Bears clinch division; Hester breaks record

December 21, 2010 9:55:04 AM PST
The Bears are NFC North division champions and headed to the playoffs.

They got a big win Monday night on a frozen field in Minnesota.

The Bears division title win was the hot topic Tuesday morning on ESPN 1000's Waddle and Silvy.

"Not just post-season football, but post-season home football," said Marc Silverman, sports radio host. "This one guarantees that all 63,000 Bears fans will be walking through the museum campus to get to a Soldier Field playoff game, whether it's the first week or the second week after a bye. But that's what we asked for that's what we demanded from Lovie Smith is we were tired of three years of not going to the playoffs, and to be back in the playoffs it's a great feeling."

Chris Ramsden walked his bull dog puppy he named Bear with more pride than ever.

"Huge excitement, huge excitement, first time going to the playoffs since the Super Bowl, team looks great. It's ready to go now," said Ramsden.

There's even talk already about making it to the Super Bowl. But people like Norris McNamara aren't convinced yet.

"I think it's too early for that. And you know when you see what New England did to us. We're a B-level team. Let's face it," said McNamara.

Others are just happy to be celebrating a title anticipating a thrilling playoff run.

"It's pretty exciting, my husband is definitely excited. He's a huge Bears fan. Yeah, I think it will be good. I think it will be good for the city," said Scudieri.

Devin Hester was the star and now is the NFL record holder after a third quarter punt return for a touchdown, the 14th of his career, breaking Brian Mitchell's previous mark.

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre threw one touchdown but was knocked out of the game in what could be the last of his career.

The Bears won 40-14 over the Vikings.

"Sounds great, no doubt about it. It sounds great. I love the guys that block for me. I appreciate the guys," Hester said.

Hester said being headed to the postseason for the first time since the Super Bowl year is special.

"It is a big load off the players and the coaches. It is a special moment for Coach Lovie [Smith]. He gets a lot of criticism, but he is the best coach that ever coached me. He deserves it. He deserves it more than anybody on this team or in this organization because I know what he's going through," Hester said.

It's on to postseason football in Chicago for the first time since 2006, and fans were nothing short of excited. On Monday night, they sat on the edges of their seats watching. On Tuesday morning as people went to work, they were talking about Hester's returns and future possibilities.

"We're very excited, very excited to be a Bear fan. Me and my boys will talk about how Devin Hester is a great running back," said fan Marsha Smith.

"This is a good year for them. Everybody counted them out, but they bounced back," said fan Darryl Reed.

Only Favre could get hurt in a game he was supposedly too beat up to play in.

After Minnesota's battered quarterback walked off the snow-coated field with what he later called a concussion, Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears took back the division title Favre is so used to winning.

Cutler's three touchdown passes helped the Bears fly past the Vikings on a frosty, hard-hitting Monday night.

"Hopefully this is just a stepping stone," Cutler said.

With the Metrodome unusable because of a roof collapse, the game got moved to the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium. Snowballs flew from the seats -- sometimes hitting players -- and fans recalled the Vikings' roots as an outdoor team.

After a sudden improvement in his sprained throwing shoulder, Favre was upgraded on the injury report less than eight hours before the game from "out" to "questionable." He passed his pregame test and came out as the starter, capping the opening drive with a touchdown pass to Percy Harvin.

The lead didn't last, though, and the Bears (10-4) took control. Corey Wootton's second-quarter sack sent Favre to the frozen turf players had openly worried about in the days leading up to the game, and his helmet bounced off the ground.

Favre lay motionless for a few seconds before climbing to his feet and walking slowly off with his head hung down. With a black cap pulled past his eyebrows, Favre grimaced as he put on an oversized coat and got ready to watch the rest of the game.

Rookie Joe Webb took over, finding the end zone with a 13-yard scramble to cut the lead to 27-14 in the third quarter, but the Bears had their way after putting perhaps the final seal on Favre's storied 20-year career.

"Was it cold? I've played in colder. It was icy," Favre said, adding: "It didn't seem to bother Chicago that much. I tip my hat to the University of Minnesota. I thought they did a great job on short notice."

Cutler finished the game with a big bandage on his chin to cover a gash caused by a helmet-first hit by Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield during his only interception, by Asher Allen. Cutler said he needed three stitches.

He resembled a younger Favre after the game as he reveled in an unexpected playoff berth -- at least among analysts and those outside Halas Hall -- for a Bears team that began the season overshadowed by Favre's current and former teams.

"Just had guys going to work every day," coach Lovie Smith said. "Don't listen to a lot of the stuff going on around them. They do everything we ask them to do as coaches, and we haven't peaked yet."

Hester caught one of Cutler's touchdown passes and also took back the second-half kickoff 79 yards to set up a field goal a few minutes before his game-breaking punt return made it 27-7.

"Don't dwell on this," Hester said. "It's the record-breaker, but there's going to be a lot more. I guarantee you that."

Favre doesn't have many, if any, left. He finished 5 for 7 for 63 yards before the big hit by Wootton, but the Vikings (5-9) fell apart in front of their proud alumni attending the franchise's 50th anniversary celebration.

Favre managed one more joyful jump on a teammate's back to celebrate a touchdown, piggybacking right guard Ryan Cook before embracing Harvin and raising his left arm in triumph as he jogged off.

"It was a great opening drive," Favre said. "I probably should've went straight up the tunnel after that. But again -- you've got to try sometimes."

Vikings interim coach Leslie Frazier sounded in awe afterward.

"I don't know if there are any words to describe Brett Favre and what he has meant to his teammates, to me," Frazier said.

Smith was a little less enthused by Favre's quick healing.

"I assume 'out' means 'out,"' he said. "You learn something every day."

Former Vikings coach Bud Grant jogged around the field at halftime in a short-sleeve purple shirt, getting carried off by some of his former players after an inspired ceremony. With general-admission seating, customers braved the cold in parkas, snowmobile suits and ski caps, cheering their favorite players from the past as they were introduced at halftime.

Dozens of workers massaged the field before the game to make it as playable as possible, with machines pushing snow across the yard lines and into the corners of the brick-lined walls. Crews gently rolled off the tarp before warmups while the flakes kept flying.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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