Try to remember a better time; a time when the Chicago Bears ruled over all in the NFC North division. A time when winning was the norm and the future looked bright for the oldest franchise in the NFL. Ah, the good ol' days....way back when in 2006.
Since the Chicago Bears made a trip to Super Bowl XLI, the fortunes of teams in the NFC North have taken a turn, for the worst if you ask me. Just three years removed from the Super Bowl and the Bears are looking up at their rivals the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings in the division standings. How could a team that looked so strong such a short time ago fall and let others pass them by?
Though the NFC North does consist of a fourth team, the Detroit Lions, we will only look at the three teams that actually compete in the NFL year after year.
Heading in to the Bears super season of '06, personnel changes were made by our bitter rivals. Both the Packers and Vikings had brought in new head coaches to help their struggling franchises. Mike McCarthy would now lead the Pack and Brad Childress the Vikings, both men bringing along with them an offensive prowess. Though respectable, neither new coach would lead his team to a winning record and the Bears ran away with the NFC North title.
Though finishing just 12 points short of a Super Bowl victory, the Bears felt the need to make some drastic changes to their team in 2007. Locker room favorite and starting running back Thomas Jones was traded to the New York Jets, safety Chris Harris gone to the Carolina Panthers and heralded defensive coordinator Ron Rivera was let go in favor of Bob Babich. It seemed the men making personnel decisions in Chicago got a little too cocky. They let the previous year's Super Bowl run and award winning stroke their egos. *Both Bears head coach Lovie Smith and General Manager Jerry Angelo would win men of the year honors in their respected professions following the '06 season.
Our two rivals would make some changes too, for the better however. Both teams would make great draft decisions and bring in valuable free agents. The Bears? Well, they drafted the likes of Michael Okwo and Dan Bazuin.
After coasting through the division easily in '06, the Bears would drop to fourth in '07. Finishing with the same record as that fourth team in the North, Detroit something or other. The Packers would go on to win the division and finish one game short of the Super Bowl. The Vikings would steadily improve to 8-8. Some would contribute the Bears disappointing 2007 season to the hang over that is felt by many Super Bowl losers, I wish it was that simple.
Entering 2008, the Bears again made changes to their running back position by cutting Cedric Benson after his run in's with the law. The quarterback job would now go to Kyle Orton and after letting leading wide receiver Bernard Berrian shimmy to the hated Vikes; return man ace Devin Hester would now take over as Orton's number one guy. Though the Bears made some smart moves entering '08, they would fall one game short of the division winning Vikings (10-6) and the playoffs. The 6-10 Packers would take a step back in '08 after a tumultuous off season in which they traded soon to be Hall of Famer and Mr. Packer himself Brett Favre to the Jets; handing over the team to first year starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Which brings us to this season....The Bears made a huge splash this off season by acquiring Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler; they also brought in new offensive linemen Frank Omiyale & Orlando Pace, and they made another move at defensive coordinator. Head coach Lovie Smith would now be the man calling the plays for a defense that has not looked the same since the Bears hoisted up Papa Bear's trophy in '06. The Packers would also change up their defense, bringing in new defensive coordinator Dom Capers who brought with him a new style of defense, the 3-4 scheme. The Packers would also draft very well, bringing in players that would help support their new actions. Like the Packers would mirror the Bears with a new defensive coordinator, the Vikings would follow in the Bears footsteps and bring in a new quarterback. The same guy that made the Packers '08 off season a nightmare would make the Vikings '09 regular season a dream. Brett Favre left his one year gig with the Jets to return to the NFC North as a horn head.
Well, as the saying goes; the rest is history. We all know how this season has turned out thus far.
When looking back over the last few years, it seems like player/coaching personnel have really hurt the Bears. Both the Packers and Vikings have found immediate impact players coming out of college, the Bears are still waiting for some of theirs to come around. Big name free agents have also contributed to our two northern neighbors surpassing us in the rankings. This issue can be attributed to Bears brass, but remember they were also the ones that brought us Jay Cutler.
There‘s no telling what the future may bring for any of these ball clubs. I just hope the Bears turn it around before 2006 really does become a distant memory.
-Players obtained by either Draft (D), Free Agency (FA) or Trade (T) that have made contributions to his team:
Packers '06 Vikings '06 Bears ‘06
~AJ Hawk (D) ~Cedric Griffin (D) ~Danieal Manning (D)
~Greg Jennings (D) ~Ray Edwards (D) ~Devin Hester (D)
~Ryan Pickett (FA) ~Chad Greenway (D) ~Jamar Williams (D)
~Charles Woodson (FA) ~Ben Leber (FA)
~Ryan Longwell (FA)
~Chester Taylor (FA)
~Steve Hutchinson (FA)
Packers '07 Vikings '07 Bears ‘07
~Justin Harrell (D) ~Adrian Peterson (D) ~Greg Olsen (D)
~Brandon Jackson (D) ~Sidney Rice (D) ~Kevin Payne (D)
~James Jones (D) ~Visanthe Shiancoe (FA) ~Garrett Wolfe (D)
~Aaron Rouse (D) ~Josh Beekman (D)
~Jason Crosby (D)
~Ryan Grant (T)
Packers '08 Vikings '08 Bears ‘08
~Jordy Nelson (D) ~Madieu Williams (FA) ~Chris Williams (D)
~Patrick Lee (D) ~Bernard Berrian (FA) ~Matt Forte (D)
~Jermichael Finley (D) ~Jared Allen (T) ~Earl Bennett (D)
~Marcus Harrison (D)
~Zack Bowman (D)
~Kellen Davis (D)
Packers '09 Vikings ‘09 Bears ‘09
~BJ Raji (D) ~Percy Harvin (D) ~Johnny Knox (D)
~Clay Matthews (D) ~Phil Loadholt (D) ~Al Afalava (D)
~Brett Favre (FA) ~Orlando Pace (FA)
~Frank Omiyale (FA)
~Pisa Tinoisamoa (FA)
~Jay Cutler (T)