. Despite the 2-0 record, Chicago's coaching staff began to feel the heat.
In many ways, September 22, 2002 was a perfect midwestern fall day, featuring a chilly morning that hinted at a relief from summer, yet bright sun and 80 degree warmth by early afternoon. On tap for this day were the surprisingly revitalized 2-0 New Orleans Saints. Many thought this would be the end of the line for the 2-0 Bears, yet Chicago built an impressive 20-0 lead. Just as it looked like the 2002 team had finally arrived, the season's fortunes changed on a single play. KR Leon Johnson stood in the aforementioned warm sun awaiting a kickoff with the Bears looking to protect a 20-7 lead. The previously sure-handed Johnson allowed the kick to bounce directly off his helmet and New Orleans recovered at the Chicago eight yard line. Two plays later, QB Aaron Brooks scored to cut the lead to 20-14, and Chicago would lose 29-23 despite a last-ditch drive by Jim Miller that resulted in an end-zone interception. At once, 2001's magic left the team and was not to be seen again in central Illinois.
The following seven weeks tied the team's record for futility. The Bears first lost at Buffalo 33-27 on an Bills' overtime touchdown. That TD followed a poor first possession during which the Bears went three-and-out. On October 7th, the nation feasted its eyes on Champaign and the Bears in all-navy uniforms for the first time on Monday Night Football. This spectacle couldn't motivate the team, however, as they trailed 24-14 at halftime and would eventually lose to hated Green Bay 34-21. Brand-new Ford Field and the Lions were next. Chicago allowed 172 yards rushing to journeyman RB James Stewart and lost the game 23-20 in overtime. K Paul Edinger gave Detroit the ball in the extra period at their 40 due to a poor punt, and the Lions made short work of Chicago.
Although the season's turning point undoubtedly was Johnson's muff against the Saints, its lowest point came at Minnesota October 27th. Chris Chandler started his second game for Jim Miller, was sacked six times, and proved completely ineffective. The Bears lost 25-7. Miller, who missed six games in 2002 with shoulder, elbow and knee problems, returned the following week against Philadelphia. Miller's return was unexpected, but the depleted Bears had no choice when Chandler was knocked silly on an attempted QB sneak. The Bears played Philadelphia hard-surprising everyone with a 13-7 halftime lead. Chicago couldn't score in the second half despite a valiant defensive performance, and lost its sixth straight.
Losses seven and eight for 2002 came on November 10th and 18th, to New England 33-30 and St. Louis 21-16 on another Monday Night Football disaster. Against the Patroits, the Bears held a 27-6 lead in the third quarter, but squandered it again while allowing 300+ yards passing to Tom Brady. The once-vaunted Chicago defense allowed 347 to Marc Bulger against the Rams. One more loss, and the Bears would break their team record for futility.
Surprisingly it did not happen, perhaps thanks to Marty Mornhingweg. The Lions allowed Chicago to tie the November 24th game at 17 with seconds remaining, then their coach elected to give Chicago the ball in the overtime period. The Bears scored on their first possession, bringing their record for the season to 3-8.
Chicago would win once more during the 2002 season, beating the NY Jets 20-13 after WR Wayne Chrebet fumbled in the Bears' red zone. They also would lose to Green Bay, Miami, Carolina, and Super Bowl champion Tampa in Memorial Stadium's final Bears regular season game.
Thus what many thought could be a super bowl season, or at least another run to the playoffs, was not to be. Whether the cause was the commute to Champaign, the most injuries suffered in the NFL for 2002, or questionable coaching, the season was a major disappointment for the players, coaches, and loyal fans of the NFL's charter franchise. Yet again, this Bears team will enter yet another season with questions dogging every part of the organization. © 2000-2014 Roy Taylor