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A Peyton Manning Coronation? Spare Me!...By Nelson Lardner

Bears history splits neatly into Early Beardom and Modern Beardom. The early show, which kicked off with the birth of the league (George Halas' franchise, then labeled the Chicago Staleys, after Halas' original starch-producing Decatur sponsor, won the league's 1920 title) through 1946, when superior personnel and the tactical advantages inherent in the newfangled T Formation yielded Halas his seventh title.

As the franchise's founding advantages and the inherent glory of the franchise's greatest quarterback, Sid Luckman, faded, the Bears have won but two titles in the past sixty years. But those 1963 and 1985 teams share vital DNA strains with the current roster on the defensive side.

The '63 front seven - Doug Atkins, Ed O'Bradovich, Stan Jones and Earl Leggett, working in front of Larry Morris, Joe Fortunato and Bill George - led the league's defenses by a marked margin. George and Atkins were the standouts, but all worked together to disrupt. They allowed twenty points but once all season. By modern standards, they were undersized and not the quickest, but under defensive coordinator George Allen they did the job. Allen's zone and his idiosyncratic wrinkles earned him the '63 championship's game ball. The '85 team was blessed with markedly superior offensive talent (Walter Payton), a leader of men at QB (Jim McMahon), and a steamroller offensive line, but the defensive front was one for the ages - Steve McMichael, Richard Dent, Dan Hampton and Fridge Perry, leading for Otis Wilson, Mike Singletary, and Wilbur Marshall.

Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Adewale Ogunleye and Tank Johnson surely fit the mold of their predecessors. The injury-induced seasonal absences of Mike Brown and Tommie Harris does the Bears no favors, but if you cut the defense some slack for their post-bye backsliding by noting that they essentially wrapped up their division (and conference homefield advantage) by election day, and brought it when they had to (see: New Orleans), you can readily see the possibilities.

Realize the Bears played a cake schedule, but you can't cherrypick a slate of games going in, and they made the best of it, hanging up defensive stats the Indianapolis Colts can only envy. The offense - specifically, Rex Grossman - is the prime cause for concern for Chicago sympathizers, but Grossman's had his share of rousing games, and can throw an accurate deep ball with the league's best practitioners. Successful downfield passing in crucial spots is one of the half-dozen most critical keys to Super Bowl success. And the Bears have a dual-exhaust power-running game to set up those passing forays. Joseph Addai has his merits, but as a power runner, he does not compare to Thomas Jones or Cedric Benson.

We all know what the Colts offense can do. The public's perception of same is why Indianapolis is favored to the extreme extent currently reflected on Nevada oddsboards. But remain hard-pressed to conjure up a Super Bowl winner with a flashy offense that was not supported by a comparable defense. Put Joe Montana and friends aside - those 49ers juggernauts were notable for their offensive firepower. Outside of the early stages of this season's playoff run - against a Chief team deploying a stodgy, unimaginative offense, and a Raven outfit riding a tuckered-out Jamal Lewis - the Colts have not impressed in this area. Give Colts management high marks for rolling out a consistently-competitive unit throughout this millennium, but the bulk of the bucks have gone to the offense (specificially Manning), while management has sought to get away with a defense that emphasizes speed over size. At this level of competition, this approach has historically been found wanting.

You hate to call for an officiating heads-up going in, but given last season's cavalcade of sustained demonstrations of lousy judgment during Stupor Bowl XL, and Peyton Manning's status as NFL Poster Boy, the point must be made. Begin with the ridiculous offensive-pass-interference call by Pittsburgh native Bob Waggoner on Seattle receiver Darrell Jakson late in the first quarter . . . continue with the Ben Roethlisberger rushing touchdown that wasn't, following the first two-minute warning . . then the ludicrous blocking-below-the-waist call on Matt Hasselbeck early in the fourth quarter - a call even the league acknowledged was utter balderdash. I like Jerome Bettis, too, but were the Steelers deserving of this level of white-glove assistance?

Tony Corrente, a proficient veteran, heads up this year's zebra conglomeration. He's been challenged fourteen times this season, and has been reversed but twice - good stuff. But he's 'way up there in terms of laundry-tossing frequency per game (>13 per, in '06), which is not ideal for a Bears defense looking to get into Peyton Manning's face on a consistent basis.

There's no tangible, in-depth reason why the Bears shouldn't be competitive in this game, throughout, in accordance with the vast majority of football's fundamentals.

At the end of this game, I want to see Payton Manning the way the nation saw him with a minute to go against the Patriots . . . on the bench, staring at the ground. There's nothing more devoutly to be wished than for all and sundry to be spared the sight of #18 saying, "I'm going to Disney World".

Haven't we suffered enough?

Nelson Lardner

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