Friday, December 29, 2006

Bears: Super Bowl or must

With all due respect to a prime-time showcase against the Green Bay Packers, the Bears have a much bigger stage in mind.

Now, more than ever before this season, the Bears’ focus squarely is on reaching Super Bowl XLI. And they are not afraid to talk about it.

Before, such chatter might have seemed presumptuous and suggested a lack of focus. But with nothing noteworthy at stake Sunday night at Soldier Field, postseason goals become central.

“We’ve said that from Day 1 – OTAs, mini-camps, all that junk in the summer, training camp – we want to get to the Super Bowl,” middle linebacker Brian Urlacher said. “That’s been our goal the whole season, and it’s right there in front of us.”

“We’ve got to win a few more games to get there, but we’ve achieved every goal so far this season,” Urlacher added. “We beat Green Bay; we won the NFC North; we clinched homefield. We’ve just got one left.”

The Bears have not won a playoff game in 12 years, so even one postseason victory might seem like a monumental accomplishment to their supporters. But two wins are needed to play for a world championship, and anything less than that would be crushing for the players after all the team has achieved.

When they sit around chatting about their hopes and dreams, they do not discuss playing in the NFC championship game. They talk about going to Miami for the Super Bowl.

When they break their post-practice huddle every day, they chant, “Champs!” Sometimes, to be a bit more specific, they make it, “Super Bowl Champs!”

On a few occasions of late, the chant has been “Space Mountain!” That means the Bears want to wrap up their season by sending at least one player to Disney World, which usually invites the Super Bowl MVP.

“That’s the one thing left I think for our team to do,” Urlacher said. “Everyone on this team, that’s all we talk about, man. That’s all we’ve been thinking about.”

“There is nothing that’s going to make us feel good if we don’t do that,” quarterback Rex Grossman said.

The Bears have come to understand that getting to the Super Bowl might be their only means of earning respect and acclaim. Some players have taken to sarcastically calling themselves “the worst 13-2 team in football,” realizing a number of pundits doubt their prowess no matter what the record.

“We’re 13-2; nobody talks about that,” defensive end Alex Brown said. “They all talk about how bad we’re playing or how bad this is going. The way people talk, they just talk like were 9-6 or something like that. I don’t know what else to do … because at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is winning.

“There’s been games this season where a defense gives up 150 yards and they lose. Go talk to Indy. They’re losing. People say they’re playing bad, but they’re losing. People say we’re playing bad, but we find a way to win.”

They have begun thinking hard about what it will feel like to win the biggest game of all, but first they have to find a way to get there.