Preseason openers are for amusement only.
The last time the Bears scored a touchdown on their opening drive of the preseason — in 1994, when Erik Kramer threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to fullback Merrill Hoge — they botched the extra-point. There’s always something.
As it turned out, neither Kramer nor Hoge were out of the picture by midseason. Kramer suffered a separated shoulder and later was benched after the disastrous Halloween debacle against the Packers. Hoge wasn’t even around for that. He suffered two concussions in the first five games and retired in mid-October.
Still, the Bears went 9-7 with Steve Walsh replacing Kramer and beat the Vikings in the Metrodome in the playoffs before losing to the 49ers.
The following season, Kramer, battling Walsh for the starting job, was booed nearly every time he left the field in the preseason opener, when he was 5-of-15 for 45 yards against the Carolina Panthers. Kramer ended up winning the job and having one of the most prolific seasons a quarterback has ever had in Chicago.
He set franchise records with 29 touchdown passes and 3,838 yards that still stand today. His passer rating of 93.5 is the best for a Bears starting quarterback since 1984. But it wasn’t enough. The Bears finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs.
So when it comes to “things to watch” in tonight’s preseason opener against the Denver Broncos at Soldier Field, Mike Tice’s simple, but not insignificant, standard for the offense is a pretty sensible barometer.
”I like to be clean,” Tice said when asked what indicators he looks for in a preseason opener. ”I like to minimize the offsides. We’ll probably get some holding calls in there. But that happens.
”No turnovers. Minimize the offsides. No delay-of-game [penalties]. See if we can run the ball efficiently. And finish some drives. A little rhythm.”
One thing to look for tonight is an offense that doesn’t look like it’s a “work-in-progress.” The Bears’ offense technically is in transition with Tice taking over for Mike Martz. But the Bears don’t have time for a transition year. The last thing you want to hear from Jay Cutler is “we’re still in the first year of this offense.” If you hear that, it’s probably going to be the last year of this offense as well.