Bears enjoy underdog role as they face another potent offense


Published: Wednesday, January 24, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 24, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

LAKE FOREST, Ill. — It's hardly a surprise to the Chicago Bears that they are underdogs in the Super Bowl against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts' high-powered offense.

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Chicago Bears running back Thomas Jones (20) lifts head coach Lovie Smith at the end of the NFC Championship against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. Smith likes that his team are underdogs in the Super Bowl against the Indianapolis Colts.

The Associated Press

Even though the Bears have won 15 of 18 games, including two at home in the playoffs, they're not considered as good as their record, in large part because the NFC North is considered a weak division in the weaker of the NFL's two conferences.

"We've won more games than anybody else in the league. That's enough right there," Coach Lovie Smith said. The Colts also have 15 victories, including the playoffs, and four losses.

"As far as us being underdogs, if you look at what all the Colts bring to the table I could see why they would make us underdogs, but we've been in that role before and our guys like the underdog role.

"I wouldn't bet against the Bears if I were a betting man."

The Colts and Bears last met in the 2004 season at Soldier Field and Manning riddled a Chicago defense missing injured linebacker Brian Urlacher for four TD passes in a 41-10 runaway victory. Chicago's quarterback that day was rookie Craig Krenzel, who had four turnovers.

Chicago cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher will be on the spot, trying to contain Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. And then there's tight end Dallas Clark giving the Colts a big threat over the middle.

The Bears did clamp down on the New Orleans Saints and their top-rated offense last week, coming up with four turnovers and yielding a pair of touchdowns, one an 88-yard pass to Reggie Bush.

One similarity between the Saints and Colts that won't mean much: they both play in a domed stadium. But the weather in Miami will be much better than the weather the Saints faced in Chicago.

"We've got to win it. You don't make it this far and not win it. Our goal all year has been to win the Super Bowl," linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer said.

The Bears defense got a lift Tuesday when a judge granted a request to allow defensive tackle Tank Johnson to leave the state of Illinois as he awaits trial on gun possession charges. So, there's a Tank going to the Super Bowl.

Chicago's defense sagged in the final stages of the regular season, missing defensive tackle Tommie Harris and safety Mike Brown, both lost with injuries. Now it will be tested as much as it has all season.

One player who will have a homecoming of sorts in Miami is defensive end Adewale Ogunleye, traded from the Dolphins to the Bears during the preseason in 2004. While with the Dolphins in 2003, he led the AFC with 15 sacks.

"For me it brings it full circle," Ogunleye said. "Going back to Miami is big because that's where I started in this league, and it's going to be a little surreal."

Rookie return specialist Devin Hester, who set an NFL record this season with six returns for touchdowns, also returns a familiar setting. He played three seasons at University of Miami, doing a little bit of everything for the Hurricanes — returning kicks, while also playing running back, receiver and defensive back.

There are also several University of Florida players on the Bears, still celebrating the Gators' national championship romp over Ohio State. Quarterback Rex Grossman, defensive tackle Ian Scott, defensive end Alex Brown and safety Todd Johnson all played at Florida.

"We're trying to keep that going with all the Gators playing well," Scott said.

Smith welcomes the two weeks separating the conference championship games and the Super Bowl. The Bears are expected to leave for Miami on Sunday after a shortened practice week.

"There is a lot of stuff to get ironed out. First off, taking care of all of your relatives and getting them down to Miami, that takes a couple days in itself right there," Smith said

"And then you can get down to football from there. It's a special time and I think just having the two weeks helps you enjoy it more."

This will be the biggest media mob the Bears have ever seen. But Smith, who was in a Super Bowl as the Rams' defensive coordinator, doesn't see any problem there, either.

"Well this is what we do. ... As far as dealing with the media, we're going to answer your questions the same way we always do," he said.

"I think as much as anything you just remain you, true to yourself with everything that you do, and that's what we're going to do."

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