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Columnist
Bears glass always half full with Wannstedt, Smith
By Bob LeGere | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 12/15/2009 4:43 PM

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Listening to Lovie Smith rehash the Bears' eighth loss in 13 games, I couldn't help but flash back to the dog days of the Dave Wannstedt era.

You remember, even if you don't want to, the back-to-back 4-12 seasons in 1997 and '98. The '97 season started with seven straight losses and just one win in the first 11 games. In '98, there were four straight losses to open the season and 11 defeats in the first 14 games.

In both seasons the Bears were hopelessly out of playoff contention by Thanksgiving.

This season's Bears team isn't that bad, at least not yet.

But, just like Wannstedt before him, Smith, who is 21-24 since the Super Bowl XLI loss, has been forced to concoct positive spin to make the mounting losses seem not so demoralizing.

The day after the 21-14 loss to the Green Bay Packers, Smith said, "(We) got ourselves back in position to win. That's saying a lot about our team, to fight through that adversity early on and take the lead, but we weren't able to finish it."

When I heard that, I recalled "Wanny," after a blowout loss to the Bucs in Tampa, which was an annual occurrence, saying, "Five plays. We were just five plays away."

The Lions could say the same thing about their 48-3 loss to the Ravens last Sunday.

(Coincidental footnote: Smith was the Bucs' linebackers coach from 1996-2000, when Tampa defeated the Bears in seven of 10 games, including all five in Florida by a combined score of 139-53.)

Lovie's glass has always been half full, but it becomes more and more difficult to share his optimism as his team free-falls to a double-digit loss season for the first time since his rookie year of 2004.

Now the Bears are three years removed from that Super Bowl season. And based on the way this season has gone, they're further than ever from getting back.

"A lot of things have gone wrong when you don't make it three years in a row," Smith said. "We've been close, and last year right up until the last game of the season."

That's when the 9-6 Bears needed only to defeat a 7-8 Houston Texans team to make the playoffs, but they lost 31-24.

"After the Super Bowl we had a letdown for whatever reason," Smith said. "That's happened to more teams than just us. But this year, great start, just haven't been able to finish."

Smith points out that the Bears have been close in most of their defeats, but that's what losing teams say every year.

"As I look at our eight losses, three of them were legitimate losses," Smith said. "The other five we were right in there, had opportunities. So to say that we're that far away (from being a playoff team), I wouldn't necessarily say that."

That got me thinking back to when Wannstedt was lamenting one of his 56 losses (against 40 wins), a game in which the Bears, on their final possession, had a chance to win with a touchdown but turned it over. He said, "We had the ball first-and-10, going in."

True, it was first-and-10, but the Bears were at their own 30-yard line with time running out and they had about as much chance of going in for a score as the current Bears team has of finishing .500.

rlegere@dailyherald.com

Flash from the past

Favorite quotes from players during the Dave Wannstedt era (1993-98)

LB Barry Minter, after a tough loss in the season finale at Tampa: "When you lose the last game like this, it really sticks in your crotch."

DE Alonzo Spellman in the midst of a losing streak: "I guess it's time to circle the horses."

DE Alonzo Spellman again after a rough stretch: "Sure, we're only 3-5, but with a few breaks here and there, we could easily be 9-2."

S Anthony Marshall after playing well in a backup role when asked if he might request more playing time: "Yeah, I might have to put a bug in the coach's eye about that."

- Bob LeGere