Jay Mariotti Always Has Lovie Smith’s Back


Although we are all gravely disappointed to learn of Deadspin’s rather flippant response to Jay’s demands (“It’s our policy not to talk about potential additions to the staff here.“) his campaign soldiers forward. (Note to Will Leitch: The battle has just begun!)

Our Presidential Candidate (R) Mr. Jay Mariotti has always supported the advancement of African American head coaches in the National Football League. His absolute unwavering support of Lovie Smith (once Nick Saban refused the job) has unfairly fallen under the radar and BWJM HQ believe that it is only fair to point out Jay’s strong belief for racial equality.

Lovie is coaching in the Super Bowl. As is Tony. And for our candidate, he could not be anything but less absolutely thrilled.

The below excerpts chronicle Jay’s steadfast support of Lovie Smith, proud head coach of the Chicago Bears.

Flip-flopping over the years?

We think not.

(*Note that BWJM HQ intends to keep this post updated. Last update – May 12, 2007)


January 21 – The savior is defensive coordinator Lovie Smith, hired off Tampa Bay’s coaching staff last offseason. Bolstered by many new additions, the defense has mushroomed into a weekly Lovie-in.

January 28 – In what stands as the first bit of bulletin-board banter, Rams defensive coordinator Lovie Smith said, “No matter which quarterback is playing, it’s a drop-back quarterback. Of course, as a defense, we like to play a drop-back passer more than a Donovan McNabb, who can run and throw.”


December 31 – Also set for a chat with Angelo is Smith, the defensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams. He, too, is African-American, and other than Saban, he might be the most highly sought candidate. If I was in position to select a head coach, he is absolutely what you’d want,” Rams coach Mike Martz said. With a Romeo and a Lovie, you might say this is starting out as a sweet process. But neither has head-coaching experience, a road the Bears might avoid after Jauron and Dave Wannstedt lacked such seasoning.


January 8 – But if the Bears hire him or Romeo Crennel or Lovie Smith or Mike Nolan or any other defensive coordinator who crosses their cluttered radar screen, well, put it this way:

I’ll see you outside Soldier Field for the mass burning of Personal Seat Licenses.

January 11 – Typically, the Bears will settle for the best of the available scraps. By losing Saban, the pressure builds for Angelo to find a coach who will make us forget the St. Nick episode. I am thankful, after the Gibbs hire, that a groundswell of support hasn’t formed to resurrect Mike Ditka, who has found his perfect way station as a Levitra pitchman. I’m just as thankful only a few souls are pumping Marv Levy, who will be 80 in two years and would require mid-game naps. Lovie Smith eliminated himself Saturday, when his St. Louis Rams defense couldn’t slow the Carolina Panthers.

January 13 – Given a choice between Grimm and Lovie Smith, the other announced finalist and featured interviewee today, I wonder if Craig T. Nelson is available. If Smith at least has experience as an NFL defensive coordinator, he arrives with the baggage of the St.Louis Rams’ season- ending collapse, which includes not only the 29 points and 485 yards allowed to the Carolina Panthers on Saturday, but also a defensive letdown against the lowly Detroit Lions last month. Can you see the Bears, franchise of Butkus and the ’85 defense, hiring a coach named Lovie?

January 14 – Whoever this mysterious third candidate is — Greg Blache, Neill Armstrong, the Al Pacino character in “Any Given Sunday” — I want to see him. Because all I know is, a man named Lovie cannot coach the world-famous Chicago Bears any more than a Mike Ditka knockoff can coach the world-famous Chicago Bears.

January 15 – He is perceived as the safe pick, the politically correct pick, the pick that allows bubble-headed TV anchors to giggle and say, The Bears have found their Lovie connection.” But do not mistake the hiring of Lovie Smith as a triumph, as Teddy Bear Phillips and Jerry Angelo will try to claim at today’s explain-away session.

January 16 – In other words, the Bears botched the big one, as we said. Angelo could take some professionalism lessons from Smith, who came off as cool, dignified and smooth and tried his best to turn a negative into a positive. He spoke warmly of his mother’s 1983 dream, in which she envisioned him becoming an NFL head coach. He lightheartedly brushed off our puns about his given name — which came about when his parents, who thought they were having a girl and wanted to name her after a relative named Lavana, had a boy instead and called him Lovie. Better still, he said all the right things and pushed every joy button about the Bears and Chicago’s football culture. Either Smith was well-coached in what to say or he’s a quick study in what we want to hear.

January 21 – Rather than wait for the New England Patriots’ highly regarded Charlie Weis, interview eventual Buffalo Bills head coach Mike Mularkey or pursue others of a point-scoring bent, he makes a beeline to Smith, yet another defensive coordinator with no head coaching experience. I do not believe Angelo, the embattled general manager, when he insists that Smith was my guy all along” and that he would have waited for him even if Lovie and the St. Louis Rams had reached the Super Bowl. Attached to a lie-detector machine, Angelo would say he panicked and quickly filled the vacancy with an inexpensive candidate — Smith will make as much money in four years ($5.3 million) as Saban wanted for one year — before he became a laughingstock.

January 22 – The least the Misers of the Midway can do, now that they’ve saved millions by hiring the inexpensive Lovie Smith as head coach, is to pour their leftover riches into marquee free agents.

January 25 – Refreshingly, that man is Ron Rivera, known to franchise aficionados as “Chico” and “Teach,” appointed this weekend by outsiders Lovie Smith and Jerry Angelo as the defensive coordinator.

February 1 – As opposed to the Bears, who keep spinning in a vicious circle and counting their megaprofits. You would like to think they’ve struck paydirt with Lovie Smith and his coordinators, Terry Shea and Ron Rivera. But while Smith dares to forecast a playoff appearance next season, Shea did himself no immediate favors by suggesting he and quarterback Rex Grossman might need a full season to mesh.

March 4 – It’s one thing to continue in free agency, quite another to succeed in free agency. In case they don’t, Angelo and Smith took considerable pains to emphasize their glee in signing Jones and even Quinn. We have the two players we wanted to get,” said Lovie, still smiling after six weeks in town. These are happy times around here. We feel like we hit the jackpot.”

April 21 – It is incumbent upon Angelo, then, to make sure Smith’s wish is fulfilled in his first war-room experience. To make it happen, he had better be prepared to trade up in the first round to secure a starting-caliber lineman.

April 22 – The other delicate area is Kurt and Brenda’s faith. The Warners are very religious, which is fine as long as Kurt doesn’t claim publicly that his coaches asked him to cut back on his Bible reading and devote more time to football. He made those comments on Super Bowl Sunday at a Houston church, and though Warner apologized, St.Louis insiders say it was the last straw. His teammates gradually lost respect for him, an issue Smith would know first-hand as the team’s defensive coordinator during the Warner era.

April 25 – “Lovie Smith had Warren Sapp when he was in Tampa Bay. He had Damione Lewis in St. Louis,” said Harris, who has done his homework. “Now, he has Tommie Harris. I’ll tell you one thing, watch out for No. 97.”

Never mind that the number is occupied by Michael Haynes, last year’s first pick. I was having too much fun enjoying the preacher man, realizing some dads are simply cooler than others and that I’d rather watch a man boogie than buck a system.

July 29 – The country hick from east Texas, as Lovie Smith calls himself, was so filled with pride that he high-fived his assistants. Rex Grossman, in his orange No. 8 jersey, sprinted onto the practice grass as if it were Soldier Field on a Monday night. Fans gathered by the hundreds, excited to see another coach attempt to revive a flubbering football franchise that has managed one playoff victory in 12 years.

September 1 – Yes, I very much support the deal that brought this feared pass-rusher from the Miami Dolphins, especially the part in which the traditional Misers of the Midway actually coughed up $15 million in signing bonuses. How nice to see general manager Jerry Angelo, who never was too interested in making the deposed Dick Jauron look good, stepping out to give an expensive present to His Guy Lovie Smith.

September 5 – Hmmm. The head coach says he isn’t pleased with the passing game, while the 24-year-old QB says he’s satisfied. Smith made sure not to directly dis Grossman, saying, We all think Rex Grossman has had a good camp. We like him leading our team. It’s not a panic situation.” But the good vibes they were seeking never emerged. The Bears have seven days to find them.

September 9 – So here comes Lovie Smith, with a name even the football widows like, trying to resuscitate a franchise that has produced one winning season in eight years and one measly playoff victory since Mike Ditka stuck his head out a window at old Halas Hall and mumbled, holding his champagne bottle, This, too, shall pass!”

September 13 – It was the collective decision of Smith and Shea, by the way, to have Grossman spike the ball on second down. The head coach wasn’t willing to take blame for that one. “I like all of the decisions we made at the end,” Smith said. “We have to make the play at the end of the game.”

September 17 – The question is whether the new coach, Lovie Smith, is being tough enough. Any number of coaches and players on the legendary 1985 team would have had no part of Terrell’s nonsense. “We would have got in his face and taken care of it on the sideline,” said Keith Van Horne, now a Bears analyst on ESPN Radio. But 19 years later, Coach Lovie is strangely tolerant of Terrell’s act. After the loss to the Lions, Smith made reference to “all the good plays he made.” A day later, after chatting with Terrell, the coach expressed faith in his attitude.

September 19 – So as I notice a yellowing of pages in my copy of Mudbaths & Bloodbaths, the definitive Bears-Packers book, I have a question for Lovie Smith: Um, what do you plan to do about this free fall? Dave Wannstedt made the mistake of downplaying these games. Dick Jauron understood the deep tradition, but he couldn’t contain the double whammy of Favre and running back Ahman Green. At least Smith, the week he was hired, was smart enough to sit down with various McCaskeys who related their agony about repeated Packers drubbings. What they didn’t tell him was that as long as they own and operate the team, role reversal isn’t likely.

September 20 – We assumed Lovie Smith was going to be all wet Sunday, but not in the context of a stunning victory that brings hope and life to our depressed football community. This man had the gumption to take over a bedraggled franchise and immediately declare that the Bears would start beating Green Bay, disregarding the fact his two predecessors had lost 20 of the previous 23 games in a stale series. What’s more, in comments that are echoing through Chicago today like carols at Christmas, Smith said of the Packers, “I’ve been on the winning side the last five times I’ve played them, so I think I know how to beat them.”

September 21 – They ho-hummed when Angelo introduced Jones, his first signee, and coach Lovie Smith immediately anointed him as the starter. But the yawns have been replaced by excited yelps, and suddenly, projections have Jones rushing for 1,500 yards and catching 50 balls. And we’ve been around him long enough, for six months, to assume he won’t suddenly find religion, as Enis did. Or go home and smoke weed, as Salaam did. Or bog down in slow motion, as Thomas did. Much as Smith and Shea try to keep A-Train happy by giving him sporadic carries, he is old news around here.

September 26 – Is the rash of physical breakdowns related to Lovie Smith’s elaborate weight-loss program and rigorous training sessions? Have the early benefits of Lovie’s Fat Farm, in which he demanded that the majority of his players drop pounds, given way to a wearing-down effect after only two regular-season games?

September 27 – In the span of a month, the Bears have transformed from an undisciplined team without much hope to an impressive team that fulfilled Lovie’s promise and beat Green Bay to, now, an underdog that will have to overachieve just to remain competitive.

September 28 – So much for The Rexperiment. Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith thought they knew better last winter when they rejected a chance to pursue Warner, the two-time league MVP, whose Chicago agent, Mark Bartelstein, is a Bears fan who initially was pushing the idea hard. They thought they didn’t have to offer Warner the same deal he eventually accepted with the New York Giants: a shot to compete for the starting job against Eli Manning, who, like Grossman, is a young QB project. For some absurd reason — money, I presume — the general manager and his new coach decided to butt heads with common sense.

October 19 – The situation is so dismal, Smith said Monday he will give 60 percent of the practice reps to Quinn, 40 percent to Krenzel and determine later in the week who will start at Tampa Bay. Hutchinson is still learning a playbook that he says is thicker than an encyclopedia” and a system he compares to learning another language. However this flim-flam competition shakes out in coming weeks, Angelo and Smith are deluding themselves if they think any of the three will be a productive QB in a league that isn’t European, Canadian or Arena.

October 26 – After both quarterbacks bumbled Sunday in the 19-7 loss to the Buccaneers, The Mighty Quinn said, I think I’m the starter. I don’t know. As of right now, maybe Craig. I think you have to ask coach Smith.” That would be Lovie Smith, the unlucky but increasingly clueless rookie head coach, who will start Krenzel in the Halloween spookfest against the 1- 5 San Francisco 49ers just to create some buzz.

November 1 – Jerry Angelo and Smith need to treat the No. 2 position as they would a starting spot, knowing the injury vulnerability at the spot and the fact Grossman has suffered a major knee injury and a broken finger in his first two brief go-arounds as the franchise future.

November 8 – Evidence is mounting that the man knows how to coach, which is all anybody wants from Lovie Smith, even if he’s duller than a midday nap.

November 9 – Yet even coach Lovie Smith, an otherwise reasonable man, refused to knock down Terrell’s boast. Actually, he seconded the motion at his news conference.

November 15 – The Bears are one screwy football team, Voodoo Daddies of the Midway. They do have one of the NFL’s more intimidating defenses, a playmaking machine that only lacks a cool nickname (please, not The Lovie Boat).

November 16 – I’m not Dr. Smith. I’m staying away from it,” said coach Lovie Smith, who must overcome another injury snafu in what has been a fine first season on the job. All I know about Brian’s injury is, he hurt it early in the game and was able to finish the game. I’m going to stop at that.”

November 19 – No, this was not pretty close to pornographic,” as Smith said in what represents his first serious stand as Bears coach. I understand why parents might be upset if they are watching Monday Night Football” with their young kids and see a star receiver being seduced in the locker room by a 40-something woman. But when Smith says, Any time that happens on prime time, something is wrong,” he obviously doesn’t get out of Halas Hall much.

Novembe 21 – Legends are born this way. So, too, are jackasses. It’s hard to believe coach Lovie Smith advocates such a verbal swagger so early in the development of his defense. Wisely, though, he did specify what the defense must do today to avoid criticism and an emotional setback. If we’re gonna talk about being the best defensive line and one of the best defenses in the league, you have to be successful against the best offense,” Smith said. This will be a chance to see where we are.”

November 22 – I would like our guys to say what they feel, then back it up,” said Smith, who failed miserably in his first major test in Chicago.

November 26 – He had the nerve to ask for volunteers. “Can you play quarterback?” Lovie Smith quizzed a reporter Thursday evening, attempting a moment of levity. But the joke clearly is on the rookie head coach, a man who stubbornly began his Bears career without a credible second QB and has been embarrassed nationally because of it.

November 29 – It’s alarming to think Angelo and Smith, after watching the farce unfold, would spin yet another roulette wheel with an aging quarterback whose reputation could prove a bad fit with Grossman.

December 6 – So wouldn’t you know it Sunday when Coach Lovie claimed to have noticed Hutchinson’s progress for some time now? If you look at what he has done in practice, he really has thrown the ball well,” Smith said. You don’t expect efforts like this. But we did have a good feeling about what he could do.”

December 13 – Never has so much hope been invested in something so flimsy, so unrealistic and so dumb. Coach Lovie Smith is paid to be a motivator who lathers players with positive reinforcement, but when he referred to the Bears last week as the NFL’s best 5-7 team and suggested they were on a playoff superhighway, I figured he also admired the tallest building in Jacksonville and the homeliest girl in the beauty contest.

December 16 – It was the sort of memorable tirade that should have been directed, frankly, at his players during various points of a maddening 5-8 season. When David Terrell dropped passes, threw hissy fits, drew penalties and landed six traffic tickets in a single stop on LaSalle Street, Lovie supported him. When Charles Tillman took a cheap shot at Byron Leftwich’s head, argued with officials and generally acted like a punk the other day, Lovie supported him. When Jonathan Quinn and Craig Krenzel looked unworthy of a Punt, Pass and Kick competition, Lovie supported them. But damn that Dennis Dillon dude. And, like sheep, too many fans and media followed Smith’s lead.

December 20 –  The “wimp” tag is about the worst thing you can attach to a Chicago football team, now coached by Lovie Smith, who once was part of a Tampa Bay staff that couldn’t win in the cold. But bigger issues than mental meekness are confronting Smith and general manager Jerry Angelo, issues that threaten their credibility as leaders of an NFL operation.

December 27 – Go ahead, Lovie. Read those paragraphs to your maligned and picked- on guys the way you’ve read bulletin-board quotes all season from Michael Irvin and other TV analysts. Nothing works anymore, including a weird attempt to use a point spread — paging the commissioner’s office — for motivation. Lovie brought in a newspaper and showed us that we’re six-point underdogs to another 5-9 team, and that’s not getting respect,” linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer said last week.


January 3 – If Smith proved in his first year as head coach that he’s a fine defensive coordinator, developing a young and aggressive unit that has a nice future despite the tank job Sunday by the secondary, he needs to realize he can’t win with half a team. His offense — and, yes, he’s responsible — was an insult to the sport, the most inept I’ve seen in the pro game, worse than anything produced by John Shoop and clogged all season by sad-sack quarterbacking, comical attempts at blocking, a painful lack of playmakers and, ultimately, a strategist who lost his way and had no clue.

January 4 – I didn’t think Angelo could look worse than he did last January, the afternoon he announced Lovie Smith as head coach. That’s when he groused about taking heat from local media over the Nick Saban debacle, in which Angelo acted like a control freak in refusing to relinquish any power over personnel decisions — power Saban received in full last week from the Miami Dolphins.

April 26 – We assumed Angelo and Lovie Smith learned their lesson last year, when they smugly passed on Warner and others in free agency and wasted an entire season because of it.

August 18 – Coach Lovie Smith, who might be asking why he ever took this job, is curiously starting to soft-pedal remarks about Benson’s playing time after some mini- threats last week.

August 22 – Will coach Lovie Smith, who can’t afford too many losing seasons, have the guts to make a quick hook if necessary? We’re talking about playing mistake-free ball — and we didn’t do that,” he said after the eyesore.

August 26 – The question is whether Smith can do what the good NFL coaches do: minimize the damage by making the right decisions.

August 28 – After the 16-12 victory — thanks to a winning drive engineered by veteran Jeff Blake, who should be Orton’s backup — Lovie Smith tried his best to be coy about a possible switch and interjected the tired line, We’ll look at the tape.” But if you listened closely, Smith didn’t hide his hand much, probably because he knew the Hutchinson tape would be grisly. Sounds to me he’s ready to go with Orton. After all, Lovie is a defensive coach at heart.

September 12 – While I might say Smith is ultimately responsible for discipline lapses — it’s his team that is screwing up — the players are paid the big bucks to somehow hear and execute in hostile environments.

November 7 – Is it too early to start calculating magic numbers? Or to insert the rest of the world’s news inside a Bears wrapper section every Monday? Is it too early to wonder if Jerry Angelo actually might know what he’s doing, if Lovie Smith is a Coach of the Year candidate, if Kyle Orton just might be the ugliest winner — I refer to his play, not his attempt to grow facial hair – – in the history of professional quarterbacking?

November 13 – When Lovie Smith stated the other day that Grossman will be “in the mix” when he returns from his ankle injury in a few weeks, it was a clever way of leaving a crack in the door for his possible return while also voicing full support for Orton as the starter.

November 14 – Lovie Smith, racking up Coach of the Year votes by the week, had joined special-teams boss Dave Toub in setting up Bench Left just in case Nedney’s ill-advised, 52-yarder fell short on the first half’s final play.

November 15 – But that didn’t stop Lovie Smith from taking the cowardly way out. Knowing very well that one of the NFL’s premier teams, the Panthers, will bring a ferocious defensive line to Soldier Field this Sunday, Smith embarrassed himself as he attempted to spin, downplay and trivialize what obviously was a furious confrontation between the 6-2, 292-pound Kreutz and the 6-7, 320-pound Miller. If Smith simply had acknowledged that Kreutz’s estimable skills are sorely needed against the Panthers, I would have had more respect for him. But there he was, in his first must-watch news conference in his two seasons as head coach, arguing how a brawl that leaves a $22.5 million employee mumbling, eating mashed potatoes — and, most importantly, out of uniform for an important stretch — should be viewed as inconsequential by media and fans.

November 17 – Let me get this straight: The coach of the Bears does not understand the fuss over two teammates who misbehave at a gun range connected to the federal government, then try to beat each other to smithereens. In my workplace or your workplace, both guys would have been fired. At Halas Hall, it’s business as usual. If the Bears were a solid organization that grasped the senselessness and potential danger of it all, president Ted Phillips and general manager Jerry Angelo would have come to the podium and, in disgusted and apologetic tones, ended the team’s association with guns. Of course, they haven’t shown their faces all week and have left damage control to Smith, who isn’t handling it well. The coach doesn’t understand, like his bosses, that the Bears are part of a public trust dating back to the 1920s in this city. If the Soldier Field renovation was partially funded by public money and if the franchise insists on charging pricey Personal Seat License fees, the least the Bears can do is be forthright about a brawl that sidelined Miller for a game. All we get, pathetically, are hazy answers and a plea that we focus on the big game ahead. Again, Smith insults our intelligence.

November 20 – So, yes, this is a big game, the biggest on the lakefront in four years, the biggest of the Lovie Era. With a victory, it will be a Bears town again. As it should be.

November 22 – Lovie Smith may be getting the credit nationally, yet it was Angelo who took a gamble on a Rams defensive coordinator with no head-coaching experience after team president Ted Phillips refused to give megabucks to Nick Saban and Angelo balked at relinquishing any personnel power.

November 27 – “During the year, comparing doesn’t matter an awful lot,” cautioned Lovie Smith, who returns to the town where he once helped the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ defense remain dominant for years, not weeks. “Just look at our team. We were supposed to be the worst football team as we started the season. We won a few and were a little bit better. What does it really mean in between? After it’s all said and done, I’m anxious to see exactly where our defense stands.”

November 28 – A seven-game winning streak is amazing stuff in a league of quantum leaps, sudden slumps and untimely injuries, especially after the same Mike Brown was using another S-word to describe this team two months ago in Cleveland, where many of us were suggesting another line of work for Smith and general manager Jerry Angelo after a 1-3 start.

December 4 – Fortunately, Lovie Smith and Ron Rivera have reminded their defense of his numbers and his legend. “We’re not going to have to give a lot of George Halas speeches to get the guys ready to go. We realize what’s at stake,” said Smith, who beat the Packers last year in Green Bay and was 5-2 against Favre as a St. Louis and Tampa Bay defensive coach.

December 12 – Especially when Smith is putting the Bears in deep craters with his decisions. There was a small window early in the second quarter when they trailed 7-3 and could have taken control, having forced the Steelers into an apparent punting situation on fourth-and-one at the Pittsburgh 47. But rather than decline an offensive pass- interference call against Hines Ward, Smith took the 10-yard penalty. It was, quite possibly, the dumbest thing we’ve seen a Bears coach do since the days of Dave Wannstedt.

December 18 – It would be a pity, if not an indictment of the coaching staff, if the Bears don’t take advantage of Vick’s bruised, shivering bones and swallow up backs Warrick Dunn and T.J. Duckett.

December 20 –  The scene was spicy enough that Olin Kreutz had to step in between them as the most unlikely peacemaker. Yet it’s fair to wonder if the incident, amid the woe of Orton’s 2-for-10 performance, created such an in-house stir that it finally flipped on the lightbulb under Lovie Smith’s knit cap and prompted the stunning halftime switch to Rex Grossman.

December 21 – But what Lovie Smith really wants from this breakthrough season, which has earned him my signoff as NFL Coach of the Year, is for people to stop noticing that he — or Tony Dungy, or Marvin Lewis, or any other first-place coach — might be black.

December 26 – Lovie Smith set them straight. “When I took the job, I talked about beating Green Bay, winning the division and winning the world championship,” said the second-year coach, wearing his “NFC North Champions” T-shirt and cap. “We’ve accomplished two of our goals. Now we’re in the hunt for the third goal.”

Brassy? Hey, the man is speaking the truth. Suspicious of this team with Kyle Orton behind center, I am convinced now that the elements of a complete team are in place.

December 27 –  Crazy as it was to see the Sox silence the competition with almighty pitching, it might be crazier to see the Bears on the Super Bowl fringe after going 9-4 with a college quarterback. “Chicago Bears, 2005 NFC North champs,” the beloved Lovie Smith said on Christmas Night. “Has a good ring to it.”

December 30 – If I’m correctly reading the crinkly forehead lines of a purposely vague Lovie Smith, Grossman will play for maybe a quarter Sunday, then give way to Kyle Orton. A quarter is too much. One play is too much. “We’re in this position because of Kyle Orton. If we end up playing Kyle again, no problems at all,” Smith said. Hey, if the rookie is going to play, use him the entire game. And don’t let Grossman board the team plane.


January 1 – The grand plan was to bombard a city’s consciousness with a time machine. Smelling a chance to celebrate their historic niche, reunite as friends and make some money — much for charity — the 1985 Bears planned to turn 2005 into a rocking redux of their “Super Bowl Shuffle” rave. “A yearlong celebration commemorating the 20th- year anniversary,” they announced last spring, months before Lovie Smith took a squad with low expectations to Bourbonnais.

January 2 – “We would have liked to accomplish the scoring record, but not at the risk of injury. It’s obvious who the best defense in the league is,” said Lovie Smith, a wise man who used Kyle Orton and dusted off Jeff Blake while resting various starters and pulling as many as possible as quickly as possible.

January 8 – The Coach of the Year, Smith, will make $1.4 million annually this season and next. The defensive coordinator of the Redskins, the scheming and highly touted Williams, had his contract extended the other day at $2.7 million a season. Now I am not in the business of making Smith a wealthier man, nor am I particularly concerned with rewarding coaches financially as a playoff game awaits in seven days. But it occurred to me Saturday that he is achieving more for less money than any current coach in professional sports.

January 15 – All that said, I dare make the bold proclamation anyway. Not only will Grossman not lose the game today, he just might win it for the Bears. That is because Smith and the coaching staff, contrary to pregame bluffing that insists the grand scheme revolves entirely around defense and running the ball, realize they have to turn Rex loose and let him make a few big plays to score at least 20 points, a necessity for victory

January 16 – Turns out the Coach of the Regular Season was not the Coach of the Year, as these awards sometimes go in sports. Don’t sit here and tell me Smith is better than Fox, who has no business beating the Seahawks in Seattle without running back DeShaun Foster, whose ankle is broken, but might anyway.

April 30 – Oddly, Jerry and Lovie passed, letting the New England Patriots take him 10 picks later.

August 2 – The Bears should consider it a luxury to have two backs, in Benson and Adrian Peterson, who can spell Jones in case of injury or breakdown. Instead, Angelo and coach Lovie Smith have turned an advantage into a controversy, not a good situation when Jones has many admirers on the team and is represented by poisonous agent Drew Rosenhaus, who has other influential Bears clients and has been known to distract teams to ruin (see Philadelphia Eagles and Terrell Owens, 2005).

August 6 – How can Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith make Benson the alpha dog with so much at stake?

August 15 – Don’t call it a quarterback controversy; call it a Rex controversy. The issue is entirely up to him to decide. The men in charge, from Lovie Smith to offensive coordinator Ron Turner to quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson, continue to say with emphasis that the job belongs to Grossman. They want him to succeed not only because they’ve waited for him to have full health, but because their boss, the hit-and-miss Jerry Angelo, has so much riding on the matter.

August 26 – Were Angelo and Smith not paying attention when several defensive players went out of their way to plaster Benson in the early parts of training camp? Hasn’t a vague chasm existed since Jones was demoted because he didn’t appear for “voluntary” offseason workouts, which becomes so much semantics hell when “voluntary” actually means “mandatory” in Smith’s dictionary and causes potential issues in- house?

August 29 – He was Coach of the Regular Season, not Coach of the Year. That became clear when Lovie Smith’s defense was Uncovered-2 by the Carolina Panthers, who may or may not have passed steroid tests that January day. What the playoff debacle did was cease all demands by media and fans that the Bears extend Smith’s contract, which remains at relative chump-change levels in a league that pays whopper salaries to the elite.

September 7 – When a franchise has won just one playoff game in 15 years and allows Mike Ditka to remain the preeminent football personality in town, it’s stunning — and irresponsible — that Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith would build an elite defense and try to get by with a grinding, functional, scare-free, receivers-phobic offense.

September 11 – Poised like we’ve never seen him, Grossman walked out of Lambeau Field not only with his health intact but also his dignity. He was brilliant Sunday, throwing darts with precision and power not seen from a Chicago quarterback this century, and the Bears rode his confidence to their most complete victory of the Lovie Smith era.

September 18 – The play, as drawn up by an innocent bystander named Lovie Smith, required Berrian to turn on his turbochargers if the Detroit secondary bit on a route involving, yes, the tight end.

October 1 – Before we lobby for lowballed Lovie Smith to win a contract extension, can we see if he wins a playoff game after flopping in his first postseason foray?

October 5 – You’d think he’d be lobbying for other kinds of bills, those with dead presidents on them — as in a contract extension that would lift him from the dregs of NFL coaching salaries. But this is a man too focused to think about anything but the next game, a fine, necessary trait in a city that wants to celebrate its first Super Bowl triumph in 21 years every Sunday.

November 5 – While it’s true Lovie Smith deserves a raise and is still making chump change by league standards — $1.35 million a year, embarrassingly less than the annual $4 million-plus reportedly offered Saban — let’s also remember that Angelo’s great decisions are making his head coach look very good.

November 7 – While you breathe easier, I cuss and snort and demand answers. Even if Brian Urlacher plays Sunday night and beyond, don’t tell me that a seek-and-destroy missile whose game depends entirely on speed and pursuit doesn’t need the full, unencumbered use of his left foot. The fact his big toe is merely sprained — Toe Jam Football, the Beatles called it — hardly absolves Lovie Smith and Ron Rivera from a braincramp that borders on temporary insanity.

November 22 – But Lovie’s next piece of trash talk will be his first, unlike a certain distant Halas Hall predecessor who aimed and fired at Belichick’s wardrobe.

November 23 – More importantly, it prioritizes a disciplinary statement over winning the stupid football game, a significant message for Halas Hall to send. Officially, Manning made the decision not to appeal. But general manager Jerry Angelo and coach Lovie Smith surely influenced the call.

As usual, no shortage of turkeys

“I can’t really talk about it. It’s a decision Ricky made; we’ll live with it,” Smith said. “We knew it was coming. We didn’t exactly know what it would be. Now we know, and we’ll move on from here.”

November 27 – Not that Smith has the cojones to make the change to safety blanket Brian Griese. Before anyone even could ask about a quarterback change after the 17-13 loss, Lovie reaffirmed Grossman’s status.

December 4 – Let me give it to you real, Lovie Smith, as you stand up there in your “NFC North Champions” T-shirt and wonder snippily why the media aren’t trading high-fives with you. If Rex Grossman remains your quarterback, your season goes splat in January. You won’t see a contract extension, the city will call for a full-blown probe of your pedigree and years of Bears disgust will plummet lower than Lower Wacker Drive.

December 5 – Couple Lovie’s less-than-rousing support with similar concerns voiced by offensive coordinator Ron Turner, who says Grossman is thinking too much.

December 11 – People would feel better about the crater in the defensive trenches if the quarterback was at least decent. Like everyone beyond Smith, Jerry Angelo, Ron Turner and Rex’s immediate friends and family members, I would have switched to Griese long ago.

December 12 – All you need to know about Hester, as he returned two more kicks for touchdowns Monday night and blew away the NFL single-season record and every St. Louis ghost in his path, is that the normally humdrum Lovie Smith was boogeying down the sideline after his 96-yard sprint in the fourth quarter.

December 14 – Yes, I think I need to have a talk with the man. Because Lovie is not thinking straight. If he were of the right mind, he wouldn’t have spent Wednesday dropping this shocking bit of logic about America’s newest sports conversation piece: Devin Hester will NOT be used as an offensive weapon.

December 17 – Angelo and coach Lovie Smith deactivated Johnson for today’s game against lowly Tampa Bay, circumventing NFL policy by saying (wink-wink) he missed practice time.

December 18 – As the playoffs near, the last thing this locker room needs is any uncertainty about Johnson’s status. Yet Sunday, a perfect time to announce the Bears were cutting ties, Smith seemed more interested in reveling in a shaky victory.

December 19 – If Johnson plays football for them this season, or ever again, Angelo and Smith will have made their statement to the city and the league that winning is more important than discipline.

December 21 – As trusted leadership goes, the general manager and his hand- picked coach haven’t exactly distinguished themselves lately. If their handling of the Johnson crisis represents organizational waffling of the worst kind — an emphasis on winning over discipline and a tolerance of dangerous behavior to make sure their nose tackle plays in the postseason, which defies Angelo’s b.s. about accountability — their collective handling of business on and off the field hardly engenders faith they can direct the Bears to Super Bowl XLI.

December 25 – How are we supposed to know if Rex Grossman can direct a fourth-quarter comeback drive in January if Lovie Smith doesn’t let him try in December? This was the perfect situation for confidence-building and faith-healing, was it not?

December 27 – From Smith’s standpoint, the kickoff change deflected attention – – for a day, anyway — from questions about Tank Johnson’s return and the implications of Brian Griese’s 10-minute Sunday stint in Detroit.

December 31 – Still, this is not the time to grant him a lucrative contract extension, which seems to be the mission of media people who don’t understand the dynamics at work. Unfair as it may seem, Smith can’t be judged simply on 23 victories in his last 28 games and his team’s No. 1 seeding in the dog-belly-soft NFC.


January 1 – It also forces Lovie Smith, who said there will be “no change,” to deal with a bye-week nightmare — recurring public cries for Griese, who entered at halftime, slapped his teammates’ hands in the huddle, stumbled himself, then finally hit the big play that eluded Rex, whose statistics were dreadful.

January 2 – It’s precisely my point today. I don’t think Rex can get up — and I don’t think he should be starting games for the Bears in the postseason, unless Lovie Smith wants to deal with the angry fallout of another one-and-done January heartbreak. With the Good Rex/Bad Rex conundrum sure to explode into a huge nationwide story line, I’ve seen no proof Grossman can handle the pressure, prove everyone wrong, manage the offense consistently and efficiently in two cold- weather home games and lead this team to a Super Bowl.

January 18 – Might I even say that Grossman, given the pressure to produce loads of points and the vulnerability of the Saints’ pass defense, is the biggest factor in this game? Unless Tommie Harris and Mike Brown magically reappear or meteorologist Lovie’s forecast of ”very cold” weather comes to pass — highs in the low 30s, the current prediction, isn’t real cold — be sure that some combination of New Orleans weaponry will haunt the defense.

January 19 – If the Bears were a rowdy conversation piece for the country in January 1986, with unforgettable charisma on and off the field, they’re now an impossible-to-read oddity wrapped around an absurdly erratic quarterback, a vulnerable defense and a leader who might be the first African-American coach to reach a Super Bowl — or the first to blow a conference title game by calling a timeout with two seconds left to give the opponent another scoring shot.

January 20 – In a week when an ever bitter Mike Ditka hogged headlines, how dignified of Smith to lay out the in-house meaning of a second Super Bowl. Even the most diehard Ditkaphiles and loudest Lovie critics have to give him that much, right? Sure, we still aren’t sure if he’s an elite coach. Yes, his timeout call with two seconds left in regulation would have been an all-time loopy blunder had Seattle scored on a Hail Mary. I’m aware he’ll never be wildly popular in Chicago as the Ditka antithesis — a maddeningly composed soul in an emotional town with rumbling L trains and a 24/7 pulse. We’re still awaiting the results of his fierce loyalty to Rex Grossman on the field and the Tankster off it. There hasn’t even been much outcry that talks for a contract extension have stalled, significant because Smith is making just $1.3 million this season — less than half what Miami gave defensive coordinator Dom Capers — and he already has considerable leverage if he chooses to become a free agent after next season. To this day, Chicago isn’t certain what to make of a guy named Lovie, whose parents assumed he was going to be a girl and adjusted accordingly, sort of.

January 21 – Don’t … do … that. Is he nuts? Before anyone is fitted for a ring, the Bears first have to beat the Saints, who flaunt a staggering showcase of offensive weaponry while the once-dominant, injury-dinged Bears defense wonders how it has allowed almost 26 points a game to the Seahawks, the Packers, the Lions, the Tim Rattay-led Bucs and the Rams. Go ahead and root for cold, snow and wind, as Lovie Smith is.

January 22 – I could be a real jerk and call them the worst 15-3 team to reach a Super Bowl. But that wouldn’t be true. Lovie Smith will tell you so. ”The guy is amazing,” Urlacher said. ”Every game, people find something wrong with our team, something wrong with our defense, our quarterback. He stuck with Rex. He stood behind him all season just like our whole team has. We’ve taken on his attitude. He never gets too high or low, always staying in the middle.”

January 23 – My degree of faith will come as a culture shock to Smith, who spent his celebratory postgame downtime rooting for close friend Tony Dungy and the Colts, managing two hours of sleep, then surfing the Internet so he could chuckle over some of our hilariously inaccurate predictions from Sunday. ”I wouldn’t bet against the Bears if I was a betting man,” declared Lovetron, who now has made two statements that sound like Super Sunday guarantees, along with his forecast that Virginia McCaskey will do more heavy lifting in Miami.

January 25 – Most telling, Lovie has become the toast of a town that didn’t have much time for him as recently as last week, when Mike Ditka dominated the hype. We’re tough on coaches and managers around here, but Smith never sniped back even when the criticism was harsh. He’s a classy, likable man who will be accepted as such, never thought possible in the domain of the terminally wired Ditka. Nor was Smith ever so mistaken to play the race card when things were going poorly, as Dusty Baker did more than once at Wrigley Field. When it comes to sports, Chicago is color-blind and tunnel-visioned. Win, and they love you. Lose, and they don’t.

January 28 – If the Super Bowl is an annual gauge of the American condition, then the game never has had a story more powerful than the long-overdue emergence of two black coaches in a league traditionally overrun by good-old-boy management. How racist was the NFL as recently as 20 years ago? People remember a 1987 meeting, featuring 200 league and team officials, that included only one African-American representative. Since then, there has been enough progress that Bruce Gordon, president and CEO of the NAACP, had no clue that new Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was black until he noticed a photo in a newspaper last week.

January 29 – We’ll pause for sharp commentary about the Tankster being a real man with his assault weapons and rounds of ammo. That said, the players respect Lovie too much — and embrace the mission too heartily — to end up on a police blotter.

January 30 – The Bears won’t say it, but they must be concerned about a week of difficult questions taking a toll on their delicate, 26-year-old project. ”He has to deal with this almost every week,” coach Lovie Smith said. ”Rex is a professional. He knows most of you have certain questions that you want to ask him, that most of you would like to let him know exactly just how bad he is. He doesn’t buy into it. We don’t buy into it.”

February 2 – The Urlacher debates would be largely settled with a Super Bowl win, whether it’s Richard Dent criticizing Smith for not using him as a blitz-crazy outside linebacker or national media wondering if he’s indeed overrated.

February 3 – If I understand that he’s 26 and sick of waking up every day and hearing all questions about his erratic ways, it’s stunning that Smith spent much of the week getting huffy about the same topic. Is Lovie buckling under the heat? Someone asked a pertinent question: Would the coach, under any circumstance, consider changing QBs?

February 4 –  It’s one thing for Urlacher, Rex Grossman and Lovie Smith to lash out against the evil media and use their trusty no-respect card as an emotional cause. It’s quite another to say people are threatened about the ’85ers being sacked as kings of the lakefront.

February 5 – The talk coming in was about money: Lovie Smith deserving a fat contract extension, Ron Rivera needing bigger pay to keep him away from the Cowboys, even Grossman angling for a lucrative new deal. Smith will get his, but Halas Hall would be nuts to reward Rex and not open the competition to Brian Griese in July

February 27 – I would urge Smith not to budge until his price is met. He has all the leverage, with even NFL people condemning the Bears for their Misers of the Midway approach. Should Phillips be crazy enough to let Smith enter the season as a lame duck, the Bears would be lampooned nationally for wrecking a great thing, just as they were lampooned when Michael McCaskey’s buffoonery cost them Dave McGinnis. Anything less than a return to the Super Bowl would turn the town angrily against management and prompt another lame search for a cheap candidate. The season would be a miserable, nonstop Lovie watch. And not a soul would blame the coach, though general manager Jerry Angelo will blame the media.

March 1 – If Smith isn’t the perfect head coach, he has shown his mettle as a unifying force in the locker room and a strategic defensive wizard who helped us forget the Dave Wannstedt and Dick Jauron years.

March 6 – More than they realize, they need Briggs. Angelo and Smith seem to view Urlacher as a linebacking god and Briggs as an interchangeable part who feeds off No. 54.

March 18 – The defense also invited Lovie Smith, he of the freshly minted contract and stoic manner, and asked him to vow for a rehabilitated employee. “Tank knows he’s in a situation where he can’t get into any other trouble. And he has let me know there won’t be any more,” Smith said. For effect, the Bears coach said a jail term for Johnson “would be devastating, short-term and long-term.”

March 28 – Much as Angelo and Lovie Smith believe Brian Urlacher is the epicenter of life and that other linebackers are interchangeable, Briggs is an exceptional playmaker who has more tackles the last three years than any NFC ‘backer but Tampa Bay’s Derrick Brooks.

April 29 – For some reason, the Bears don’t want to believe Briggs is serious. “Once he has to be here, he’ll be part of it,” said Lovie Smith, convinced his Pro Bowl linebacker will be back for the opener in San Diego.

May 1 – Such as, did the Bears know about Olsen and the tape? And if they did, why did they draft him? The reason I ask is because Angelo and Lovie Smith, throughout the Johnson debacle, continued to insist they would emphasize good character in the acquisition of players.