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Dear John Fox: let them be heroes

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When John Fox played it safe Sunday, he denied his players a chance to be heroes. Back in 1997, at the helm of an 0-6 Bears team, Dave Wannstedt made a different call.

Dave Wannstedt

The season was lost and Dave Wannstedt said f*** it.

The Bears were 0-6 in 1997 and an extra point away from a 24-24 tie with the Packers. One little kick, 20 yards. The league conversion rate on PATs that season was 98.6 percent. Bears kicker Jeff Jaeger was nine for nine to that point. One minute and fifty four seconds remained. The fans at Soldier Field awaited the inevitable.

Kick for the tie, right?

Nope.

“We wanted to do something from a psychological standpoint for the team,” Wannstedt said after the game. No extra point. No taking the tie. Wanny went for two. Erik Kramer threw a swing pass to Raymont Harris that fell incomplete. Bears lost 24-23.

And pretty much everyone was happy and impressed.

Eugene Robinson, Packers safety: “For them, it was time to throw caution to the wind.”

Frank Winters, Packers center: “It was a gutsy call by Dave. He needed a win bad.”

The late Hank Stram, Super Bowl-winning coach: “If I were doing it, I probably would have gone for the win right now too.”

Sam Wyche, Super Bowl-losing coach: “You are saying, as a coach and a team, that we’re not afraid of these guys and we’re going after them one more time.”

Keith Jennings, Bears tight end: “We loved it. You can’t believe how happy we were he showed the confidence in us after we worked our butts off to go 90 yards. He was going to let us win. That’s beautiful.”

This is what John Fox could have given his players. Trailing Green Bay 27-24 in what could have been a historic comeback, riding an improbable offensive wave, the Bears took both the uninspired and improper path to yet another loss. Didn’t run out the clock. Didn’t go for the W.

As many Bears fans noted and as the Score’s Laurence Holmes summed up so well, playing for the tie is a weak move... but if you ARE playing for the tie, you damn sure don’t do it with a pass on 3rd down.

The Matt Barkley era has not been given all of this world’s greatest advantages. And we all know that the higher the draft pick, the brighter the future. But during the past four weeks, the Bears have showed more inspired fight than at any other point this season, perhaps even any other point since Lovie’s last year.

We entered this Packers game a few inopportune dropped passes away from a possible three-game winning streak. Winning those games might not matter to the standings, and yes, might ultimately harm our draft chances.

But losses don’t just “build character” — they chip away hope. They erode confidence. To channel my inner Doug and O.B., they’re no damn fun. The way these players have battled the past month, they deserved a chance to battle once more. To strut. To prove themselves.

Matt Barkley, Jordan Howard, Cameron Meredith, Deonte Thompson, the offensive line, and even Dowell Loggains — they all deserved a chance to be heroes.

Cre’von LeBlanc, Pernell McPhee, Deon Bush, Nick Kwiatkowski, Akiem Hicks — they deserved a shot to protect a lead, not hold on for dear life.

Instead, everyone watched as Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson stole the heroics and won the day.

Asked later why he kicked the field goal instead of going for the win, John Fox stood firm: “I’m sure we’d have questions if we had gone for it on fourth down and didn’t get that either,” he said. “It comes with the territory.”

Asked in 1997 why he went for the win even if it led to a loss, Wannstedt stood firm too: “(It was) a no-brainer.”

Wannstedt also realized about Brett Favre what Fox did not realize about Rodgers.

“I don’t want to give them that chance,” Wannstedt said about a possible Packers drive to break a tie with a game-winning field goal. “You have to have a lot of respect for their two-minute drill.”

The Bears are now 3-11 and headed for a third-straight last-place finish in the NFC North. No one picked them to win the division. They’ve done nothing all season to prove the doubters wrong.

Unless you’re a close observer. Because a close observer of this Bears team has seen promise this past month. A measly little win in the win column would have been the proof of that promise.

That brutal 1997 team got that chance. After the loss to the Packers, Kramer and company stewed on their near miss and 0-7 record during the bye week, and then went into Miami on a Monday night.

Trailing the playoff-bound Dolphins 33-18 in the 4th, the Bears scored two touchdowns in the 4th quarter, caught Miami at 33, and won 36-33 in overtime.

“I can’t tell you what a relief this is,” Kramer said after the game while chugging Gatorade as if it were New Years champagne. “I think the entire team breathed a collective sigh of relief when we hit that field goal.”

Next time, Coach Fox, give your players their rightful relief.