I was watching NFL Network's brilliant Top Ten series the other day as they counted down the the Top Ten Quarterback Controversies of all time. There were some great ones in there (Flutie vs. Rob Johnson, Rivers vs. Brees, Morton vs. Staubach, Montana vs. Young) and it got me thinking of all the epic quarterback controversies the Bears have had in my lifetime. I thought it might be fun to recap some of them and look back at how utterly braindead we all were to think any of these guys would lead the Bears to a championship. So without further ado, here are the
TOP TEN QUARTERBACK CONTROVERSIES OF MY LIFETIME (1988-Present)
10. Jonathan Quinn vs. Craig Krenzel vs. Chad Hutchinson vs. Jeff George vs. my Burgeoning Alcoholism, 2004
It's hard to remember now, but the Lovie Smith Era could have conceivably started off with three straight playoff appearances. The 2004 NFC was pathetically weak, with TWO 8-8 teams (the Vikings and the Rams) making the playoffs. The Bears actually had the NFL's 13th ranked defense and were by far the best in the NFC North on that side of the ball. After Rex Grossman went down after the team's 1-2 start, the offense dropped from an average of 20 PPG and 345 YPG to an average of 13 PPG and 214 YPG. The culprits? The first three quarterbacks listed above. Quinn came in after Rex was injured late in the 4th quarter against the Vikings and was absolutely abysmal in three starts against the Eagles, Redskins, and Buccaneers, as well as in relief against the Cowboys. Fans clamored for rookie 5th round pick Krenzel to start. Krenzel relieved Quinn against TB and won his first three starts against the 49ers, the Giants, and the Titans, despite averaging only 142 yards passing in those three games (and completing less than 40% in two of them). The Bears defense stopped winning games singlehandedly, however, and Krenzel lost his next two starts against the Colts and the Cowboys before going on IR with an injured ankle. Hutchinson came in because why the fuck not and somehow threw three touchdowns against the Vikings before leading the offense to just 9 ppg in a four game losing streak to end the season. Oh, and at some point they signed the 38 year old Jeff George, who hadn't played since 2001. Mercifully, he didn't get a start. If you'd managed to forget this whole mess, good for you, but just remember: At one point in your life, you thought Craig Krenzel would be an upgrade at quarterback. And you were Right.
9. Jim Harbaugh vs. PT Willis, 1992
You may be asking yourself who the hell PT Willis is. That's okay. I don't remember him that much either, but I was 5 when he made his last start in a Bears uniform. PT was the back up for Jim Harbaugh after Mike Tomczak left, and his preseason exploits against 3rd string defenses made him look capable at that job. Given that Mike Ditka's relationship with Harbaugh was always tenuous at best, it's no surprise that PT got a chance to start towards the end of Ditka's last year with the Bears dead in the water. He sucked. Horribly (54.9 career QB rating). The Bears were 0-3 in games started by Willis between 1992-1993 with the average score being 21-8. Just so you know, if you're coaching for your job, starting PT Willis isn't a good move.
8. Kordell Stewart vs. Chris Chandler, 2003
I'm not sure this was a controversy, as I don't remember wanting either of those two guys. Does that make it a controversy? I guess. Stewart was the Bears "big" free agent signing after the 4-12 2002 season, and for some reason that was supposed to help them back to the playoffs. Stewart sucked (56.8 rating) and led the Bears to a 1-4 start in 2003, including such whoppers as a 49-7 loss to San Francisco and a 38-23 loss to the Packers on MNF in the first game of the "new" Soldier Field. Chandler came in and went 3-3 over the next six games, despite not playing all that much better than Kordell (61.3 rating), but he was injured against Denver. Kordell had the only good passing game either had all season long in a 28-3 victory over the Cardinals, but any victory over the Cardinals before 2007 doesn't count. The Bears had somehow backed their way into playoff contention, and had a 14-0 lead over Green Bay in Lambeau. After the Packers had managed to regain the lead at 19-14, Stewart drove the team all the way to the Green Bay 10 yard line, but threw an absolutely awful interception which Mike McKenzie returned 90 yards for the clinching score. The Bears were then eliminated from contention, and the Rex Grossman Era began, leaving Absolute Failure as the definitive winner of the Chandler-Stewart debate.
7. Erik Kramer vs. Rick Mirer, 1997
This, sadly, was only a controversy because Dave Wannstedt was the only man left alive in 1997 who thought Rick Mirer could still be a starting quarterback in the National Football League, and the mustachioed bastard traded a first round pick to Seattle in order to acquire the legendary double first round bust. Erik Kramer was only one season removed from the greatest passing season in Bears history, but had lost Wannstedt's confidence after an injury plagued and ineffective 1996 season. Wanny had every intention of starting Mirer from day one, but Rick was supposedly so bad in offseason mini-camps that offensive coordinator Matt Cavanuagh was seen throwing his clipboard at the ground in frustration after yet another Mirer mistake. Kramer started the first three games of the season, but the team was winless in those three games and Mirer was given three starts to show what he could do. They were easily the worst three games a quarterback has ever managed in Bears history, as the team failed to score a single offensive touchdown under Mirer's direction and were outscored 78-23. Mirer was benched, Kramer "led" the team to a 4-6 record the rest of the way, and the Bears parted ways with Mirer after the season. I hate you, Dave Wannstedt
6. Shane Matthews vs. Jim Miller, 2001
Matthews and Miller had both entered the 1999 seasons as the guys who were simply supposed to watch Cade McNown's rise to glory. Both of them had NFL careers that lasted longer than Cade. Miller was the fan favorite of the two, but he had been banned for steroids in 1999 and had made just one start in 2000 before blowing out his ankle. Matthews had been solid but unspectacular in 1999-2000, and since "unspectacular" is the quality John Shoop most admires in his quarterbacks, Matthews got the start at the beginning of the 2001 season. Matthews started the first two games, a loss to Baltimore and a win against Minnesota, but was injured at half time of the Vikings game, and the "win" belonged to Miller, who threw for the Bears only two touchdowns of the season to that point. Miller started the next four games, all wins, for the surprisingly 5-1 Bears. In the fourth game, against the 49ers, Matthews was the one with the late game heroics, rallying the team to an overtime win. Matthews got the start against Cleveland the next week, and came back from a 21-7 deficit to tie the game on a last second Hail Mary (although I maintain that Shane Matthews is the only NFL QB for whom 34 yards constitutes a Hail Mary). The Bears won in overtime for the second consecutive week, but the controversy ended there as Miller came back and the team went 7-2 the rest of the way to finish 13-3. In the playoff game against the Eagles, Miller was knocked out early and Matthews failed to muster much offense as the team lost 33-19. Matthews departed after the season, and Miller suffered through yet another injury plagued season in 2002 before departing as well.
5. Steve Walsh vs. Erik Kramer, 1994
Jim Harbaugh had an absolutely awful last season in Chicago in 1993, and so Wannstedt and Co. decided to replace with Erik Kramer and Steve Walsh, who had previously played for the Lions and the Saints, respectively. While Kramer was the starter from day one thanks to his stronger arm and better track record (10-5 as a starter, 75.5 rating in Detroit vs. Walsh's 11-13 record and 69.1 rating), the Bears were 1-2 in the first three games under Kramer (despite his 254 ypg and sparkling 107.5 rating in those three games) and he was injured in the third game. Walsh started the next three games, which the Bears won to bring their record to 4-2. Kramer came back after the bye, but threw three interceptions in a Bears loss to the Lions and was benched during a blowout against Green Bay. Walsh started every game the rest of the way as the team went 8-3 under his direction, made the playoffs, and even won a first round game against the Vikings before bowing out. While Kramer seemed to simply be the recipient of bad luck (the defense allowed 27 PPG in Kramer's 5 starts but only 16 PPG in Walsh's 11, while the offense actually averaged More points under Kramer's direction), Walsh earned praise as a "game manager." The competition was re-opened in 1995, and while Kramer won and broke every Bears passing record in the book and the team finished an identical 9-7, his bad luck continued as they failed to make the playoffs. Walsh left after the 1995 season, but Kramer had to endure three more years of bad luck and losses in Chicago.
I'm stopping this here for today because I just looked up and realized how incredibly long it's getting. You can look forward to the rest tomorrow or Monday.