This page is being redesigned and will be added to the site in
the near future. For now, the original story is below. The new page is being
redesigned to equal the current "enhanced" stories on the 1979-1985, '91-92,
2001 and 2005 pages.
The 2003 Chicago Bears
by Roy Taylor, www.BearsHistory.com
"We're a good football team when we're healthy. How good, I
don't know." These were Chicago Bears Head Coach Dick Jauron's comments just
prior to the 2003 season.
Around the same time, general manager Jerry Angelo went on
record, saying his expectation was to see his Bears team in the playoffs that
Most experts did not predict the 2003 Bears to finish with a
significantly better record than they had posted in 2002, which was 4-12.
Regardless, the team did perform better than most prognosticators expected,
mounting a mid-season run to finish with a better record than in five of the
previous six campaigns.
Angelo's expectations clearly had not been met at the end of
the season, however, and both Jauron's supporters and detractors would end up
awaiting his fate on a balmy December 29th in Lake Forest. The 2003 Bears
campaign began with the most exciting home opener in years, and ended with a
final game against Jauron's first opponent to determine his fate.
True to the GM's belief that the 2003 Bears were closer to the
playoffs than the cellar, Chicago was surprisingly quiet during the free agent
signing period. After losing standout LB Roosevelt Colvin, the Bears added only
TE Desmond Clark and QB Kordell Stewart. The latter player had been released by
Pittsburgh after a roller-coaster career featuring both pro bowl berths and
periods of abysmal play. He was signed to a two-year deal averaging just over
$2 million per season after Jake Plummer rejected a deal worth close to $30
Shortly thereafter, Chicago released veterans Jim Miller and
James Williams. Miller's release was less surprising, given his injury-plagued
2002 season, but Williams' departure would prove to be a bad omen, given the
team's recent problems on the offensive line.
In April's draft, Angelo shrewdly parlayed eight picks into
eleven, landing what he hoped to be a franchise DE, QB and CB in the first two
rounds. He would later pick up multiple linebackers, defensive tackles, and
wide receivers, but surprisingly neglected the offensive line until the seventh
round. This 2003 draft would prove to be possibly Angelo's only saving grace
during this campaign.
Training camp opened in Bourbonnais in July, and with it began
the annual bashing of offensive coordinator John Shoop. Also being criticized
was Jauron himself, for conducting what many observers considered to be easy,
light contact practices. The coach's player-friendly mentality would be heavily
questioned as the team opened the regular season looking confused and
Chicago finished their four-game preseason schedule with only
one win, coming on opening night in Champaign on August 9th. The story of that
evening was the debut of rookie QB Rex Grossman. Thousands of flash bulbs
popped as he completed his first pro attempt to Clark in the third quarter, and
when he converted a fourth-and-long to fellow rookie Bobby Wade.
The rest of the preseason did not fare well, however. On hand
to witness the impending doom was former Bear safety Doug Plank, now a
preseason radio host for the Arizona Cardinals. Plank commented after the
August 22nd Bears-Cardinals game that he could see the fundamental flaws in
Chicago's attack. Arizona's defensive ends simply flew by the Bears tackles, he
said, and the Cardinals offensive line pushed Chicago's first-team defenders up
and down the field. It is the responsibility of the coach to make the best of
whatever talent he's given, Plank said, but on the Bears he didn't see much
hope for 2003.
To make matters worse, Angelo traded stalwart DT Ted
Washington to New England for a 2004 fourth-round pick, then G Rex Tucker was
lost for the season with a leg injury in the preseason's final game. Tucker's
loss, and the inability of RT Mark Colombo to recover from a 2002 knee injury
left Chicago in dire straits on the trenches for the upcoming "championship
season," as Jauron likes to say.
Thus, the 2003 Monsters of the Midway opened their regular
season in San Francisco, with a guard at left tackle (Mike Gandy) a left tackle
that had never played an NFL snap at left guard (Steve Edwards), and a
nearly-400-pound retread at right tackle (Aaron Gibson). The Bears competed in
San Fransisco, where they had not won a game since 1985, until close to
halftime, when they trailed 24-7. With :44 left until the half, however, a
poorly-timed out route was intercepted by Ahmed Plummer and returned 68 yards
for a touchdown. At that point, the game ended, and would finish with an
embarassing 49-7 score.
Not many expected the team to fare much better on Sunday Night
Football the following week in Minnesota, and true to form the Bears lost
24-13. Silly quarterback runs, called for Stewart, were the story of that
evening, as were two missed opportunities to stop long Viking drives in the
fourth quarter. Chicago's bye week was up next, then the hearlded opening of
New Soldier Field in front of a national audience on September 29th.
While Chicago reveled prior to the opening of the new stadium,
American football fans probably wondered why Monday Night Football would
feature a 1-2 versus an 0-2 team. Due to the records, the Bears looked at an
opportunity to pull ahead of Green Bay, and had they had never lost their first
game in a new stadium. Trends and motivation were for naught, however, as
Chicago looked as bad as they have in years when they lost by 15 points to the
Cheesheads, their seventeenth loss in nineteen games against Brett Favre.
After the 0-3 start, many began questioning Jauron's ability
to last through the season, let alone into the final year of his contract in
2004. Luckily for him, Chicago faced a team worse off than them in week
five-the aging and infighting Oakland Raiders. Thanks to questionable
playcalling (the Raiders ran all over Chicago in the first half, then passed
heavily in the second), the Bears won their first game on a last-second field
Following the first victory, the usual talk of a turnaround
commenced, but the Bears lost close games the following two weeks at New
Orleans and Seattle. Between those two losses, Jauron seemed to bend on his
stubborn ways of sticking with players that didn't perform, as Stewart was
replaced at QB by aging veteran Chris Chandler. The team's official position
was that Stewart was injured, but most knew better.
The next two weeks, with Chandler at the helm, the Bears beat
Detroit and San Diego at home. Chandler was helped by a resurgence of the
running game, with rookie Forsey and veteran Anthony Thomas turning in strong
performances. At this point in the season, the team had turned an 0-3 start
into a 3-5 record at the halfway point of the campaign.
Chicago would fail to take advantage of the resurgence, as
they lost 12-10 at 2-6 Detroit the next week, unable to move the ball and with
K Paul Edinger entering a slump of his own. They then fell to 3-7 with a home
loss to St. Louis on November 16th. The defeat was especially bitter, as they
competed strongly with the playoff-bound Rams until the very end.
Despite the playoffs now seeming like a remote dream, the
Bears turned in strong performances in games 11 and 12, shocking Denver on the
road and thrashing Arizona at home. At this point, Jauron supporters and
detractors drew into their separate quarters and squared off. Some felt that
his coaching abilities were the only reason the team was 5-7 and clinging to
playoff hopes, while others believed he had not won enough in his five years at
the helm. The rematch with Green Bay on December 7th was widely believed to be
Jauron's watershed moment.
Playing in Green Bay, with Stewart again at quarterback,
Chicago faced long odds. But in the second quarter, the Bears were shocking the
crowd with a 14-0 lead. The Packers drew to within 14-13 at halftime, then
kicked two field goals to lead 20-13 in the fourth. On that period's opening
drive, Stewart seemed to be moving the team downfield into position. On third
down, the QB audibled, calling a hot route to Dez White. The pass hung a bit,
and CB Mike McKenzie intercepted, returning it 90 yards for a score.
Ironically, the situation that ended the Bears' opening day hopes also ended
their season in Green Bay.
The embattled coach's friends and enemies remained resolute,
and Jauron heeded fans' calls to start Grossman. The rookie looked impressive
in his first two starts, which were victories over Washington and Minnesota.
The Bears were 7-8 heading into hot Kansas City for the season finale, and many
thought that Jauron's future rested on this final performance. Grossman was
knocked out of the game; Chicago lost 31-3. Ironically, Jauron's first head
coaching win had come against Kansas City, a 20-17 vicory on September 12,
1999, seemingly so many years ago. Angelo announced a 2 p.m. press conference
to take place the following day.
Question was, would Angelo announce that assistants were
leaving and Jauron was staying? Everyone knew Jauron had major support from the
McCaskey family. Or was it possible that Angelo would prove he was finally in
charge and fire the coach? The news broke around 10 a.m., Jauron had just
addressed the team a final time and would indeed be fired. Angelo stated at his
press conference, "Simply put, expectations were not met." Jauron left with his
typical class, thanking the media but expressing rare humor in saying he didn't
have to answer any more questions on this day.
The head coach left a legacy of more losing than winning in
Chicago, but many friends. What he also left is the age-old question in
Chicago, has all this losing stemmed from talent, poor coaching and strategy,
or an overall unhealthy organization. Bear fans would like an answer to this
question sooner rather than later.