Cold, hard truth: ‘Bear Weather’ fun but still a myth
A pair of dreadful playoff losses in the Ditka era — and a blowout by Tom Brady and the Patriots in 2010 — are a reminder that cold weather and inclement conditions don’t give the hardy Bears an advantage anyone can count on.
The notion of “Bear Weather” was -exposed as a myth long ago, never more painfully than in the NFC Championship Game against the 49ers after the 1988 season.
The Ditka Bears were three years -removed from the glorious Super Bowl victory but still a force — 12-4 with a defense that allowed the fewest points in the NFL.
Against a 49ers team the Bears had already beaten 10-9 in prime football weather on “Monday Night Football” at Soldier Field, the wintry conditions on Jan. 8, 1989, at Soldier Field — 17 degrees with 29 mph winds that produced a minus-26 wind-chill temperature — figured to be a huge advantage for the Bears.
Not only were Bears players presumably conditioned to winter weather as hardy Chicagoans, but the Bears were better equipped as a team to thrive in the conditions. Their third-ranked run game would be unaffected, while the wind and cold would surely debilitate the 49ers’ passing offense, led by quarterback Joe Montana and wide receiver Jerry Rice.
That supposition was debunked quickly. On a third-and-nine play from the 49ers’ 39-yard line late in the first quarter, Montana dropped back to the 30, threw a pass to Rice at the Bears’ 42, and Rice outmaneuvered cornerback Mike Richardson and rookie safety Todd Krumm to complete a 61-yard touchdown that gave the visitors a 7-0 lead.
Though it was just one score and early in the game, the dread among the capacity crowd was palpable. Jim McMahon tried to counter but was intercepted on a 20-yard pass to Dennis Gentry. Montana responded by driving the 49ers for another touchdown — on a 27-yard pass to Rice — and the 49ers led 14-0. It was all but over.
The Bears kicked a field goal and made a play when linebacker Jim Morrissey forced a fumble by John Taylor on a pass reception, with cornerback Vestee Jackson recovering. But by then, any psychological edge was long gone. The Bears never threatened again in a dismal, discouraging 28-3 loss.
A year earlier, a 21-17 loss to the Redskins in a divisional playoff game in 3-degree weather at Soldier Field had chipped away at the “Bear Weather” myth. But the 49ers game was a death blow that defined “Bear Weather” as a romantic notion more than an actual advantage.
Cold weather has made a difference since, most notably in the NFC title game after the 2006 season, when the Bears beat the Saints 39-14 to advance to Super Bowl XLI.
When Bears coach Matt Eberflus was asked about cold-weather games this week, he immediately mentioned a Soldier Field moment.
“I was on the losing end at Soldier Field in 2013,” said Eberflus, the Cowboys’ linebackers coach at that time. “I do remember it. Couldn’t feel my feet. It was very cold.”
The Bears and Josh McCown dominated Tony Romo and the Cowboys in a 45-28 rout in 8-degree temperatures — the fourth-coldest game the Bears have played at Soldier Field.
The Bears, in fact, have won the two coldest games at Soldier Field, beating the Packers both times — 20-17 on Robbie Gould’s 38-yard field goal in overtime in 2008 (a miserable 2 degrees at night) and 23-21 on Bob Thomas’ 22-yard field goal with 10 seconds left in 1983 (3 degrees).
But for the most part, freezing the playing field doesn’t level it. In 2010, the Bears were 9-3 with a five-game winning streak when they played Tom Brady and the Patriots in the snow at Soldier Field, with temperatures falling into the 20s and wind gusts up to 30 mph. The Patriots led 33-0 at halftime and won 35-7.
So maybe “Bear Weather” will help the Bears on Saturday, stifling the Bills’ fifth-ranked passing game while enhancing the Bears’ top-ranked running game.
Just don’t count on it.