Doug’s Week 9 Analysis: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Chicago Bears Analysis:  Week 7
Chicago Bears 22 — Buffalo Bills 19
Season record: 5-3


The Game Plan
I don’t have any doubt that under normal circumstances a guy like Jake Cutler could have picked apart the Bill’s secondary.  But when you’ve got an O-line like the Bears have this year, there is nothing normal about that circumstance.  As a result, the balanced running/passing attack the Bears emplyed worked wonders.  And even though they didn’t carve up large chunks of yards against Buffalo, by running the ball as much as he did, Lovie shortened the game, showed the Bills a different look than they were probably expecting, and played to the marginal strengths of his offensive line, as opposed to its weaknesses.

Minimizing Martz
Clearly Jerry Angelo finally saw what any third grader had been seeing all year: that the Bear did not have the athletes to run the kind of offense Mike Martz was asking them to.  After watching his comments after the game, I’m certain he finally stepped in and pulled the plug on the Our Gang version of the Greatest Show on Turf.  Ironically, if he and/or Lovie had done something a few weeks ago, the Bears might have two more wins right now.

The Bears’ classy Canadian, Israel Idonije, had a great game in front of his fellow countrymen in Toronto.  In addition to blocking a PAT, the Bears DE enjoyed a solid game with three quarterback hits, a half a sack and a stuff on Bills’ RB Fred Jackson during a two-point conversion attempt.


Late Hit
Charles Tillman’s drive-extending late hit just before halftime could have been a game-changer, had he not been bailed out by the offense.  I know he’s an aggressive player, but in football the line is often very clear between aggressive and stupid, and on that ridiculously late hit he clearly crossed it.


The Two Drives
This is a good news/bad news thing, but following a Bears’ go-ahead score in the third, on a magnificent (and frankly stunning) 60-yd, nine-play TD drive, the Bills took possession and immediately marched right back down the field for what would have been (if not for a blocked PAT) the game-tying TD.  When you’ve got a winless team down in the third quarter, and have just scored on your most impressive drive of the year, you put the hammer down.  You don’t let a team full of self-doubt pick itself off the carpet and ram the ball down your throats.  At times I don’t think this team’s offense is nearly as bad as it’s shown.  But then again — as that drive perhaps indicates — I also don’t think this defense is nearly as good as people are saying it is.

Next Week:  Thursday night vs. the Dolphins, at Miami

Doug’s Week 7 Analysis: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Chicago Bears Analysis:  Week 7
Washington Redskins 17 — Chicago Bears 14
Season record:  4-3


As anyone who’s been reading my blog all season long knows, after each Bear game I normally choose three things about the team’s performance to put in one of three categories; Good, Bad and Ugly.  But frankly, following Sunday’s game and another pitiful performance by the Bear coaching staff, I just can’t bring myself to do that this week. 

Therefore, given the fact next week is a bye week, I’m reducing those three things in each category to one.  And I’m taking the gloves off.


The Fans

I’m not so much talking about the fans in Soldier Field here.  I’m talking about Bear fans everywhere, all across America.  I’ve long contended that the Bears have some of the most knowledgeable fans in the entire NFL and this season only goes to support my contention.  Look, this team is 4-3, but there’s not a Bear fan I’ve spoken to, or had call my radio show, that actually believes this is a legitimate 4-3 team. 

This team stinks because most of its coaches stink.  Take away that judgment call by the officials on the final play of Game One, and we’re talking about a team that would be so much in disarray right now that the merciful thing would be to take it out behind the barn and mercifully shoot it.

And what I love is the fact that no self respecting Bear fan anywhere is drinking the Kool Aid the Bear organization and its coaching staff is pouring into little cups for us each week. 

The offensive line is terrible, the offensive coordinator is a joke, and the head coach has turned his offense — not to mention his future as a head coach — over to a guy who might be one of the most tone-deaf play callers I have ever seen.

But God bless all you Bear fans.  You’re not buying it.  You’re not buying the coaches’ contention that this team could be a playoff team.  You’re not buying that with each passing week things are getting better.  And you’re sure as hell not buying Halas Hall’s contention that the Kool Aid they’ve just placed in front of you is exactly what you need to take your mind off the reality of just how miserably run the organization is.


The Coaching

I truly don’t know where to start when talking about the coaching staff.  I guess, to get the good things out of the way, the Bears’ defense and special teams have played as well, if not better, than their talent would suggest.  And someone deserves credit for that, so why not give some props to Rod Marinelli and Dave Toub.

But that’s where it ends. 

What Mike Martz has done to the offense is an absolute joke.  He’s not coaching players.  He’s calling plays.  That’s it.  He could care less whether or not they’re capable of executing them.  He’s going to call what he wants to call and it’s up to the players to somehow become faster, stronger and more talented than they clearly are.

Does that sound like a coach to you?

If Mike Martz were coaching the Bulls back when Michael and Scottie were playing, he’d be throwing alley-oop passes to John Paxson and Steve Kerr because in his offense the two guard is free to drift in from the opposite side for dunk after dunk.  Forget the fact that Paxson and Kerr couldn’t grab the rim, much less dunk.  His offense is designed for his two-guard to dunk, so that’s what he’s going to keep calling game after game after game.

And where is Lovie in all this?  He’s the damn head coach!  I know he used to work for Martz, but it’s his show now.  The man should act like it. 

And when he told us last week that the Bears were going to start running more, what was he just kidding us?  Lovie cut his teeth on three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust football.  What the hell happened to him to make him give it up so easily?  It’s not like he’s got Don Coryell or Sid Gillman for an offensive coordinator.  He’s got Mike freakin’ Martz, a guy who wouldn’t know Plan B if he tripped over it. 

I promise you this: that if the Bears this year had announced what plays they were going to run in advance of running them, statistically they’d only be slightly worse off than they are now. 

This offense is a joke, and we’re all just sitting around waiting for what we all know is going to be a not-so-funny punchline.


The Organization

At some point someone in the Bears organization there is going to be a day of reckoning.  Mismanagement starts at the top, and it’s the product of a culture that engendered by the people holding the reins.

I won’t belabor this point, but at some point the family is going to get fed up with how this football team is run and will either sell it (fat chance of that) or clean house (much better chance of that).  And when they do, maybe a team president will be named who will take control and establish what they have in places like Pittsburgh and Indianapolis; a system that extends from the clubhouse guys to the corner offices, and includes everyone in between. 

And that system will have at its core one thing and one thing only: winning football games. 

That’s not the system in place in Chicago right now, and frankly with the people now running this franchise, it never will be.

Next Week:  Bye

Doug’s Week 6 Bears Analysis: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Chicago Bears Analysis:  Week 6
SeattleSeahawks 23 — Chicago Bears 20
Season record:  4-2



Jacking Up the Punter
Sometimes the best way to turn a game around is a thundering tackle or a crushing block, because there’s nothing to ignite a team in a funk like one shining moment of good old fashioned smash-mouth football.  Earl Bennett’s laying out of Seattle punter Jon Ryan on Devin Hester’s 89-yd. punt return Sunday was one of the only times the entire game — if not this entire season — I felt like jumping up out of my seat and yelling, “Now that’s what I’m talking about!”  That one block ought to be required viewing over and over all week for the entire offensive line; and not from a technique standpoint, but from a commitment one.

An Encore for the Return Teams
For the second week in a row the return teams almost single-handedly carried the offense.  Hester’s run was an absolute thing of beauty, and Danieal Manning’s kickoff return, while not as pretty, would have been just as effective.  (And by the way, I didn’t see the entirety of Rod Wilson’s hold on Manning’s return, but from what I did see of it on replay, it sure as hell looked like he flat-out pancaked his man.)  Hey, I know relying on punt and kickoff returns is not a real sound offensive strategy in the long run, but until this offense wakes up and gets its head out of its collective ass, I don’t know about you, but I’ll take it.

Johnny Knox
When was the last time the Bears had the fastest wide receiving tandem in the entire NFL.  Exactly.  Look, Knox is not among the league’s elite yet, but he continues to show that someday he just might get there.  And that day may arrive a lot sooner than you’d think.  Not only is he a special athlete, his willingness to go over the middle and make tough catches in traffic shows he’s a kid with a ton of heart and two man-sized stones.  (A special nod here to Devin Aromashodu as well, who after sleep-walking through any number of opportunities to prove he belongs in this league, may be finally starting to get it.) 


Too Much Information
You’ve heard of paralysis by analysis?  That’s what I see happening to Jay Cutler.  This kid’s playing in his third offensive scheme in three seasons.  That would be a lot for Einstein to process.  And not only that, but the third of those three schemes might just be the most complicated in the entire NFL.  At some point I’d love to see the Bears coaches simplify things for Cutler, take a few things off his plate and just let him go out there and be the athlete God gave him the talent to be.  He’s not a computer for crissake, he’s a quarterback. 

Corner Blitzes
How is it that in the second offensive series in the first exhibition game of the year, the Bears found themselves victimized by corner blitzes to the point that they actually removed Cutler from the game rather than risk getting him killed, and now six weeks into the regular season you look around and realize the problem still exists?  Look, when the opposing DB’s — the second worst collection of defenders in the entire NFL — come to town licking their chops at the prospect of playing you, isn’t it time to consider the distinct possibility it’s not them, it’s you?  Fix the damn problem.

Twelve Running Plays?
I know it’s not essential to be a running powerhouse to win in this league, but you do have to be able to run enough to keep defenses honest.  And honestly?  That’s not happening with this team.  There’s nothing wrong with Matt Forte that giving him the ball once in a while wouldn’t cure.  Twelve rushing plays?  Twelve?  What is this, two-hand touch on a city street somewhere?  Mike Martz has to get over himself and understand he’s no longer coaching the greatest show on turf.  He’s coaching a collection of marginally talented linemen, receivers and backs who together might just have it in them to form an offense capable of outscoring their opponents nine or ten times this season.  If he adjusts to what he’s got, he’ll have done a good job.  If not, he’ll have proven what many have long suspected: that for Martz, being right is sometimes more important than being victorious.


Third Down
Three for freakin’ 40 on third down over the past three weeks?   My god, I could stand out there and throw 40 Hail Mary passes over the course of three weeks and somehow complete three of them.  Three for freakin’ 40?  C’mon.

The Genius
All I heard this off-season was that the Bears were bringing an offensive genius to town.  Well…I’m waiting.  Where’s the genius?  I don’t see genius.  In fact, as far as I can tell, there’s no genius within miles of here.  You want genius in this town?  Take a bus and travel a day and a half in any direction.  Then you might find some genius.  But genius in this town, much less on the Bear sideline?  C’mon.  Three for freakin’ 40? 

Six More Sacks
I don’t know how many times I can say this, but I’ll try one more time.  Unless the Bears’ do something to protect the most valuable player on this team, by the end of the season they will not be making arrangements for a Super Bowl parade, they’ll be making arrangements for their quarterback’s funeral.

Next Week:  Sunday vs. the Redskins, at Soldier Field

Doug’s Week 4 Bears Analysis: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Chicago Bears Analysis:  Week 4
New York Giants 17 — Chicago Bears 3
Season record:  3-1



The Marshmallows of the Midway
Normally, after each Bears’ game I try to pick out three good things, three bad things, and three ugly things about the team’s performance and go from there.  Unfortunately, this week that’s impossible.  Why?  Because try as I might, I just can’t for the life of me come up with three good things to discuss. 

What’s more, I usually start with the good and work my way down to the ugly.  But, again, I can’t do that either.  Why? Because the ugly is just too damn ugly to wait.

Look, I had a strong sense the Bears would lose Sunday; they were primed for a letdown after beating the Packers so dramatically the previous Monday night.  But it’s how they lost that still has me so ready to spit nails and tear somebody’s head off.

And what I’m most upset about is how the coaching staff (with an assist from the front office) continues to insist on leaving their starting quarterback out their unexposed, ready to be cut in half by some blitzing freight train of a linebacker. Not only that, but Jay Cutler is such a team guy, that he continues to try to make plays for his unappreciative coaches by holding the ball for as long as he can before releasing it downfield.

The problem with this year’s Bear offense is that it is anchored — and believe me, I use that term loosely — by, without question, the worst offensive line in the last 45 years of football in this town.  You heard of the Monsters of the Midway?  Yeah well, these bozos are the Marshmallows of the Midway; as soft as they are lackadaisical.  And I’m not just talking about the five interior linemen; I’m talking about the tight ends too.  (In fact, I’m sure that if you checked New Jersey state law, you’ll probably find that Greg Olsen’s non-block on that one blitzing Giant was so half-assed it probably meets their legal standards for assault with a deadly weapon.)

Look when you get yourself a shiny new Cadillac, you don’t then go out and put four bologna skins on it for tires, do you?  But that’s what these Bears are doing putting Cutler behind such a clueless and hopelessly inept offensive line.

I could go on, but I won’t.  But mark my words; unless something is done and done soon (if it isn’t even already too late), the finest and gutsiest Bear quarterback in years might not get through this season in one piece.  And I’m not just talking about an injury that could put him on the sidelines for the rest of the year.  I’m talking about one so severe it could fundamentally impact the way he lives out his life.

And if those sound like fighting words, so be it.  But I refuse to stand around any longer and do or say nothing while Lovie Smith and his coaches continue to roll the dice with their quarterback’s life.


Jerry Angelo
Again, I will not belabor a point made by so many others for so long.  But at some point this guy has to be held accountable for the criminal lack of talent on this and so many other Bear teams he’s assembled. 

Any idiot can open up his checkbook and sign two or three stars.  The general managers who earn their keep, however, are the guys who can fill out their rosters with quality after that.  Jerry Angelo’s never shown he has the ability to do that. In fact, just the opposite.  And that’s the reason he ranks, in my opinion, at or near the very bottom of the entire National Football League when it comes to finding and nurturing young talent.

And shame on any Bear fan for being surprised that it’s come to this.  After all, how many second, third and fourth round draft picks can the front office whiff horribly on, year after year, before all those mistakes in judgment come home to roost?


Rod Marinelli’s Guys
At one point during the second quarter the Bears quarterbacks had been sacked nine times and they were losing the turnover battle, yet it was still just a three point game.

Julius Peppers is truly a man (a distinction he shares with a lot of other guys on this year’s Bear defense) and he proved that once again on Sunday night.  It’s just a shame his coaching staff doesn’t coach the way he plays.  Because if they did, they’d have the balls to do something I suggested this morning while on the radio here in Chicago; namely, pick ten of the best defenders on the Bears and let them line up with Cutler on the other side of the ball.

And then all Lovie and Mike Martz would have to do is to alternate between letting Cutler hand off to Lance Briggs and throw over the middle to his new All Pro tight end, Julius Peppers.

Next Week:  Sunday vs. the Panthers, at Carolina

Doug’s Bears Week 3 Analysis: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

By Doug Buffone

Chicago Bears Analysis:  Week 3
Chicago 20 — Green Bay 17
Bears record:  3-0

Peppers, Briggs and Urlacher
Imagine a huge freight train steaming downhill with the throttle stuck on full.  Now, imagine not one, but three freight trains all at full tilt with no way to stop them.  And finally, imagine that all three of those freight trains were actually football players wearing Chicago Bear uniforms.  That’s what Monday night’s game was like.  Watching Briggs and Urlacher pulverize ball carriers like two high-powered battering rams was a sight to behold.  And their double team strip and fumble recovery in the 4th quarter not only won the game, it might rank among the most important plays I’ve seen a Bear defense make in years.  But the guy who still has me buzzing is Peppers.  I know I was vocal about the Bears letting Alex Brown go and bringing in a “specialist” for so much money. But I stand corrected.  Not about Alex Brown, but about Peppers.  The man is a force of nature and has the ability to completely change a football game with his jaw-dropping combination of speed and power.  I know that now because that’s exactly what he did against the Packers.  And if that’s the Julius Peppers the Bears are going to see going forward, all I can say is this could turn out to be one hell of a season.

Devin Hester
I know I took Hester to task for his drops last week, and he deserved it.  But he almost single handedly won Monday’s game with his electric returns.  So if it was fair in Week Two for me to rip him, it’s fitting this week that I give him his due.  He was simply incredible. You know what the difference is between this Bear football team being merely good and it being one that could earn a trip to the Super Bowl?   It’s the difference between the Devin Hester we saw the past two years and the Devin Hester we were treated to Monday night.  More of that latter brand of Hester — that high-stepping, punt-returning, daring-you-to-try-to-lay-a-hand-on-him Hester — and there’s no telling how far this team could go.

I’m saving the best for last.  I know this didn’t get much play in the press, but think about how differently Lovie treated his players this past week than he did over the course of his entire run as head coach.  Tommie Harris?  Bad week of practice and who knows what else?  As Hawk might say, “He gone.”  Same for Devin Aromashodu and his freelance route-running and Zach Bowman and his lackluster first quarter.  It used to be talented guys like that got a blank check to do just about anything they wanted to do on the field and Lovie and his coaches — often on the basis of talent alone — would look the other way.  No more.  Lovie’s contract is up.  His job is on the line.  And if this past game is any indication, it’s either his way or the highway from this point forward.  Plus, with two former head coaches now as his coordinators, the entire coaching staff’s tolerance level for mistakes and laziness is now as low as it’s been since I can remember.  At least I hope so.  God, do I hope so.

Pack Ball Control
There truly wasn’t much bad about the game from the Bears’ perspective.  But honesty compels me to comment on a few.  The first was the ease with which the Packers moved the ball up and down the field and kept the Bears’ defense on its heels.  I know Rod Marinelli has them playing a bend-but-don’t-break style of defense designed to create turnovers, but that can be a risky proposition, especially against a team that knows how to close in the red zone.  Plus, don’t underestimate the toll all those extra minutes of game time might take as the Bears head down the home stretch and into the playoffs.

4th and 1….Again
I won’t belabor this point after what happened in the opener, but when you have the chance to put points on the board that will either tie the game or put you in the lead, you take them and move on.  At some point this riverboat gambling thing is going to bite Lovie and the Bears right in their collective ass.

Zack Bowman
It’s one thing to do something that gets the coaching staff’s underwear in such a knot that they don’t dress you for a game.  It’s something else altogether to come out on a Monday night against your fiercest rival, knowing that you’re both undefeated, and play like you’ve got better things to do.  Shame on Bowman, and God bless Lovie for not letting him get away with it.  All I can say is the young man is lucky he still has a job.

Tommie Harris
I truly don’t know what happened to Harris.  Four years ago he was a force.  Now he’s the equivalent of what in my days we used to call a taxi squad guy.  If you’re to believe Lovie, it’s not about attitude, effort or heart.  It’s about execution and results.  It’s looking more and more like the young man has simply lost whatever talents for the game God gave him.  Unfortunately for the Bears, they’ve not only lost an All Pro tackle, they’re paying a king’s ransom for that All Pro tackle to do little more every Sunday than just watch.

Pack Penalties
This is one of those good new/bad news things.  The good news is that the Bears forced the Packers into more penalty yards than any Packer team in modern history.  The bad news is, the Bears were bailed out so often by so many of those penalties it’s still hard to get a gauge on how good their offense is.

 Minefield Ahead
It’s all there in the cards: undefeated team on a short week coming off an emotional win at home, now forced to go on the road against a talented team with its back to the wall, led by an All Pro quarterback and a head guy who does X’s and O’s as well as any coach in the league?  Check back next week Bear fans, but this has all the earmarks of a cold hard slap in the face.

Next Week:  Sunday vs. the Giants, at New York 

Doug’s Week 1 Bear Analysis: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Matt Forte:  What else can you say?  It looks like everybody’s favorite rookie sensation of two years ago is back, and then some.  Some are calling it a career game.  All I can say is I hope not.  I hope yesterday was simply the first of many such days for Forte and that he’ll end up being the kind of running back who will consistently make things happen for Jay Cutler and Mike Martz with either his hands or his feet, depending upon what the defenses give him.

 The System:   A lot of people who followed the Bears this preseason have openly questioned whether or not they have the horses to make an offensive scheme like Martz’s actually work — and rightfully so.  Yesterday went a long way toward quieting some of those concerns.  Granted it was the Lions, and for all their marching up and down the field the Bears still found it ridiculously hard to put points on the board.  But still, over 460 net yards in total offense is nothing to sneeze at, in anybody’s book.

Linebacker Play:   For all you people who said Brian Urlacher was toast, on behalf of Brian and his family; apologies accepted.  I guess there’s a lot to be said for finally being healthy again, huh?  And how about Lance Brigg’s one-man rocket-propelled blitz, strip and fumble recovery — all in less time it takes most guys to adjust their cup?  I felt like I’d stepped into a time warp yesterday watching those two dogging the ball.  Like with Forte, let’s just hope its a preview of more to come.

Calvin Johnson’s Catch/Non-Catch:   OK, I get the fact that that may or may not have been a touchdown catch, given one’s view of the thing.  But the bigger issue is this: Why was one of the two or three most talented receivers in the entire NFL, and certainly one of the tallest and strongest, single-covered in the corner of the end zone with less than a minute to go and his team trailing by only 5?

 Devin Aromashodu’s Drop:    When you’re in the NFL, you practice all week long, often for nothing more than the chance to make one single play.  One play per game is sometimes all the separates playoff teams from the rest of the pack.  And when you’re a team coming off a year like the Bears are, and you’ve got a chance to win your home opener against a team you simply have to beat, you do not under any circumstances drop a touchdown pass when your number is called, especially late in the game — no ifs, ands or buts.

 Red Zone Follies:  They say in life there are lies, damn lies and statistics.  But in the NFL, the only statistic that really matters (and one that doesn’t lie) is how many points you score vs. how many you allow.  Everything else is window dressing.  And the Bears can crow all they want about moving the ball.  The bottom line is their inability all preseason, and now yesterday, to put points on the board inside their opponent’s 20 yd. line looks eerily similar to 2009 — or for that matter, 2008.


First-and-Goal from the One:    Granted, Gunther Cunningham had his Lions defense playing inspired football yesterday — and you can’t underestimate how tough it is to punch it in against a bunch of guys with fire in their bellies who can smell victory.  But when you’re an NFL team at home with a first-and-goal from the one, trailing by less than a touchdown, you find a way.  You hunker down and you find a way; no excuses.

 Fourth Down Plunge:   The only thing uglier than the Bears’ four horrible attempts at punching it in from the one on that series, was Lovie Smith’s patently ridiculous decision to go for it on fourth-and-one.  You’ve got a chance to take the lead against one of the league’s weakest teams, and that team’s starting QB is sitting on the sidelines with his arm in a sling.  When you get a chance to take the lead like that — especially late — you do it, and you let your defense bring you home form there.

Mistakes:   Pop Quiz — what’s the combined record of all the NFL teams over the past 25 years that have made four turnovers and been penalized over 100 yards in the same game?  Not sure?  That makes two of us.  But my sense is I can count the number of wins on both hands, and maybe a foot.  If the Bears think they can put the ball on the ground that often, or regularly make that many penalties and still win in this league, I’ve got a little swamp property just south of here I’d love to unload on them.

The Buffone Top Ten: Top Ten Most Underrated Bears Part I: Defense

By Doug Buffone

I look back at my career with fondness.  I had a great run and other than not winning a championship and playing during an era when players had to actually get off-season jobs to make ends meet, there’s not much I would have changed much about my 14 years as a Bear, even now.

One thing I particularly enjoy is the fact that I am the only player in franchise history who bridged the Bears last two championship eras.  Let me explain.  When I came into the NFL in 1966, there were a number of guys from the ‘63 NFL Championship team still playing.  I then hung around long enough to also take the field with a handful of guys who would go on to form the nucleus of the ‘85 Super Bowl champs.

That fact gives me (quite literally) a one-of-a-kind perspective on the Bears of the modern era, particularly when it comes to the subject of this month’s Buffone Top Ten:  the ten most underrated Chicago Bears on the defensive side of the ball.

With that in mind, here in ascending order are my ten most criminally under-appreciated Bear defenders of the past 50 years:

#10  Allan Ellis, CB
Back in the day, as much as the Bears had a reputation for developing great defensive players, they’d often draft guys who simply couldn’t play a lick.  Every once in a while, however, a rookie would enter camp a virtual unknown and knock peoples’ socks off.  Ellis was one such guy.  A 1973 fifth-round pick out of UCLA, he walked on the field the first day of practice with the ability to run faster backward than just about any of us could run forward.  And in man coverage he was an absolute blanket.  In fact, it seemed at times he was beating veteran receivers to spots they didn’t even realize they were trying to get to.  He was truly amazing.  Our nickname back then for the most underrated cover corner many of us had ever played with — or for that matter, would ever play with — said it all.  From day one, we simply started calling Allan Ellis, “Fast.”

#9  Todd Bell, SS
Bell qualifies as underrated for one simple reason: he had the misfortune of turning his back on the most storied team in Chicago sports history.  As a football player, Todd Bell was not unlike Superman: faster than a speeding bullet and more powerful than a locomotive.  And he did indeed hit like a freight train, playing safety like a linebacker.  Not only that, but he had a real instinct for the ball.  But after he made All Pro in ‘84, he sat out the entire ‘85 season as a negotiating ploy.  Unfortunately for Bell, the team’s Plan B safety, Dave Duerson, proved to be a more-than-worthy replacement and helped the ‘85 Bear defense etch its name forever in the annals of NFL history.  Bell did come back the following season and played once again like an All Pro, but by then his window of opportunity had quietly closed and his chance at football immortality had disappeared forever.

#8  Ross Brupbacher, OLB
In 1970, the Bears drafted a whip-smart, slightly flaky linebacker out of Texas A&M.  As a rookie Ross Brupbacher never did start a game, but was a special teams dynamo and played excellent defense when given the chance.  In fact, on those rare occasions when Brupbacher played opposite me, with Butkus in the middle, the three of us could really get it going.  We weren’t that quick, but in my humble opinion you’d have to look long and hard to find any linebacking trio anywhere, or at any time, with a better collective nose for the football.  Unfortunately for the Bears, Ross never seemed to like the game all that much, and wanted more out of life. After a few years of playing second fiddle in Chicago he signed a deal to play in the WFL, led his team to a title in a year, and then in 1976 when the new league folded, returned to the Bears. His encore season with us was for my money — and I kid you not when I say this — one of the greatest seasons any linebacker has ever had in this town.  In ‘76, despite starting just 12 games, he finished with an amazing seven interceptions and three fumble recoveries, to go along with a ton of unassisted tackles.  Then, to the surprise of no one who truly knew him, Ross Brupbacher simply walked away from football and went home to Louisiana, where he enrolled at LSU Law School, graduated with honors and became one of the most feared lawyers in that state’s history.

#7 Joe Taylor, CB
Imagine if Ronnie Lott or Steve Atwater had played corner.  That’s what Joe Taylor was like in the early days of my career.  Quiet and soft-spoken, Taylor could put the clamps on a lightning-fast receiver just as effectively as he could fight off the block of a massive offensive lineman and drill a 220 lb. ball carrier between the numbers.  Taylor, who was raised in Florida and who played college ball at North Carolina A&T, was like a lot of kids in the 60’s from small, mostly black southern schools.  He never said much, on or off the field, but let his football do the talking for him.  Though his career numbers aren’t overwhelming, that only speaks to his greatness.  Because much like a strong-armed outfielder who doesn’t get a lot of assists because no one runs on him anymore, Joe Taylor never picked off a lot of passes in a Chicago Bear uniform because he so utterly dominated his side of the field that most NFL passers eventually stopped looking in his direction.

#6  Jim Osborne, DT
Look up “Underrated Chicago Bear” in the dictionary, and there’s a good chance you’ll see Jim Osborne’s tired old face staring back at you.  A starter his rookie year and a defensive anchor throughout his largely anonymous 12-year career, Osborne once started 154 out of a possible 170 games, a percentage that would have been significantly higher had he not missed ten games in 1975 due to a career-threatening injury.  As a player, he didn’t do any one thing particularly well, except show up every day, even at practice, and give the coaches everything he had.  And he never once cheated anyone, especially himself.  So many times in the years since I’ve watched some young, enormously talented defensive lineman come into town and fail to live up to expectations.  At those times I’ve thought to myself, “If only that kid had Osborne’s heart.”  But then I reflect back on Jim, what a warrior he was, and how he gave his all to the Bears every time he put on his uniform, and I catch myself.  It’s then that I think, “If only Jim Osborne had that kid’s talent.”

#5  Leslie Frazier, CB
In 1985, there was enough macho bravado on the Bears defense to fill ten locker rooms.  Guys like McMichael, Hampton, Singletary, Wilson, Marshall and Dent were all full of man-sized bluster, and rightfully so.  They were all amazing football players who always made great copy, either by the things they did on the field, or the things they said off it.  One guy on that defense, however, was very different from the rest.  Leslie Frazier was quiet, unassuming and rarely, if ever, given to outward displays of chest-thumping.  But he was one heck of a pass defender and he studied and understood the game like few of those ‘85 Bears did, including their twin symbols of football smarts, Singletary and Fencik.  That’s why when all is said and done, my sense is the only defender on the ‘85 club (besides Singletary) who will ever land a head coaching gig will be the quiet little guy very few people ever talked about; the thinking man’s cornerback who spent his all-too-brief career, not strutting around, posing for the camera or filming TV commercials, but learning the game of football, inside and out.

#4  George Seals, DT
You want to know how tough Seals was?  Back in the day, no one — and I mean no one — took on Butkus.  Everybody backed down.  Except George Seals.  I’ll never forget one day when the two of them got into it over something that happened on the field.  Though no punches were thrown and nothing ever came of the showdown, it amazed us all.  And I always wondered if somewhere deep down inside Butkus there wasn’t a small voice telling him to be leery of any guy either stupid or crazy enough to want to take him on.  Seals was an offensive lineman for five seasons before switching to the other side of the ball.  The move seemed to fire him up and he in turn helped elevate both the ferocity and the intensity level of every one of us on defense.  There were a lot better football players around back then — even on his own team — but if my back were against the wall and my life depended on one guy being there for me, there was no teammate I would rather have had standing by my side than George Seals.

#3  Mike Hartenstine, DE
When I was playing, the coaching staff would evaluate defenders by calculating the average yards per carry the opponents gained when they ran to our side of the field.  For the first 8 years of my career, my average yards-per-carry was among the best on the team; consistently under three yards per attempt.  But then in 1975, the front office brought in this mountain of a defensive end from Penn State to play on my side, a kid who learned football under Joe Paterno.  The following year, with that kid playing in front of me and stuffing runners and blockers like he was the Great Wall of China, my average yard-per-attempt was cut in half — half — to just over one yard per carry.  I’m not sure I have the words to explain just how great (and unsung) a football player Mike Hartenstine was, and it still confounds me how far his name’s fallen through the cracks of time.

#2  Willie Holman, DE

I’m sure this pick surprises a lot of people.  In his time, Willie Holman was viewed by both fans and sportswriters alike as just one more in a long line of very good, tough-as-hell Bear defensive ends.  But let me tell you, Holman wasn’t just good. He was great.  And he was as tough as they came.  And not just physically tough; he was mentally tough.  A lot of current scouts pay players the highest compliment by saying they “never take a play off.”  That was Willie Holman in his day.  The guy gave everything he had every time he lined up in his stance.  Like Joe Taylor, he was a kid from a small, black college who never tooted his own horn or brought unnecessary attention to himself.  He was simply a four-down warrior who every Sunday played the game like it was the last time he would ever do so in his life.  There are ten great football players on this list, but all you need to know about my feelings toward Willie Holman –  both a man and as a football player– is where I’ve placed him compared to eight of those other guys.

#1   Alex Brown, DE
It Willie Holman at #2 surprises some people, I’m sure this pick shocks them.  But let me tell you why Alex Brown is the most underrated Chicago Bear since the days of the first Mayor Daley.  Unlike the nine other players on this list, all of whom played when football coverage amounted to handful of broadcasts and newspaper stories per week, Brown played in the age of media saturation and wall-to-wall air time.  He was a Bear when NFL beat reporters and commentators had so much shelf space to fill they’d report on who guys were dating or what they were having for breakfast.  And that’s not even taking into account the internet and the explosion of user-driven outlets like Twitter and YouTube.  Yet despite all that airtime and all that coverage, very few fans (and even fewer reporters) came to appreciate just how much of a gladiator Alex Brown was.  The guy wanted to play every down, never wanted to come out of a game, and could play the run or the pass as well, if not better, than virtually every one of his teammates, including many of the so-called specialists.  I know why the front office went out and signed Julius Peppers this past off-season.  I really do.  After a year like ‘09, they needed to bring in fresh blood and to give Bear fans a reason to get excited.  But trust me, Peppers came at a price tag much bigger than all those zeroes in his contract.  It cost them one of the hardest working and most consistent linemen in Chicago Bear history. And the day will come — and believe me, it will be here sooner than anyone realizes — when most of those same Bear fans will be sitting in Soldier Field thinking, “Wow…do I miss Alex Brown.”

The Buffone Top Ten Ten Coaches I Wish I’d Played For

by Doug Buffone

Look, don’t get me wrong, I was pretty lucky when it came to pro coaches. After all, for my first two NFL seasons I played for the Old Man himself. And if there was such a thing as a Mt. Rushmore of NFL coaching, you can bet your next paycheck that George Halas would be up there as one of the four most important coaches in league history.

But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have loved to play for other guys as well — especially as my career started winding down and I began to feel my chances at a championship slipping through my fingers. So for this month’s Buffone Top Ten I offer: ten coaches I would have loved to play for, in ascending order. Some were old timers, like myself. Others are contemporary. Some trafficked in emotion and inspiration. Others were brilliant, even cerebral strategists.

All, however, are winners. Or at least were winners. And all knew how to get the most out of the talent they were given.

(And one more thing these guys shared: all but one of them had the good fortune of having a Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback to lead his offense. Which, as most Bear fans will attest, is something as alien to the Windy City as palm trees and pink flamingos. But that’s another story for another time.)

#10 Mike Ditka
Mike certainly had the benefit of one of the most talented bunch of football players ever assembled, as well as a defensive coordinator (Buddy Ryan) who could somehow work the vast collection of All Pros under him into a virtual lather week after week. But all that aside, Ditka was still one of the great motivators the game has ever known. He also understood what it took to win football games. But more than anything else, his fire, intensity and larger-than-life personality set a perfect tone for what turned out to be one of the briefest, but most storied runs of dominance in NFL history.

#9 Tom Flores
Ask most people to name the great NFL coaches of all time, and very few will ever bring up Tom Flores. But Flores, one of the most decent men you’d ever want to meet, was one heck of a coach and in 1981 pulled off one of the most improbable Super Bowl wins ever. He spent almost his entire playing career as a backup QB, and maybe that was his key. Because just as so many journeymen catchers seem to mature into great baseball managers, there seems to be some link between NFL coaching success and smart, attentive young men who do little more than hold a clipboard Sunday after Sunday, year after year, and make mental notes about what works and what doesn’t.

#8 Don Shula
I will admit I was never taken with Shula as a coach. But then one day long after I retired I had the occasion to interview him. It was then that I finally got it. Don Shula is a great guy, has a ton of energy and has forgotten more football strategy than a lot of coaches will ever know. In fact, if you were to divide this list of great coaches into two categories — the inspirational hellfire-and-brimstone preachers and the mad scientists of strategy and play-calling — Shula is one of maybe two guys on the entire list you could argue fits comfortably into either category.

#7 Weeb Ewbank
Ewbank has been largely forgotten by many of today’s football fans, but he was one of the great coaches the league has ever known. Not only did his Jets manhandle Shula’s Colts in the single greatest upset in Super Bowl history, but his 1959 Baltimore Colts won what many still feel was the most exciting title game ever played — and a contest that, quite literally, changed the NFL forever. I had the good fortune to play an exhibition game under Ewbank (the ‘66 College All Star game at Soldier Field), and that one game made me appreciate what playing for a guy like that might have meant to both my career and my ring finger.

#6 Bill Cowher
Talk about Old School. Cowher was a blast from the past; an old-time blood-and-guts leatherhead who bled Steeler black and gold, week after week, year after year. But what was different about Cowher from all those other tightly wound workaholic control-freaks who pass themselves off as head coaches is that the guy’s act never grew old. His players never tuned him out. Not once. In fact, just the opposite: most seemed to love him more and more each year. And despite losing one star after another to free agency, he continued to get more out of his players than just about any coach in my lifetime. We haven’t seen the last of this guy by any means.

#5 Bill Belichick
Whoever said there are no second acts in American life never met Bill Belichick. The guy went from boy wonder to whipping boy to “Boy, I wish he was coaching my team.” And what I like most about Belichick isn’t so much his run of Super Bowl appearances, or even his stunning regular season success. It isn’t even how he’s transformed the Pats from league doormat to league super-power. It’s that he’s created a system that provides unwanted veterans and aging stars the opportunity to come in, do what they still do best, and maybe — just maybe — win a championship before hanging them up.

#4 Tom Landry
To appreciate how great Landry was it’s important to understand how bad the Cowboys once were. Long before they were America’s Team they were an expansion laughingstock. But then Tex Schramm started drafting the best athletes he could find, regardless of sport, and charging Landry with the task of teaching them how to play football. When I came into the league in ‘66, the process finally paid off and the Cowboys not only finished above .500 for the first time ever, they lost a heart-breaking NFL championship game to, arguably, the most powerful Packer team Vince Lombardi ever assembled. He might not have been my kind of motivator, but from a X’s and O’s standpoint Tom Landry took a back seat to no one.

#3 Bill Walsh
At first blush, you might ask why a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust defender from the coal mines of Western Pennsylvania like myself would ever want to play for soft-spoken, gentlemanly, offensive genius from Northern California. Well, all those Super Bowl rings aside, there’s this: You want to know how to get the most out of any defender, especially late in the 4th quarter with everything on the line? Easy. Keep him off the field as much as possible up to that point. And that’s exactly what Walsh’s pass-first West Coast Offense did. And that’s exactly why I would have loved to play linebacker under a guy who eventually emerged as the NFL’s undisputed lord and high-master of ball control.

#2 Chuck Noll
Speaking of Western Pennsylvania, when I was a senior at Louisville the Steelers called and said they wanted to draft me. I pleaded with them not to. I said I had no desire to play for them. I wanted to go where I had a chance to win. The Steelers back then were not just bad; they were laughable. But then along came Chuck Noll in 1969 and with him soon came four Super Bowls in six years — not to mention a reason to feel proud about being from that area, even as the U.S. steel industry was slowly dying. If I had only known then what I know now, I would have been willing run naked from my house to the Steeler offices, pen in hand, and ask one simple question: Where do I sign?

#1 Vince Lombardi
If someone were to come up and ask me why I would ever want to play for Vince Lombardi, about whom Jerry Kramer once said, “Lombardi treated us all equally; like dogs,” I would have to steal a line Louis Armstrong once used when a reporter asked him to define jazz. He looked at the young man and said simply, “If you have to ask that question, you’d never understand my answer.” #

Archived Blog, Old

Love of the Game

By Doug Buffone

May 6, 2010

It’s not like there’s not a lot going on in Chicago pro sports.  Over the course of the last few days, my hometown Bears drafted what they hope is a bumper crop of young defensive stars, the Bulls fired their head coach, the Sox and Cubs continued to cling desperately to the rosy optimism of spring, and the city’s newest belle-of-the-ball, the Hawks, dodged one bullet after another in the pursuit of this town’s first Stanley Cup in a half a century.

That’s exactly why I chose today to write about roller derby.  Seriously.  Roller derby.  Or more to the point; ladies roller derby.

Bear with me, OK?

Look, I watch a lot of pro sports.  As both a radio analyst and commentator – not to mention a fan and former player – I’ve been watching professional sports with a critical eye my entire life.  And if there’s one thing I’ve noticed recently it’s this: As the money’s gotten bigger, as the media coverage has grown exponentially, and as the games themselves have gone from a simple seasonal diversion to a full-fledged national obsession, very few players these days seem to play for the sheer love of the game.  More often than not, I watch these guys and get the sense that somewhere deep in the back their mind is the knowledge that every time they put on that uniform, they do so in part because it’s their job.

Now that’s not true in all cases, certainly, but I can’t help but feel watching a lot of the Bears, Cubs, Sox, Bulls and Hawks that, as much as they like to win, a lot of them don’t need to win.  And as much as they love to compete, a lot of our local pro athletes give me the sense that, unless their financial demands are met, or unless all is right with their contracts or in their personal lives, they’re not about to throw their body in harm’s way or lay it all on the line, as they once did as kids with a dream.

But something happened to me recently that took my well-developed sense of cynicism and gave it a razor-sharp elbow to the ribs.  A few weeks ago on air at the Score I joked about my new favorite sport being roller derby.  Well, someone from the Windy City Rollers, Chicago’s very own all-female, flat-track roller derby league, was apparently listening and offered me and my family VIP passes to a match at the UIC Pavilion.

I went that Saturday night not knowing what to expect, but anticipating something not unlike the roller derby of my younger days, with its soft, banked track, its choreographed fights and its scripted storylines and predetermined outcomes.  Roller derby was, for me – and I would guess a lot of others as well – a little like pro wrestling on roller skates.

Boy was I wrong.  I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say these girls play for keeps.  I sat in the front row and was stunned to watch them skate and fall on that rock-hard surface, while throwing elbows with fury and flying around the track as fast as they could – all without the benefit of the somewhat forgiving banked oval I had always associated with their sport.

I watched some of the smaller, quicker skaters – “jammers” as they’re known in the language of roller derby – weave in and out of a rolling sea of larger women, half of whom were there to protect the jammers and half of whom were looking to flatten them with an elbow or a forearm shiver, something they often did.

There was this one young lady in particular I remember who must have weighed about 90 lbs. who kept getting tossed around like a rag doll.  It was almost comical at first, watching her get knocked to the ground by women twice her size, but as it kept happening time and time again, I found myself hoping she would just stay down so as not to risk getting hurt even more than she already was.  But that little girl wouldn’t stay down.  She kept getting back up and skating with all her might to catch up to the pack, only to find herself body slammed again and again and again.

And that was just one woman.  The night’s two derby matches were full of physical confrontations between skaters and both had to be stopped any number of times while medical care was given to someone who had fallen awkwardly or taken a shot to the head or some other vulnerable part of her body.

As I watched I found myself thinking – and this is why I began this blog by referencing the local pro sports teams – that if I saw this level of intensity on a consistent basis from the Bears, Bulls, Sox, Cubs and Hawks, I would never, ever say another word about effort or desire.  And I would fork over my money gladly for the privilege of watching them play.

There are many reasons to become a fan of the Windy City Rollers – not the least of which are the amusing names most of the girls adopt as their roller derby alter egos (like “Karmageddon,” “Ruth Enasia” and “Yvette YourMaker”).  But when all is said and done, this may be the most compelling reason of all to go to the UIC Pavilion some night to take in the roller derby:  not only do these girls risk serious bodily injury, and not only do they play with a fire and a passion that the men in this town summon up only when they deem it necessary, these young ladies don’t even get paid.

In fact, if you can believe it, they actually pay hundreds of dollars out of their own pockets to buy their own equipment and have to pay dues each month to keep their league afloat financially.

Now I don’t know about you, but where I’m from that’s what you call love of the game.

Bare Naked Numbers and the Pressure of the Season’s First Few Weeks

For as long as they’ve been listing sports scores in newspapers, we have been obsessed with numbers.  Fans, coaches and players alike; everyone picks up the local newspaper or goes online to check out how their teams or players are doing.

Now, under normal circumstances – say the middle of the season – such a daily checking of the numbers can give you a clear sense of how things are going with your team.  And during the middle of the season, checking the numbers can give you a pretty good idea of what kind of year it’s been.

But during the first few weeks of a season – particularly one as long and winding as the baseball season – the numbers have a way of clouding deeper truths, good and bad, that only time and greater exposure to the league will reveal.

As opposed to the raw numbers in the middle of the season – numbers that have the advantage of being buffered by a larger context and the statistical accumulation of everything that’s happened to that point – no such advantage exists at the start of the season.

The numbers are what they are, and every last statistic is out there naked, stripped bare of context and exposed to the harsh reality of what it is – or in many cases, isn’t.  And believe me, what digits and decimal points can do to a player’s psyche in the first few weeks of a season cannot be underestimated.

I remember waking up during a handful of seasons that the Bears started out 0-2 feeling sick to my stomach as I read the paper.  We were winless, and even if we were a good team, and I felt confident in that knowledge, there was something unnerving about looking at the standings and seeing that zero under the win column.  Soon, you’d feel the doubt start to creep in.  Even though you felt you were a good team coming out of camp, you’d secretly – if only for a moment –start to entertain the possibility that you might just be wrong.

Now, consider that doubt and amplify it many times over.  That’s the reality of what it’s like in baseball these days with its endless array of stats to measure a player’s worth or a team’s performance.

Imagine what it’s like every day to wake up in a world where hitting .300 is the gold standard and hitting .200 will get you released, only to find that you’re hitting .100?  And not only that, but your .100 batting average is being printed everyday in the papers across the country, being regularly posted online and being constantly displayed in stunning full-color high-definition on the scoreboard next to your picture every time to come to bat.

What’s more, think about trying to play in this age of wall-to-wall media coverage and fantasy sports mania – under the constant scrutiny of caffeinated talk show hosts and hyperbolic bloggers.  What you end up with is a recipe for anxiety bordering on out-and-out panic.

I see it happening in Chicago, even as I write this.  Our two baseball teams have stumbled out of the gate.  The fans, and I would imagine some of the players as well, have gone straight from hope and excitement to desperation and despair.

Why?  Because when you start out 5-11 like the Sox did or 5-9 like the Cubs did, people look at the standings and panic.  Not because the team has hit a rocky stretch, like even the best teams do at various points in the season, but because every day in the paper every player, every coach, every last fan is reminded in black in white that the team might not be that good.

Well, as guy who’s been to a few rodeos in his time, let me tell fans Cubs and Sox fans everywhere this: relax.  Take a deep breath and relax.

We’ve got two pretty good baseball teams in town.  They’ve both got a nice mix of veterans and talented young kids, they’re both managed by great baseball men and both play in very winnable divisions.

But all that aside, look at the numbers – or more to the point, look beyond the numbers.  I’m pretty certain, for example, that Carlos Quentin is going to hit more than .176 before everything is said and done; same with Gordon Beckham.  And check back in September. I’m pretty certain you’ll see Gavin Floyd and Jack Peavy with ERAs closer to 4.00 than 8.00.

Likewise, if the past few summers have taught us anything it’s that Aramis Ramirez is better than a .139 hitter and Carlos Zambrano is not a guy who’s going to post a 7.20 ERA over the course of six months.

What’s more, both the Sox and Cubs have played only a handful of teams so far.  And until they see everyone at least once, there’s no point in trying to figure out where each team fits in its league’s roster of pennant contenders.

Again, just relax fans.  What happens in April counts, but remember, more often than not it’s a smokescreen.  So much so, in fact, that I offer off the top of my head these three little tidbits of supporting evidence:

  • Last year’s AL MVP Joe Mauer didn’t even play his first game until May 1.
  • In 2010, the New York Yankees lost their first 8 games to their bitter rivals, the Boston Red Sox, before going on to win the World Series.
  • The 1986 Milwaukee Brewers started 17-1 and by the end of the season missed the playoffs entirely.

Like I said, it’s early.  The raw numbers right now might be a little scary, but don’t climb out on to the ledge just yet.  In fact, I’d recommend Sox and Cub fans sit back, relax and enjoy the ride this summer.  Given the talent assembled on both the North and South Sides of town, I still have the sense things are going to get interesting come September.