In the Halas Hall parking lot Thursday, a black SUV proudly displayed a Chicago Bears license plate "55'' on the back bumper.
The vehicle didn't belong to Lance Briggs because Briggs was parked in the players' lot. The organization was holding Alumni Day, so chances are the flashy former Bear parked next to a bunch of reporters was either Otis Wilson or Doug Buffone - the only two guys who wore that jersey number with enough distinction to consider driving around Chicago with such a vanity plate. My guess is it wasn't John Roper or Sean Harris. It sounds more like Wilson's style than Buffone's.
So who deserves the status as the best No. 55 in Bears history? Hey, I'm supposed to be answering the questions here not asking them, right? So fire away.
But to answer the first question I posed myself, with due respect to "Mama's Boy Otis,'' Buffone never played on a Super Bowl winner as Wilson did. But he did play in 186 games from 1966-79, the third-most in team history, so that longevity gives him the edge.
Here are some more answers to your questions that you are free to agree or disagree with as you pass the time until Sunday when the Bears take on the Vikings.
I don't understand why Devin Hester isn't returning kickoffs. Is there some fundamental difference in the skill sets for punt returners and kickoff returners? --Gautam, San Francisco
Fundamentally, the biggest difference is that punt returners actually have to keep a closer eye on approaching tacklers because they get there quicker than on kickoffs. That would make one believe Hester has a tougher challenge returning punts than kicks. Kick returners perhaps have a more innate ability to read blockers and choose holes as they develop, but Hester showed that skill in abundance in college at Miami, where he returned two kickoffs for scores during his career.
Bears coaches stated last week when asked about why Hester returns only punts at this point that they did not want to overburden him with responsibility as a rookie. The job belongs to Rashied Davis, who showed some brilliance of his own in the preseason by taking a kickoff all the way back for a touchdown.
Coaches also were excited by the prospects of Danieal Manning returning kicks, though his promotion to starting free safety might affect his availability for returns. It would not surprise anyone around Halas Hall regularly to see Hester returning kickoffs before the end of this season if he continues to protect the football and run north and south on punt returns.
Mr. Haugh, I certainly respect your writing and opinion on the beloved. However, if you favor naming Berrian's leap, forget it. It's bush league and we are better than that. --Harold Bryant, Lafayette, Ind.
I don't necessarily favor naming Berrian's leap. He suggested "Bears Bounce,'' after the game and Daily Southtown columnist Phil Arvia cleverly came up with "Lakeshore Dive,'' - the same nickname reader T.R. Kerth emailed into the Tribune on Sunday night. Longtime Chicago sports broadcast legend Chet Coppock chimed in with suggesting, "The Papa Bear Plunge,'' or "The Halas Hurdle.''
I would never begrudge any player's right to celebrate because we in the media rely on characters to keep this game interesting; but it would be fine with me if Berrian flipped the ball to the referee after touchdowns, jogged back to the sidelines, and accepted hugs and high-fives from his teammates without ever approaching the first row of Soldier Field.
I have seen some discussions about having Devin Hester do a few plays on offense. Any plans by the coaching staff to do this? --Dave, Chesapeake Beach, Md.
It's been discussed internally and Hester would welcome any chance to get his hands on the football. Any plan would not have to be elaborate -- maybe a handful of plays per game that include a reverse or side-screen similar to what Carolina does with Steve Smith or simply a go route to let Hester take advantage of his 4.27 speed. The Bears haven't had to rely on gimmicks or trickery yet in two games but the Hester-to-offense option is not something that has been entirely ruled out at Halas Hall.
John Madden always likes to say that one can tell whether or not a team is "for real" after four games. If this is the case, will we know the Bears are "for real" if they beat Seattle on Oct. 1? --Brandon P., Chicago
That's a good barometer and who am I to argue with a Hall of Fame coach? He reads football teams well enough to have now worked for every major network that has televised the NFL over the past two decades, so his word is obviously worth a lot. Millions, in fact. But if the Bears look dominating again Sunday and beat the Vikings on the road, then it will be hard to say they are not "for real'' even if they will have opened the season against three first-year head coaches. The Seahawks game could go a long way toward bringing the Bears more national respect and attention but a team with a veteran offensive line, a mature, menacing defense and a quality quarterback making all the throws already carries the look of a genuine playoff contender from this chair.
Are the Bears reluctant to make Lance Briggs one of the higher-paid linebackers in the game because the contracts of Rex Grossman, Olin Kreutz, Nathan Vasher and Charles Tillman are up after 2007? And why haven't they extended Lovie's deal yet given he is now the lowest-paid coach in football? Are they worried about in-season distractions? --Joe B., Oxford, Conn.
I don't think Briggs' deal will have much to do with the players you mentioned and more to do with allocation of resources per position. Because, let's face it, extensions for Grossman and Kreutz will be forthcoming if this season's success continues and Vasher and Tillman, while expensive, are the team's starting cornerbacks and likely will be paid accordingly because organizations budget their payroll by position.
At linebacker, the Bears have Brian Urlacher's $56.5 million deal as a point of comparison and will have to decide whether they can afford to fit another mega-contract for a linebacker under the salary cap given the team's other needs. That budget balance was a big reason why Rosevelt Colvin and Warrick Holdman eventually left the Bears for greener pastures elsewhere.
The two sides were close last April but could not agree on terms. Briggs, represented as several teammates are by agent Drew Rosenhaus, will command top dollar on the open market if he follows up his Pro Bowl season with another great year, the gamble he took by not coming to terms with the Bears in the off-season. It would serve both sides well if they made a long-term commitment to each other that rewards Briggs for his growth from third-round draft pick to NFL difference-maker.
As for Lovie Smith's contract, team president and CEO Ted Phillips went on record last spring saying the time wasn't right for an extension but the Bears' impressive start reinforces the feeling in the locker room that the head coach deserves more long-term security before the end of the season.
Are the pre-season injuries to Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson affecting their play? --Walter Brzeski, Chicago
Benson's shoulder injury hindered his progress or else he probably would have carried more than 21 times in the first two games, and possibly opened the season as the starter, but he looked healthy bowling over Boss Bailey last Sunday. Jones looks the same as he did last year but has been limited because teams simply have committed themselves to stopping the Bears' running game. The more downfield plays Rex Grossman makes to either Bernard Berrian or Muhsin Muhammad, the more dangerous Jones will become as he gets back into the rhythm with his offensive line. He did miss a significant part of training camp, which might account for part of the slow start, but the below-average numbers probably have more to do with the way defenses have attacked the Bears with eight players "in the box,'' more often than not.
In my opinion, it seems like the fans and, more importantly, the players all feel that Thomas Jones is the best running back on the Bears. That being said, what are the chances of him signing an extension and the Bears trading Cedric Benson? --Mike, Littleton, Colo.
If there was a running back to be dealt, the Bears would have traded one in the off-season when teams called about Jones. But they need him this season until Benson proves he can stay healthy and become a more well-rounded NFL back. Next year, obviously, the dynamic likely changes no matter what Jones' production level is this season. Benson will be entering Year 3 and still could be looking for that breakout season his $16 million bonus portended while Jones will be 28 - middle-aged as far as NFL running backs go. Unless something unforeseen occurs this season that indicates Benson is a high-maintenance bust, Benson is about as untouchable for potential trade partners as any offensive player on the roster.
I know that Chris Harris is stout against the run and played well last season, but he doesn't seem to have the speed to cover receivers over the middle and has gotten beat a couple time this year. Is it too early to consider starting Danieal Manning at this point? He has the speed and the size you like at safety and he has cover skills that Harris doesn't seem to have. --Brad, Barrington, Ill.
You must have sent this to Bears coaching staff earlier this week because they responded Wednesday by replacing Harris with Manning for the same reasons you cite. Nobody watching the Bears' first two games was surprised but credit defensive coordinator Ron Rivera for not getting complacent despite having a defense that has given up only seven points in two games. As Harris did, Manning will benefit from playing alongside Mike Brown and eventually become a difference-maker because of speed that makes him the fastest player in the secondary. Don't forget about Harris either; given Brown's injury history the second-year player is likely to see the field again in key situations before the end of the season.
Your name is the same as mine. Interesting, there are not that many Haughs. My full name is Charles David Haugh but everyone knows me as Dave and my mother calls me David. I hope I didn't take up too much of your time with this message but I thought you might find it interesting. --Dave Haugh, Neoga, Ill.
I do. I am aware of one David Haugh who is a golf instructor but clearly isn't related based on my slice. Another one is an economy professor who's an expert in business cycles but, as anyone probably could guess looking at my Tribune stock portfolio, we've never talked either. Most of the other Haughs I do know aren't always so quick to publicly point out their connection to me. Except for my dog, and he can't type.
Talk to you next week.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times