On April 29, 2006, I was driving up and down Sheridan Road in the north shore suburbs of Chicago listening to the Score's coverage of the NFL Draft, as was my wont. My plan was to wait until after our first round pick and then go to my grandmother's house for a visit.
But with 22 starters coming back (depending on your views on Justin Gage) the Bears reached their first round pick and instead of drafting, traded down to the second round, moving from pick 26 to 42. Now my drive was extended, and I spent even more time doing laps on Sheridan awaiting the Bears pick. When it finally came, we took...
There was silence on the radio.
"Danielle?" the host started. "Danielle? Did the Bears just draft a girl?"
That was the city of Chicago's introduction to Danieal Manning -- an unfair one, to say the least. Because Manning made a believer out of Bears fans quickly, with an interception in Week 1 and a starting job by Week 3. Soon, everyone in the Windy knew his name.
And in honor of the best Bears team post-'85, I will be taking a look back this season at any number of my favorite games/memories/players/historic wrinkles from 2006. We start with the five most important additions to the 2006 Bears, of which Manning was one.
5. Mark Anderson, defensive end, draft
The next day, in the 5th round, the Bears spent their fifth straight pick on defense (kind of) (we'll get to that), drafting defensive end Mark Anderson of Alabama. The team seemingly had no need for defensive line help -- we had six linemen returning who combined for 26.5 sacks in 2005.
Anderson ended up a key defensive contributor, leading the team in sacks with 12, good for 8th in the league. He recorded two sacks in a game four times, including the opening day shutout against the Packers.
Best moment: Anderson's biggest play of the season was a sack/forced fumble on Matt Leinart that Mike Brown turned into six, the first of three non-offensive touchdowns in the "They are who we thought they were!" game.
@readjack lol they messed up on the protection had to capitalize!
— mark anderson (@MAnderson_95) August 4, 2016
@readjack lol they messed up on the protection had to capitalize!— mark anderson (@MAnderson_95) August 4, 2016
4. Ricky Manning Jr., cornerback, free agent
The Bears were loaded in the defensive backfield in 2005, with two Pro Bowlers (Brown and Nate Vasher), one future Hall of Famer maybe hopefully (Peanut!), and one star rookie (Chris Harris). But hell, why not add one more? Ricky Manning Jr. joined the fray from the Panthers and was arrested for beating up a man at Denny's the day he signed his offer sheet.
No matter. Manning pled no contest on his felony charge, avoided prison time, was suspended by the NFL one game, and shared the team's lead in interceptions with Tillman at 5.
Best moment: Manning bagged one pick six, but to me, his best moment was his back-to-back interceptions in Week 4 against Seattle. With the Bears up 10-3, Manning picked off Matt Hasselbeck and returned it 39 yards, setting up a Robbie Gould field goal, and on the ensuing Seattle possession Manning picked Hasselbeck again to set up a Thomas Jones touchdown. Bears led 20-3 en route to a 37-6 nationally televised pasting of the defending NFC champs.
3. Danieal Manning, safety, draft
I hit the Harold Washington Library yesterday to get grimy in the microfilm room, which is often more useful than internet archives, and I was reminded of how the Bears might have used the number 26 pick, the one they traded out of.
The Tribune's K.C. Johnson and Moon Mullin projected us to take Alabama linebacker and future Pro Bowler DeMeco Ryans, who went 33 to Houston, the first pick of the second round, while Brad Biggs and Mike Mulligan of the Sun-Times thought we'd take Ohio State safety and future Pro Bowler Donte Whitner, who actually went number 8 to the Bills.
So we didn't get Whitner and we didn't get Ryans, but Manning -- a safety from Abilene Christian -- picked off Brett Favre in the season opener and soon after passed Chris Harris on the depth chart. Then Mike Brown got injured and Manning and Harris teamed up as the starting safeties, and nothing bad happened in the Super Bowl with Reggie Wayne and I'm not talking about that.
Best moment: Manning's best play in 2006 was probably the interception against Green Bay, and just generally being fast AF. But I can't talk about Danieal Manning without mentioning his role in the greatest NFL fan vid ever. Say it with me now: "Yeah! YEAH! YEAAAHHHHH! YEAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!"
2. Brian Griese, quarterback, free agent
Remember in Denny Green's famous "They are who we thought they were" speech when Green (RIP) talked about playing the Bears in the preseason?
"We played them in preseason. Who the hell takes the 3rd game of the preseason like it's bullshit? Bullshit! We played them in the 3rd game. Everybody played three quarters. The Bears are who we thought they were!"
Beyond my adoration for Denny's ability to use the word "bullshit" twice consecutively in two different sentences once as a noun and once as an interjection, I love the role a preseason game played in one of the great postgame soundbites in sports history.
I love it because I attended.
And yes, I was involved in the "Griese! Griese!" chants in the fourth quarter.
That's what happened when new Bears QB Brian Griese replaced the ineffective Rex Grossman late in the third, completed 10 of 14 passes for 131 yards and a touchdown. It was both empowering and awkward -- empowering because we felt like we had a proper contingency plan in the event of a Rex injury, and awkward because everyone in the stadium was chanting for the backup QB and you know the starting QB's standing there on the sideline hearing the whole thing and just trying to shake it off.
But you know what? Brian Griese was the best thing that ever happened to Rex Grossman.
Granted, Rex didn't have the fluky injuries like he did his first three seasons. Still, I am sure that having this former Pro Bowler backing him up pushed Rex to recover from his "Bad Rex" days. Even Lovie's "Rex is our quarterback" creed was pushed to the edge after his 1.3 QB rating debacle against the Vikings, when it was apparent that another bad game might give Griese the gig, and Rex came out like gangbusters against the Rams with a 114.4 rating, 200 yards, two scores and zero turnovers.
Best moment: Sadly, Griese's best moment was his 75-yard touchdown to Mark Bradley in the brutal-for-so-many-reasons season finale home loss to the Packers (a game I also attended with the same friend, and the only Bears game I've ever left early). So I have to give it up for Griese's remarkable three-game stretch in 2007:
* 15-25, 214 yards, 2 TD, INT, 27-20 Bears win at Lambeau
* 26-45, 381 yards, 3 TD (including this 81-yarder to Devin Hester to tie the game late), 2 INT, 31-34 Bears loss to Minnesota
* 27-41, 322 yards, TD, 0 INT, and a 97-yard game-winning drive in Philly. I can't find the actual highlight of the game-winner to Moose Muhammad, but listen to the utter devastation of the Philly fans. Warms the heart, don't it?
1. Devin Hester, kick and punt returner, draft
Devin Hester's 2006 is on the short list of greatest Chicago rookies ever, for any sport. There are so many incredible memories, so it's fun to remind ourselves of the weirdness of Hester's rookie year, starting with the draft, where the Bears drafted the "positionless" Hester partially to return kicks and partially to play corner. Corner!
This actually happened. The Tribune reported that the Bears drafted Hester in part to defend the likes of Steve Smith, who killed us in the playoffs in 2005. Sure enough, late in the season there was Hester lined up at corner, in the NFL, defending Torry Holt in the redzone, allowing a Holt TD on a six-yard slant.
Fortunately, this was the game after the Bears officially made Hester their kick returner, leading to his breakout at that spot too. (And seriously, imagine that: the Bears waited until December to decide that maybe the fastest man on the team with four special teams touchdowns should return kickoffs.)
Anyhow, this is what Hester did to St. Louis:
Best moment: Hester had several "best moments," including the above kick returns that nearly gave Tony Kornheiser a coronary.
Let's hit them all, because what else are we doing today?
FIRST MEMORABLE MOMENT: Week 1, Hester's first NFL touchdown.
MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: Hester's Super Bowl touchdown, one of the most ominous moments of my life.
MOST MEANINGFUL MOMENT: Hester's 83-yard "Holy crap we're winning now!" punt return to cap The Comeback vs. Arizona. (Here's the original broadcast.)