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COMMENTARY : Bears Have No Business Being in Playoffs, Much Less Winning

THE WASHINGTON POST

I love the NFL playoffs. It’s the time of year when you separate the contenders from the frauds, when you embrace the teams with championship mettle and throw out the overrated, the Tin Men and Wayne Fontes.

The first weekend of the playoffs always gives you stuff nobody could have predicted: Bill Belichick beating his chest in Cleveland, Barry Sanders failing to gain one net yard in 13 carries, Hall of Famers Joe Montana, Marcus Allen and Derrick Thomas blowing it for the Chiefs, the Chicago Bears advancing.

When the playoffs started, 11 of 12 teams looked as if they belonged in the field and one didn’t. That one was the Bears. The Bears were the only team in the playoffs without a Pro Bowl player, the only team in the playoffs that scored fewer points than it allowed, the only team in the playoffs whose roster was dominated by players who ought to be on somebody’s practice squad. This is a team that lost a home game to the Vikings by 28 points, a home game to the Packers by 27 (on the night Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus had their jerseys retired, no less), and at Green Bay by 37.

Virtually everybody on the two-deep was cut loose by some other team, people like running backs Lewis Tillman and Robert Green and receiver Jeff Graham. Just in terms of talent, you’d trade the Bengals’ roster for the Bears’ roster every day of the week. These guys aren’t even worthy of being called Da Bears, they’re simply the Bears.

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Still, they came up here and kicked the Vikings’ butts Sunday in a playoff game. Pro Bowl score: Vikings 5, Bears 0. Playoff score: 35-18, Chicago. Yes, the Vikings as a group played like a bunch of chumps. Even worse, they displayed absolutely no sense of urgency, weren’t angry afterward, didn’t cuss or tear stuff off the locker room walls.

But the Bears were the flip-side of the coin: prepared, tough, under control, desperate, resolute, poised. You can just tell they love playing for their coach, Dave Wannstedt, who assisted in Dallas long enough to understand that credit from the outside world (even from within NFL circles) is earned, not to be handed out randomly.

“I told our guys after the Pro Bowl voting came out . . . that the only way you get any respect at this point of the season is to get into the playoffs. You’ve got to earn that.”

It’s too bad what awaits the Bears. You know, the 49ers, at The Stick. Perhaps you’ve heard of the Georgia Tech vs. Cumberland game back in the leather helmet days. Final score: 222-0.

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That’s what the Bears are looking at, one of those games where its 28-0 Niners before the offense has run a dozen plays. Heart is good, but the 49ers have that and Steve Young-to-Jerry Rice, too. Poor courageous-upstart-cuddly-soon-to-be-smashed-like-a-bug Bears.

If you’re looking for Cinderella try the Packers, down in Dallas. I’m not saying The Pack is going to beat the Cowboys, but it could happen--really. Troy Aikman has been ordinary all season and we don’t know if Emmitt Smith is healthy enough to be Emmitt Smith. And that would be big trouble in Big D because the Packers have some defense. Reggie White is playing as well as he did in Philly. Bryce Paup, Terrell Buckley, LeRoy Butler, George Teague and Sean Jones are serious, very serious.

What they did to Sanders is scary. Before we get carried away though, let me pick up on two familiar refrains: “Wayne Fontes Ought To Be Fired” and “Barry Sanders Ain’t Now Nor Is He Ever Gonna Be Emmitt Smith.”

I don’t care if Emmitt Smith is going against a combination of the ’72 Dolphins, the Steel Curtain and the ’85 Bears, he’s going to get more than minus-1 yards in 13 carries. I’d bet my life on it. Don’t tell me Sanders is anybody’s player of the year when he can’t gain a yard when it counts. You know who Sanders is? Dominique Wilkins, that’s who. Highlights galore, too many disappointments when it counts.

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And any coach worthy of employment should have figured out how to throw a pass to his best player or line him up wide if the other team is going to put eight or nine men on the line of scrimmage. You know how many times Sanders touched the ball against The Pack? A total of 16. Hey Wayne, GET HIM THE FOOTBALL OR GET OUT! That’s half as many as he should have, which is why Fontes should be told to clean out his locker.

In the rush to deify Drew Bledsoe, the guy who was forgotten all season was Brett Favre, whose 33-touchdown, 14-interception season was light years better than Bledsoe’s. If Emmitt is gimpy, if Aikman is woozy, if the Cowboys are off their form one bit, Favre and the defense are going to wreak havoc with our Niners-Cowboys NFC championship plans.

Another quarterback due unlikely praise at this time of year is--and I can’t believe I’m saying this--Vinny Testaverde. All of a sudden, he’s not turning over the ball, he’s making great decisions, he’s making every read, finding the passing lanes. If he doesn’t throw interceptions, Cleveland can beat not only Pittsburgh, but anybody else left in this thing. Pittsburgh-Cleveland is going to be a smash-mouth, wind-howling-off-the-lake, two-teams-who-don’t-much-like-each-other blast from the past.

It’ll be the total opposite of Miami-San Diego out west. Early on, I decided to root this postseason for the old geezers, Montana, Moon and Marino. Well, two are out. Only Marino remains. The problem is, the Dolphins are looking an awful lot like the ‘80s Broncos when John Elway was a one-man team. Whatever the Dolphins do, it seems, is riding on Marino’s arm. The Dolphins don’t have Cleveland’s defense, or Chicago’s resolve, but they’re going as far as Marino takes them, which probably won’t be past the Chargers.

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