Originally posted on The Sports Bank  |  Last updated 7/24/13
As the Marc Trestman era dawns with the opening of Chicago Bears training camp tomorrow, there is one more chance to vent about the scandal that never was regarding his languid predecessor, Lovie Smith. Yes, Smith’s regular season record as Bears head coach was a successful 81-63.  Yes, he led the Bears to three playoff appearances in his nine-year tenure, including a berth in the 2006 Super Bowl and an appearance in the 2009 NFC Championship game. Nevertheless, given how Lovie Smith appallingly quit on his team in a crucial regular game in 2007, something I have never witnessed by a football coach at any level, let alone the most competitive in the world, all of his accomplishments pale in comparison. In fact, on his Bears’ coaching tombstone, only the word, “Quitter” deserves to appear.  And almost as appalling is the fact that the Chicago media barely covered what should have been the biggest Chicago sports scandal since the 1919 Black Sox (perhaps only slightly hyperbolic). On Thursday, December 17, 2007, the 5-8 Bears met the Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome.  The reigning NFC champions’ playoff fate was flickering, as the Bears needed to win all three of their remaining regular season games and get significant help from other teams to earn a playoff berth.  The week before, the Bears had lost quarterback Rex Grossman to injury against the Redskins, and they started Kyle Orton against the Vikings in his place. In a hard-fought game, the Bears trailed 20-13 with just under two minutes left  in the fourth quarter.  With the ball near midfield, Orton attempted a home run to Bears wide receiver Bernard Berrian in the end zone.  Vikings free safety Darren Sharper slipped just underneath Berrian at the goal line, intercepting the pass and returning it to his team’s 41 yard-line. The Vikings immediately went into victory formation, with quarterback Tarvaris Jackson taking a knee after receiving the snap on first and second downs.  According to pro-footballreference.com, the Bears had one timeout remaining when Jackson took a knee on third down at the Vikings 37 with fifteen seconds remaining.  The announcers calling the game for ESPN, Mike Tirico and Ron Jaworski, assumed that Smith would use the Bears’ final timeout and force the Vikings to punt.  They were incredulous when Lovie Smith, as Jackson’s knee hit the Metrodome turf, waltzed onto to the field, eating the final timeout, to shake hands with Vikings head coach Brad Childress and concede defeat. Now clearly the odds of forcing overtime down a touchdown with no timeouts and your opponent punting from its own 37 yard-line with fifteen seconds remaining are not the same as having pocket aces.  But every miracle finish in sports takes the imagination and belief that the unlikely is possible. Perhaps Lovie Smith forget that his team was armed with Devin Hester, who was in the middle of a two-year, record-setting stretch of eleven punt and kickoff touchdown returns.  Perhaps Smith forget that his team had blocked a punt earlier that season against the Denver Broncos.  Perhaps Lovie Smith was unaware of the possibility of a bad snap. The Atlanta Falcons won an overtime game in 1979 against the New Orleans Saints when the Saints snapped the ball over the punter’s head.  The punter chased the ball down and desperately tried a pass, only to have it intercepted by a Falcons player and returned for the game-ending touchdown.  Perhaps Smith had never heard of the Immaculate Reception; the Holy Roller; the Music City Miracle; and dozens of Hail Mary plays that rescued victory from the jaws of defeat.  Even worse, perhaps he did not care.    When asked after the game why he did not utilize the Bears’ final timeout, the petulant and arrogant Smith snapped that he would have made the same decision again without giving an explanation and refused to answer further questions about the issue.  Only one Chicago media member to the best of my knowledge, David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune, even so much as touched on this story, with the rest punting it, no pun intended. While I was not usually a proponent  of the kneejerk and visceral personnel decisions made by late sports owners George Steinbrenner and Al Davis, this was one time I wished they had been in charge of the Bears.  Had they been in charge of Lovie Smith’s fate that evening, Lovie Smith likely would have been fired with cause and probably would have had to litigate the issue of the outstanding money he was owed.  Instead, the quitter was allowed to coach the Bears for five more seasons after 2007. My earnest hope is that if he gets an interview for a head coaching position, an assiduously prepared general manager or owner will ask him what his “strategy” was for walking off the Metrodome field without having exhausted all reasonable chances of winning.  The quitter will not be able to swat prospective employers away like he did the Chicago media for nine seasons. One final point on the quitter.  Had the Bears been locked into a playoff spot with nothing material to gain by going to overtime, I would have endorsed his decision not to call a timeout.  But that was not the case for the desperate Bears (and an indifferent Lovie Smith) that night in Minnesota. Finally, no matter how the Trestman era unfolds–and I am predicting a successful one–I know he will call that third timeout, and that is an upgrade over the quitter.   The post Lovie Smith quit on his team, should not have coached beyond ’07 appeared first on The Sports Bank.Net.
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