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Saturday, September 21, 2013

Looking Back: An Oral History of the 2003 Bears on their 10th Anniversary

I am bored on a Friday night and have nothing else to do because my wife is gone for the weekend I am 25 going on 60. So this is just something I thought might be fun:

Some teams are good. Some teams are bad. Some teams are utterly forgettable, and that includes the 2003 Bears. In a way, though, doesn't that make them the teams most worth remembering? No? Well, here's the story of the 2003 Bears anyway.

March, 2003. Coming off of a dismal 4-12 campaign in 2002, just a year after a startling and totally-not-at-all-an-aberration-considering-it-was-their-first-ten-win-season-in-a-decade division title in 2001, Bears general manager Jerry Angelo deemed his team to be closer to a Superbowl contender than a basement-dweller, and chose to take a cautious approach to NFL free agency.

Jerry Angelo, ex-Bears GM: I've never been a big believer in free agent spending, unless my ass and everyone around me is about to be fired without a quick fix. I thought the core of that 2001 team could still contend, and decided the key to getting over the hump was a tight end who caught 2 passes for 42 yards in 2002.

Desmond Clark: Hey, I turned out pretty well.

Jerry Angelo: You sure did, Dez. Sorry I spent every fucking year seemingly trying to find your replacement, right up until I eventually benched you for Greg Olsen just in time to hire a coach who didn't even want to use him. 

But that wasn't Angelo's only move in free agency, even if it was the only one that at least made a tiny bit of goddamn sense. With Jim Miller and Chris Chandler trading places in the trainer's hot tub throughout 2002, Angelo needed to find his team a quarterback. A leader at the most important position in the NFL. For some reason he decided that man was Kordell Stewart.

Jerry Angelo: In my defense, Kordell was my second choice. I really wanted to sign Jake Plummer...that sounds pretty bad when you say it out loud, actually.

After their quiet free agency, the Bears prepared for the 2003 NFL draft, where they held the #4 overall pick. Angelo, always the savvy drafter, managed to turn that pick into the #14 and #22 overall picks, which he used on Michael Haynes, DE Penn State, and Rex Grossman, QB Florida.

Michael Haynes: I was honestly kind of surprised to go to Chicago. I mean, Greg Blache, the DC, was fond of using his linebackers as blitzers, and once said that "sacks aren't important." They also drafted Alex Brown the year before, and I guess they just kind of forgot about him. It was an odd pick. I've got to go deliver these sandwiches now.

Rex Grossman: I didn't expect to go in the first round, either. I mean, I'd have thought so after 2001 when I got totally fucking screwed out of the Heisman in favor of Eric Crouch, but really didn't think so after my junior year. I threw 17 picks that season as I became the first blue chip prospect run into the ground under the brilliant tutelage of Ron Zook. Good thing my penchant for mind-numbing turnovers was totally unpredictable!

Jerry Angelo: Are you really going to rip me for the 2003 draft? I got Tillman and Briggs with back to back picks, you asshole.

That's a fair point, Jerry. Then again, you also drafted Bobby Wade, Justin Gage, and The Todd Johnson Experience in that draft. Only you could draft two potential Hall of Famers in a draft class and still get a B-. 

Training camp began in Bourbonnais in late July, with Bears fans eager to see how Kordell Stewart would revolutionize the offense, because Bears fans are a wonderfully naive and stupid lot. Some thought Kordell was a strange fit for Shoops' notoriously conservative offense, which had functioned best under Jim Miller, a man who has 4 more career rushing yards than I do.

Ex-Head Coach Dick Jauron:  Well, you see, the whole Michael Vick thing had happened for the first time in 2002, and it was really kind of exciting. We were hoping to replicate that experience with a guy who most people think should have spent his career at wide receiver and the creative genius of John Shoop.

John Shoop: *gives blank, thousand yard stare, says nothing*

Kordell Stewart: It was a great feeling there at the start of training camp. Bears fans and coaches acted like they wanted me there, which was a nice change of pace from Pittsburgh, where Coach Cowher occasionally tried to smother me in my sleep with his chin, and where I had to deal with those awful rumors about my sexuality every time I threw an interception. Don't worry guys, not only am I straight, I'm a major asshole.

The preseason came and went, with the Bears sporting a 1-3 record and the only noticeable excitement coming as it usually does for Bears fans, with the 3rd string Quarterback making meaningless plays against other 3rd stringers.

Rex Grossman: Some people thought me and Bobby Wade were going to be quite the QB-receiver connection. Even I can't find a way to make that sound less sad.

The regular season began with the Bears on the road in San Francisco, as Soldier Field's much-criticized renovation meant the team's home opener had to wait. In that opening game, the Bears managed just 127 total yards of offense as the 49ers curbstomped them 49-7.

Ex-49ers QB Jeff Garcia: It was pretty embarrassing for them. We weren't even good that year.

No Jeff, you weren't. After that disheartening opener, where the Bears offense looked as shitty as it ever had before, Shoop decided to unleash his newest wrinkles on the unsuspecting Minnesota Vikings, in the Metrodome.

Shoop: I had one play we ran a few times against the Vikings, the Play-Action QB Draw. You see, you use the play fake to draw the linebackers toward the line of scrimmage, and then you run right at them. It's so mindnumbingly stupid that I thought it might surprise some people into just laughing so hard that Stewart could run by in all of the confusion.

It didn't work. The Vikings won 24-13, the second win of an eventual 6-0 start that the Norsemen would squander, because they are the fucking Vikings.

Now 0-2, the Bears opened up the new and improved Soldier Field in familar fashion: by gettting utterly destroyed by the Packers on national television. 

Ex-Packers QB Brett Favre: I should thank Dick Jauron and Dave Wannstedt for giving me 11 years worth of lopsided victories where I could pad my stats.

You're welcome, prick. All was not yet lost, however, for Dick Jauron's crew. They overcame a 15 point deficit to beat the Oakland Raiders, notching their first victory of the year.

The Disembodied, Vengeful Spirit of Al Davis: that loss was so infuriating, I eventually fired everyone involved and exiled Marc Trestman to Canada. If you'll excuse me I'm going to go back to possessing the body of Jerry Jones.

Sadly, the victory did not represent a turnaround for the Bears, as they lost back to back games against the Saints and the Seahawks. However, the struggling Stewart was injured and replaced by Chris Chandler, who defeated the Lions and Chargers in consecutive weeks.

Jauron: I think the world of Chris Chandler. He did a fantastic job of guiding us to back-to-back wins, and his cap hit was minimal considering his salary demands consisted only of unlimited access to Bengay and warm milk.

Chris Chandler: I have to be honest with you, I spent 18 years playing in the NFL for a bunch of shit teams and Mike Martz. I don't even remember being a Bear. Now get off my lawn.

Ex-Chargers Coach Marty Schottenheimer: I benched Drew Brees for Doug Flutie in that game. This is an actual thing that happened once.

At 3-5, the Bears were now talking playoffs, which was actually not unthinkable in the dark days of the NFC North, with the Vikings in a tailspin and the Packers coached by Mike Sherman. Naturally God punished the Bears for such foolish by boasting by condemning them to lose 12-10 to a Joey Harrington-led Lions squad in a game so awful I swore I'd never speak of it again. Dammit. 

 Joey Harrington: I beat the Bears five times in my career. Suck on that. 

I hate you, Joey. Even at 3-7, however, all was somehow still not lost for the Bears, because seriously the NFC North was just garbage back then. 

Ex-Bears Linebacker and Jay Cutler BFF, Brian Urlacher: We got a huge win on the road against the Denver Broncos, and on one play I tackled Clinton Portis headfirst and literally knocked myself unconscious. I went back in just one play later because no one in 2003 knew what a concussion was. I still don't.

Following that huge road upset, where Chandler got hurt and the shitty QB musical chair shifted back once more to Kordell Stewart, the Bears got their most impressive win of the season the next week against the Arizona Cardinals, which doesn't even really count. That set up a huge battle between the 5-7 Bears and the 6-6 Packers, with the Bears needing a win to keep their utterly pathetic playoff hopes alive.

Jauron: we actually stunned the Packers early, with Brett Favre meeting his new friend Lance Briggs, who returned an interception 45 yards to give us a 14-0 lead in Lambeau.

The Packers crawled back into the game slowly, however, and eventually took a 19-14 lead in the 3rd quarter. 

Kordell Stewart: I was actually having a pretty good game, by my standards, with a 61 yard TD pass to Marty Booker earlier in the game and I was driving us down the field for a go ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Everything was looking up for Ol' Slash.

John Shoop: I don't even know how someone managed to throw a 61 yard TD pass in my offense.

Marty Booker: I don't think anyone knew I could even run 61 yards.

Kordell Stewart: Anyway, so I had actually completed 4/5 passes on the drive for 54 yards and we were at the Green Bay 16 yard line. I called out a hot route to Dez White, and then just kind of threw the ball straight at Mike McKenzie.

Brett Favre: It was a pretty bad pass. I probably wouldn't have thrown it. Probably. Perhaps I would have.

McKenzie returned the pass 90 yards for a TD, putting the game out of reach for the Bears and officially eliminating them from contention. With nothing left to lose, Jauron introduced the professional football world to Rex Grossman and gave him his first professional start against the Minnesota Vikings in week 15.

Rex Grossman: I was pretty excited. I felt like I should have played earlier in the year. Even considering how mediocre my career has turned out, can you really say I wouldn't have been better, even as a rookie, than Chris Chandler or Kordell Stewart?

Kordell Stewart: I really can't argue that.

Grossman went 13 of 30 for 157 yards as the Bears upset the Vikings 13-10 when Charles Tillman let the football world know he was really fucking good by ripping a potential touchdown out of Randy Moss' hands for an interception. Ten years later I am still aroused by this play. Seriously. Watch this shit: 

Goddamn. That's erotic. This was the first of three games Rex Grossman would win against the Vikings despite playing like dogshit every time (he was 3-1 against them as a Bear despite a passer rating of 52).

The next week Grossman threw for 249 yards and 2 TDs in a win over the Redskins, who were led by Elizabeth Hasselbeck's husband at quarterback and head coach Steve Spurrier, who immediately resigned and went back to college after the humiliating defeat. 

Steve Spurrier: I drafted Patrick Ramsey.

Yes you did, Steve. Yes you did. With rumors swirling that the Bears needed to beat the 12-3 Chiefs in Arrowhead in order to salvage an 8-8 record and Dick Jauron's job, thinks went exactly as well as you could have expected.

Jauron: Well, first Rex tore a ligament in his finger and had to leave the game so I put in Kordell Stewart, and then Chris Chandler so fans could give them both a warm sendoff. It was like the football version of that slideshow they run at the Emmy's every year of the people who died that year. Then we were sporting enough to allow Priest Holmes to set the single season TD record, which lasted for like two years before Shaun Alexander broke it, and then LaDainian Tomlinson broke it like a year after that. So we can't even be remembered for that. It was a pretty fitting way to end my boring and forgettable tenure as head coach.

Indeed it was, Dick. The Chiefs drubbed the Bears 31-3, leaving the Bears with a 7-9 record. The Chiefs went on to lose their first playoff game at home, because they are the Chiefs.

Dick Vermeil: I've always found playing any kind of defense to be unsporting.

With the Bears wrapping up their fourth losing season in five years under the firm grasp of Dick, it was only a matter of time before Jerry Angelo, never fond of Jauron in the first place, made the decision to fire him. 

Jerry Angelo: Our defense had generally played pretty well under Dick, but our offense had done absolutely nothing. I said in my press conference after firing Dick that I would be looking towards head coaching candidates from the offensive side of the ball, and then I hired Lovie Smith.

-Dick Jauron would go on to coach the Buffalo Bills for four years, and went 7-9 for three years in a row because that is really exactly what you would expect from Dick Jauron and the Buffalo Bills. 

-Jerry Angelo would GM the Bears for eight more  years before he was fired and replaced by Phil Emery. He was hired by another NFL team and now works in player development. I'm just kidding. He is unemployed and spends his days writing prospect profiles on his fucking Facebook page. Seriously.
-John Shoop, inventor of the Play-Action QB Draw, is still coaching offensive football at a major college program, because life is a cruel joke.

-Kordell Stewart is a reality TV star or something. I don't know. 

-Chris Chandler would once again like to insist that you get the hell off of his lawn.

-Rex Grossman is still a backup quarterback for the Washington Redskins, and is now the most mobile RGIII on their roster. Too soon?

-Michael Haynes played in the NFL until 2007 and recorded just 5.5 career sacks. He was taken just two picks before Troy Polamalu, and I just threw up in my mouth a little.

The author of this article survived the 2003 Bears season, and the saddest thing is that it's not even one of the ten worst Bears seasons that he can remember. He still roots for this team, and is a sad individual deserving only of pity. 

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