The Bears haven’t won a playoff game in six years, and already the drought is giving us a complex. We still view ourselves as the historic peers of the Packers, but deep in our hearts we realize we're becoming just a step above the current Browns.
So come back with me to the 2006 playoffs and the 12-season monkey on our back. That was our playoff-win drought when Robbie Gould drilled a 49-yard game-winning field goal in overtime to beat the Seattle Seahawks, what is probably the greatest Bears kick ever — I’ll keep digging, but it’s the only postseason game-winner in our history — and the third-best moment of the 2006 season. (Full list to come.)
Robbie’s field goal was the ultimate tension release valve, considering that our drought included two seasons in which we lost a home playoff game coming out of the bye week, 2001 and 2005.
Both losses were brutal. In January of 2002, we lost the final game at Old Soldier Field, and did so against Chicago-area native and Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb.
That game was a slow bleed. Four years later against the Panthers, we were blown apart by a missile: Steve Smith. The loss crushed us. Thomas Jones described it as “misery.” Charles Tillman — the man covering Smith that day — called Brian Urlacher afterward to apologize and assure him that it “won’t happen again.”
Asked after the game what happened to his team, Urlacher was succinct.
“Steve Smith,” he said. “That is what happened to us.”
Throughout the 2006 season, there were several steps on the way to being a Super Bowl team. One was the first game of the season, blanking Brett Favre and the Pack at Lambeau. Another was the Seahawks demolition on a Sunday night nationally televised game. Another was the Cardinals comeback. Another was the three-game, two-win East coast stretch.
All of these regular season triumphs built upon the last. The playoff game against Seattle was the next big step. It was beautiful. And it was tense. We opened the scoring with a nine-yard touchdown run by Jones, who crossed the goalline, spiked the ball over his own head and glared into the stands with his hands raised, seemingly channeling Maximus.
His motivation was simple: eliminate the aftertaste of the 2005 Carolina game.
“That feeling never left,” Jones told me. “For us to finally get back to that place? I did everything in my power to make sure that, ‘At least we make it past this game.’”
The game included a 68-yard touchdown pass from Rex Grossman to Bernard Berrian, the fifth time that season they hooked up for a TD 30 yards or more. It included a Devin Hester go-ahead punt return touchdown in the 4th quarter, negated by a holding penalty. It included Robbie Gould’s other clutch kick, a 41-yarder with four-and-a-half to play in the 4th.
It also included some ass-kicking defensive stops. The Bears stuffed Shaun Alexander on 3rd and 1 and then 4th and 1, the latter a brilliant knifing into the backfield by Lance Briggs with two minutes to play in regulation. Tank Johnson ended Seattle’s field goal hopes with a sack of Hasselbeck on the final drive of regulation.
We saved the best stuff for overtime. Fans remember the kick, of course. What few remember is that we lost the coin toss and had to begin overtime on defense, back when the OT rules were pure sudden death.
The Seahawks, I'm sure, thought they were about to pull the upset. On the first play of OT, on what would be his 26th and final carry of the day, Alexander gained 10 yards and a first down, putting himself over 100 yards on a two-touchdown day. Then came a stuff on Maurice Morris from a brilliant dart into the backfield by Alex Brown. The Seahawks gained 10 on 2nd and 12, went incomplete on 3rd and 2, and punted.
The Bears gained no yards on the punt or on first or second down, leading to a famous 3rd and 10.
“They left me wide open,” Bears receiver Rashied Davis told me late last year. He was untouched on a seam route, and he must have flashed through Grossman’s field of vision along with the defender who left Davis to cover Desmond Clark, because as soon as Rex reached the back of his drop he wound up and fired to Davis, hitting him in the hands in front of two defenders.
Davis clutched the ball, absorbed a blow, fell forward and leapt up screaming. Fox’s Joe Buck called the 30-yard completion the “biggest throw in Rex Grossman’s career.”
The Bears, Buck said, were now five yards away from Robbie’s preferred spot. We gained four on a pair of Benson runs, threw a pass out of bounds on 3rd down. And then the chanting started.
Every Bears fan watching this game, whether at Soldier Field or not, felt the magnitude of the kick. We all knew how long it had been and how much we’d done to get there. We all still felt the pain of 2005 as well as 2001. We’d felt the misery and craved the exhilaration.
As Robbie lined up for the kick, fans throughout Soldier Field pulled out video cameras to capture the moment. I was watching with my parents at their place, pacing between the couch and the TV.
We forget this now, but back in 2006 Robbie’s alleged Achilles heel on field goals was distance. He is now the franchise leader in successful 50-yard field goals with 23, but when he lined up for that historic winner he'd never attempted a 50-yarder in the NFL.
Remember, Buck said that Gould’s preferred distance was 48. This 49-yard kick was no gimme.
But so what? This was the beginning of a new Robbie. Mannelly fired off the snap. Maynard made the hold. Gould knocked it through.
ERUPTION! Joy and jubilation! While the players, coaches, and fans at Soldier Field were going ballistic, I was running a sudden set of headless chicken laps through the kitchen, eventually collapsing and briefly passing out. I woke up to my father waving the phone at me. A friend was calling to celebrate but all I could utter was “Robbie Freaking Gould! Robbie Freaking Gould!” again and again.
Robbie was similarly elated. In 2013 he told me that kick was his “Welcome to the NFL” moment.
“I was still trying to find my way, still trying to understand how to kick in Soldier Field,” he said. “I think hitting that field goal gave me the confidence to say, hey, you belong here.”
They all belonged there. We all belonged there. For the first time in 18 years, the Bears were headed to the NFC championship game. Hot damn, what a day.