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Rex Grossman, Bernard Berrian, and the greatest deep ball combos in Bears history

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For the 10-year anniversary of the 2006 Super Bowl Bears, Jack M Silverstein is digging into the history of the best post-'85 Bears team. This week he looks at the deadly deep threat of Rex Grossman and Bernard Berrian, and lists the best QB-WR deep ball combos in Bears history.

Bernard Berrian and Rex Grossman, seen here celebrating their collective awesomeness, presumably.
Bernard Berrian and Rex Grossman, seen here celebrating their collective awesomeness, presumably.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The first play of the 2006 Chicago Bears season was a short pass to fullback Jason McKie for 10 yards and a first down.

The next two plays were runs by Thomas Jones that gained four yards.

The next play converted a 3rd and 6 on a 13-yard completion to Muhsin Muhammad.

The next was Thomas Jones for another two yards.

And on the sixth play, this happened:

That was the moment I knew everything was different.

And by everything, I mean the Bears offense.

From 2002 to 2005, the Bears had seven passing touchdowns of 30 or more yards.

In 2006, Bernard Berrian had six such touchdowns. The team had 10.

Lost in the mush of memories about our beloved 2006 Bears is the increase in offensive production from 2005 to 2006. The '05 team churned out yardage on the ground. The '06 team could run it down your throats, though they did so less frequently, especially at the start of the season.

But running for nearly 2,100 yards in 2005 paid off in '06 with one of the deadliest play-action passing attacks these hazel eyes have ever seen in the orange-and-blue.

The above play -- a 49-yard beauty -- was practically impossible in 2005. Rookie quarterback Kyle Orton was not a deep-ball man, and of course was still learning the offense and the NFL's speed. Orton had six passes in 2005 of 30 or more yards; Rex had 16 of those in 2006, plus another four in the playoffs.

The other reason these plays were possible in 2006 and not in 2005? Berrian.

The speedy receiver from Fresno State was on the receiving end of the team's two longest passing touchdowns in 2004, his rookie year, when in consecutive weeks (and consecutive wins), he caught touchdowns of 49 and then 35 yards from fellow rookie Craig Krenzel.

(Props to Hunter Hillenmeyer for one of my favorite random Bears assessments of recent years.)

Berrian was hampered by injury in 2005 and was targeted only 25 times, fourth among the team's receivers after Muhammad, Justin Gage, and Mark Bradley.

He was back in 2006.

And then some.

In Week 1, the Packers play.

In Week 2 vs. Detroit, this diving gem in the corner of the endzone:

In Week 4 vs. Seattle, this burner:

He had one more bomb TD (pun intended, thank you) that season.

And then, the playoffs.

First, this:

And then, in the NFC championship game, the play Berrian calls his "favorite NFL highlight":

That touchdown was the '06 version of Wilber Marshall's scamper through the snow. The indelible majesty of Berrian slowing, diving, catching, standing, evading, and darting into the endzone is burned into the memory of any Bears fans blessed to see it.

Look again.

I mean, really, just look again and again and again.

But there's a flip side to this coin.

The deep ball was also a trap.

The essence of "Good Rex, Bad Rex" lay in our success all season throwing down the field, because when Rex's balls went bad they went really bad. We saw that most famously in the Cardinals game and, of course, in the Super Bowl.

The back-breaking pick six from Kelvin Hayden that gave the Colts their final margin of victory was a "shoulder fake and fling" play down the right sideline to Moose Muhammad that was both over thrown and behind Muhammad.

And the final play-action-deep-to-Berrian play of the season was an INT into double coverage.

So it goes.

2006 remains a special season, for lots of reasons, but one for me is the beauty of Grossman to the man known as B Twice. Their play epitomized a favored tactic of every youth football player on any school yard or sandlot throughout the history of the sport.

"Run as far as you can," one kid tells another. "I'll hit you."

***

As for a look at the history, Rex and BB hooked up six times in 2006 for scores of 30 or more yards, fourth all-time in Bears history for QB-WR combos in a season, at least according to pro-football-reference.com, and if it's wrong there God help us all.

Here are the best such combinations in Bears history:

Ed Brown to Harlon Hill, 8 TDs, 1956 (long TD: 70 yards)

Harlan Hill is 2nd in Bears history with over 4,600 yards receiving, but 14th in receptions. That's because he averaged 20.4 yards per catch in his eight seasons in Chicago. He made the Pro Bowl in each of his first three and was All Pro in his second season, 1955, and his third, 1956.

Hill's 12 touchdowns in his rookie year remain tied for 3rd in Bears history with Brandon Marshall (2013), Mike Ditka (1961) and Curtis Conway (1995).

Quarterback Ed Brown joined Hill in the Pro Bowl in both '55 and '56, the only Bears QB-WR combo to make the Pro Bowl in the same season.

Johnny Lujack to Ken Kavanaugh, 7 TDs, 1949 (long: 81 yards)

Sid Luckman to Ken Kavanaugh, 7 TDs, 1947 (long: 81 yards, twice)

Kavanaugh's 13 receiving touchdowns in 1947 is tied for the Bears single-season record. His 22.4 yards per catch is tops among Bears receivers with at least 40 receptions. And he did it no matter who was under center, catching TDs of 30 or more yards from five quarterbacks, including 16 from Luckman and 11 from Lujack.

Rex Grossman to Bernard Berrian, 6 TDs, 2006 (long: 68 yards)

Erik Kramer to Curtis Conway, 6 TDs, 1995 (long: 76 yards)

As stated above, Conway's 12 receiving touchdowns in 1995 is tied for 3rd in Bears history. Kramer's numbers were historically more impressive: his 3,838 passing yards and 29 touchdowns set franchise marks that stand today, passing Billy Wade's 1962 yardage record and Luckman's 1943 touchdown record.

And if you haven't kept up with Kramer's post-football struggles, which included a failed suicide attempt, when you finish this story you need to read this one.

Billy Wade to Mike Ditka, 6 TDs, 1961 (long: 76 yards)

In his rookie year of 1961, Mike Ditka set a franchise record for receiving yards and touchdowns by a tight end (1,076 and 12) that stand today. His quarterback was 31-year-old Billy Wade, who two years later won his only NFL championship. Guess what other Bears quarterback is 33 and trying to win a championship?

HONORABLE MENTION:

Cade McNown to Marcus Robinson, 5 TDs, 1999 (long: 80 yards)

I can't write this list without giving dap to my guy Marcus and his epic 1999. He also grabbed TDs of 38 and 77 yards from Jim Miller for seven total scores, all 30 yards or greater.

In lieu of any Robinson Bears highlights on youtube, here is my depressed face in my Robinson jersey after the Bears got knocked out of the playoffs on the final day of the 2012 season:
My happy friend there is a Vikings fan whose Vikes beat out the Bears for a spot in the postseason. But he's a Vikings fan, so he's perpetually depressed.

And as long as we're here...

Most receiving touchdowns in Bears history of 30 or more yards:

1. Ken Kavanaugh, 1940-1950, 32 touchdowns of 30+ yards

2. Harlon Hill, 1954-1961, 24

3. Willie Gault, 1983-1987, 19

4. Ray McLean, 1940-1947, 16

t5. Johnny Morris, 1958-1967, 15

t5. Marcus Robinson, 1998-2002, 15

t5. James Scott, 1976-1983, 15

8. Dick Gordon, 1965-1971, 14

9. Curtis Conway, 1993-1999, 13

t10. Bernard Berrian, 2004-2007, 10

t10. Dennis McKinnon, 1983-1989, 10