FRUSTRATING MOMENTS IN BEARS HISTORY: Episode II: Steelers 37, Bears 34 (OT)

FRUSTRATING MOMENTS IN BEARS HISTORY: Episode II: Steelers 37, Bears 34 (OT)

This is Episode II of Brett Maly’s Frustrating Moments in Bears History. Brett recollects the Chicago Bears’ 34 to 37 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on November 4th, 1995.

 

People forget that in his first few seasons Dave Wannstedt was proving a worthy successor to ‘Da Coach, Mike Ditka. He had the Bears competitive in his first year, after inheriting an over-the-hill 5-11 team in 1993, and led them to a playoff win against the much-hated Dennis Green (see Frustrating Moments in Bears History, Episode I) in his second season. Then, in his third year, he helmed a Bears team that, outside its two Super Bowl participants, ranks as my all-time favorite.

The 1995 Bears were a fun team to watch. Quarterback Erik Kramer posted a 2:1 TD/Interception ratio and approached 4,000 yards passing. We boasted two 1,000 receivers in Jeff Graham and Curtis Conway, and a powerful rookie 1,000 yard rusher in Rashaan Salaam. Ron Turner’s offense looked truly unstoppable at times. (Yes, I just put “unstoppable,” “Bears,” and “offense” in the same sentence.) It would mark the last time the Bears would field a potent offense until 2005… when they again hired Ron Turner. (Anyone still have his phone number?)

The problems were on the defensive side of the ball. In the first half of the season, our high-flying offense masked its deficiencies. We won games in a most un-Bearlike manner: 31-27; 35-32; 30-27 (Bears game? Bet the over!). Still, at the mid-point of the season the Bears were 6-2 and widely considered to be one of the best teams in the league. We had won four in a row since our bye-week and were coming off a win in Minnesota in which we held the Vikings to six points (take that, Dennis Green!). Our young defense was rounding into shape and the sky seemed the limit.

Then came the Steelers’ game. The Bears trailed at halftime, but two Erik Kramer TD passes and a defensive touchdown (!) in the second half gave the Bears a lead they wouldn’t relinquish until the final minutes, when Neil O’Donnell tied the game on a TD pass to tight end Ernie Mills on 4th down from the 10 yard line. According to www.pro-football-reference.com, at one point in the 4th quarter the Bears’ win chances were 99%. We were THAT close to 7-2.

Like a soldier with PTSD, my personal recollections of the game are a jumble of painful flashbacks: Our best cornerback, Donnell Woolford, being lost for the season with a non-contact hip injury (on a sloppy Soldier Field, of course); Kevin Butler missing a game-clinching field goal; a 50+ yard pick-six by Steelers’ linebacker Greg Lloyd; the list goes on and on. This is the game most Steelers fans will point to as the catalyst for their Super Bowl run. Though we didn’t know it at the time, it also marked the beginning of the end for Dave Wannstedt as Bears’ coach.

The deflating loss was the first of a three-game streak, the next being narrow defeats to the Packers and Lions. As the weather cooled, so did our record-breaking offense and we no longer were winning the track meets we were early in the season. 7-2 would have allowed some room for error in a tough division (all five teams finished 7-9 or better after sending four teams to the playoffs in 1994), but 6-3 wasn’t much cushion.

Still, we ended the season with a modest two-game win streak in which the defense played well, and it looked like we’d be playoff bound again at 9-7…until the mighty 49ers blew a lead to Jeff George’s (!) Falcons in the final two minutes, handing them the final wildcard spot. After thrashing us 44-15 in the playoffs the previous year, the 49ers again ended our season.

I don’t typically like to play the “what if?” game, but the ’95 Bears could have made some noise in the playoffs. The offense was as good as any, and the defense played well down the stretch (allowing 16 or fewer points the final three weeks). Even without the injured Donnell Woolford, we had some developing young talent (like Mark Carrier, Alonzo Spellman, Jim Flannigan, and Chris Zorich). It’s hard for me to imagine us unseating the dynamic duo from those years—the 49ers and Cowboys—but we matched up well against everybody else. Alas, it was not to be.

A deep run in the playoffs might even have prevented the desperate hair-brained moves that would result in the Bears becoming consistent basement dwellers in the division–the first of which would come just a few months after the season.

That, however, is a topic for the next installment!

Print this entry

Brett Maly

Brett Maly

Brett lives in Vegas, baby. Vegas. When he's not appraising and selling fine art in Las Vegas, where he appears as art expert for History Channel's PAWN STARS, Brett's indulging his other passions—his family and Chicago Bears football (not necessarily in that order)! Brett has a private Twitter account so if you want to contact him send an e-mail to bearndesert@aol.com


Tags assigned to this article:
Curtis ConwayDave WannstedtErik KramerJeff Graham

Related Articles

NFCN Player of the Week – Throwback 2

Our third NFC North Player of the Week award has been the toughest. The nominees are: DeAndre Levy, Detroit Lions

The View From The Barstool: On The Clock

Welcome back to the Barroom!  As everyone knows, we’re in the slowest of the slow time during the off-season for our favorite NFL

Bears 100 Proof Podcast: Packer Week

The guys had a lot to share… why… it’s Packer Week! But, they also look back at what happened Sunday