Mike Brown's overtime pick six against the Cleveland Browns deserves a deep rewind.
Updated: Nov 1, 2022
It’s November 4th, 2001. The 5-and-1 Chicago Bears are hosting the 4-and-2 Cleveland Browns. This is the last year of old Soldier Field, as the Bears will have to play in Champaign next season while new Soldier Field gets built. Champaign is of course the home of the Illinois Fighting Illini, but it’s located nowhere near Chicago.
We’ll talk about that storyline in a minute, but for now, let’s analyze this moment. An overtime game is thrilling in its own right, but how the Bears exactly got here is simply remarkable. Overtime just got started, but for Bears fans, they know from previous experience that anything can happen early on during OT.
Why is that exactly the case? To fully understand, let’s rewind.
The Bears entered Week 7 with a record of 5-and-1, but really, they should at least be 4-and-2. Last Sunday’s thrilling finish against San Francisco was something out of a historical fiction novel. It was truly a storybook ending as the Bears overcame a 15-point deficit halfway through the fourth quarter.
With starting QB Jim Miller exiting the game in the second quarter with a left hip pointer, things looked very bleak for the Bears. But Chicago overcame deficits of 28-to-9 and 31-15 to somehow force overtime.
Shane Matthews, the backup QB for Chicago, went against the odds and completed 12 straight passes late in the second half. Even still, the game seemed practically lost when the Bears offense faced 4th and 3 at the 49ers 8-yard line. But Matthews threw a frozen rope to tight end John Davis to keep the chains moving.
It took everything for the Bears to tie the game. Besides Matthews having to complete 12 consecutive passes, it also took an official’s review for the Bears to cut the deficit down to 31-29. There wasn’t indisputable evidence to overrule the initial call, allowing David Terrell’s touchdown reception to stand. Still, the Bears needed a two-point conversion to tie the game.
Gutcheck time for the Bears, and on their first-ever two-point conversion of the season, offensive coordinator John Schoop relied on the rookie tailback for an I-formation two-yard run. Anthony “A-Train” Thomas overcame the blitz and scored to tie the game. Incredible.
The 49ers simply ran out of time to drive down the field at the end of regulation. Luckily for head coach Steve Mariucci, the 49ers won the toss in OT and elected to receive. With Jeff Garcia, Garrison Hearst, and Terrell Owens all primed to make the Pro Bowl, Mariucci trusted his offense against the usually stellar Bears defense. It turned out to be the wrong move.
Trusting in Owens, Garcia connected with the future Hall of Famer over the middle. But Owens choked and dropped it. Going right into the hands of Mike Brown, the rookie safety caught the dropped pass and ran into the endzone for a pick-six victory. Just like that, the Bears are riding a five-game winning streak headed into another home game against Cleveland.
Remember how we said this is the last year at nostalgic Soldier Field? Chicago was reeling from the September 11th terrorist attacks, especially since it was quickly found out through United States law enforcement that the Sears Tower could’ve been one of the targets on a suicide mission. Al Queda notes from a captured terrorist operative proved that Osama bin Laden originally wanted to target the largest buildings in Los Angeles and Chicago but then ultimately changed his mind. Chicago firefighters even volunteered to drive to New York City to help out at Ground Zero, knowing quite well that the Sears Tower could’ve been just as bad as the inevitable tragedy of the Twin Towers kamikaze mission.
As the country continued to recover from the 3,000 people dead on that fateful day, the 2001 season turned out to be a true underdog year for the Bears. The Bears, who hadn’t won the division in 10 years and hadn’t even played in the postseason since 1994, entered Week 8 in first place of the NFC Central division.
In the last year of Soldier Field, in a season that had to start Week 2 one Sunday later due to the events of 9/11, the Bears helped the healing process of their fans by winning games in the most unconventional of ways. In three of the Bears’ five consecutive wins, Matthews or Miller each threw at least two interceptions per game. After scoring just 9 points through the first seven quarters of their season, the Bears scored 14 unanswered points to beat the Vikings, then demolished the Falcons and Bengals.
For a franchise who won’t even be playing in Chicago in 2002, a division championship this season is very crucial to try and lure free agents. Remember, the Bears had to settle on Champaign-Urbana to be its home next season due to Memorial Stadium having 11,000 more seat capacity than Ryan Field, the home of the Northwestern Wildcats, in nearby Evanston. Having the home games at the University of Notre Dame was an appealing destination, but with most of the fans living in Illinois versus Indiana, president Ted Phillips and the franchise decided that Memorial Stadium would be the best fit. New Soldier Field will be ready by the 2003 home opener.
Richard M. Daley, along with the NFL and city officials, decided to invest $587 to renovate Soldier Field. Only $200 million is coming from the Bears. The other 387-million came from bonds that would be retired from the city hotel tax. The Bears also had to take out a $100 million loan from the NFL for stadium improvements, but they plan to recoup their expenses from a personal seat license fee at new Soldier Field. In other words, this is a very expensive venture from the charter franchise.
The new stadium will have 61,500 seats, 8,000 club seats, and 133 luxury suites. But there will be fewer tailgate lots around the stadium to make room for its 2,500 space underground parking structure between the new Soldier Field and the Field Museum. As such, it’s very important for the Bears to remain relevant in 2001 so that fans will make the drive to Champaign in 2002 and will be still excited for the new stadium come 2003.
And as we see on the screen, the Bears are tied with the Browns early on in overtime. But the Browns are a Cinderella story in its own right.
The Browns are a new franchise, but not really. The old Cleveland Browns, who were owned by Art Modell, moved to Baltimore following the 1995 regular season. According to Modell, he “had no choice but to move'' because Cleveland didn’t have the funds to build a first-class stadium. When Modell said the move to Baltimore was official, a public referendum passed to fund the improvements to Municipal Stadium. It was too little, too late though as Modell wanted the Cleveland Browns to become the Baltimore Ravens.
Cleveland never won the Super Bowl, but in just its fifth season in Baltimore, the Ravens won the Big Game in dominating fashion. The Ravens had to begin operations in 1996 as an expansion franchise, but with two first-round picks that April, they drafted franchise staples in Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis.
The new Browns, meanwhile, entered the NFL as a 1999 expansion franchise. In a crazier twist of fate, the first-ever owner of the Browns would be Al Lerner, a close friend of Modell who had been with him when the Ravens began operations.
And to make matters even worse, the Browns could’ve drafted Kurt Warner during the 1999 Expansion Draft. They didn’t, and Warner went on to win the 1999 MVP and Super Bowl MVP trophies with the “Greatest Show on Turf” Saint Louis Rams.
But the 2001 Browns are starting to turn things around. In its third year of existence in the post-Modell era, and with the franchise keeping its records and colors of the former team, the new Browns are 4-and-2 and probably should’ve won their fifth game in regulation.
The ball fell right into Mike Brown’s lap one weekend ago, but not today thus far. In fact, Brown should’ve had a pick late in the third quarter, but the ball somehow fell out of his hands and right into the breadbasket of Kevin Johnson. Incredibly, the should-be interception became a long touchdown pass to make it 21-7 Browns.
That touchdown pass became the last score for the next 14 minutes of game action. The Bears scored what looked to be a garbage touchdown with under a minute to go in the fourth quarter. Shane Matthews was everything you’d expect from a backup quarterback. Matthews has thrown 50 passes thus far, only completed 30 of them, got strip sacked, and threw 3 picks. His fumble inevitably was scooped by Courtney Brown for the scoop-and-score on the first drive of the game.
The Bears haven’t led all game long, and if they win in overtime, their first lead would be the last lead of the game, en route to a Bears win.
And for the Bears to even have the opportunity for a pick-six overtime win, it’s something that a novelist would write.
Remember that so-called garbage touchdown pass that Marty Booker caught? Well, that touchdown reception shouldn’t have mattered. With less than three timeouts remaining and past the two-minute warning, Chicago had to recover an onside kick just to preserve the game.
And as if the football gods want Chicago to win because the Sears Tower was an initial terrorist destination, the Bears somehow recovered the onside kick to get a second chance.
The Bears should probably be called the cats due to the nine lives they endured the past two weeks at Soldier Field.
Just look at this onside kick again. Percy Ellsworth couldn’t handle the wobbling ball because of the unnatural hop that it took off the grass. Jerry Azumah, who formerly won the Walter Payton Award as the best Division I-AA player in the nation, knocked the ball back into play where backup linebacker Bobby Howard dove for the pigskin and grabbed it.
Simply incredible. But the Bears were still a long way away from tying this game. With under 30 seconds left and only one timeout remaining, the Bears had to use the sideline as much as possible. Two dump-off passes by Matthews kept the Bears 34 yards away from the end zone, and head coach Dick Jauron had to call the team’s final timeout after James Allen got wrapped up into the field of play.
Knowing quite well that this would be the last play of regulation, Matthews took his time in the pocket. Then, he stepped into his throw and delivered a hail mary heave. What do you do when it comes to a hail mary? Knock it straight down of course! But rookie David Terrell might’ve knocked it towards his teammates, and running back James Allen made an acrobatic catch right on top of Marty Booker for the potential game changing TD catch. Paul Edinger knocked home the game-tying Point-After-Touchdown to tie the score.
It’s just incredible that the Bears are in this spot. Dez White has overcome two bobbled passes to keep his feet in bounds, and the Bears only had a 3% chance of winning the game prior to the memorable onside kick recovery./
What a change of events. But unfortunately for Browns fans, they’ve seen this type of choke job before. From The Drive to The Fumble and from Red Right 88 to not drafting Kurt Warner, this fanbase has seen it all in terms of disappointments. Just whenever the Browns seem to have things wrapped up, John Elway miraculously drives down the length of the field, 98 yards to be exact, for the game-tying score. Just when the Browns seemed to be moving on to the next round of the playoffs, their fans saw Brian Sipe throw a pick in the end zone. And when Ernest Byner was a couple of yards away from tying the AFC Championship Game, he fumbled inside the five-yard line.
It’s deja vu all over again for the Dawg Pound nation. Or perhaps, maybe not. Even though the Bears won the coin flip, the Browns defense did what they did most of the game and held the Chicago offense to a three-and-out. It’s now up to former number one overall pick Tim Couch to get it done for the Browns.
Remember, the Browns selected Couch over Donovan McNabb in 1999. So far, McNabb looks like the better quarterback, but the Browns are one drive away from moving to 5-and-2. As such, it’s starting to look apparent why Cleveland selected the former Kentucky Wildcat first overall.
Granted, McNabb was put in a much better situation in Philadelphia than Couch in Cleveland. It takes a couple or even several years for an expansion franchise to compete, so the Browns might be ahead of schedule with a chance to go 5-and-2 headed into Week 9.
Couch has looked like a first-round pick today, and his most recent completion, a 16-yarder to Kevin Johnson, was anything but mediocre.
But the Bears defense has still looked great today, as evidenced by Roosevelt Colvin’s sack immediately following the Couch-to-Johnson connection.
Can the offense and Couch recover from this recent adversity and lead the offense from a 2nd-and-15 start? Or will the Bears, who haven’t been to the playoffs in seven years, win in OT for the second consecutive week?
The Bears are somehow finding ways to win games with journeymen quarterbacks in Miller and Matthews. Incredibly, the Bears also could’ve had Warner as their signal-caller. Michael McCaskey and Bears ownership called Warner’s agent. But Warner had to keep canceling the mandatory tryout/workout due to his upcoming wedding and subsequent honeymoon. And, during his honeymoon, Warner’s elbow ballooned to the size of a grapefruit when he got bit by a spider or centipede, disallowing him from throwing the football for a couple of weeks.
Call it questioning Warner’s toughness or being extremely frustrated with Warner consistently postponing the workout, but the Bears didn’t call Warner following his unfortunate honeymoon bug bite. The rest of the story is history: Warner won the MVP and Super Bowl MVP awards in 1999, and in 2000, the Rams offense looked like the best one of all-time before Warner had to miss significant time due to a broken middle finger on his throwing hand.
Still, the Rams offense almost made a valiant comeback during last season’s Wild Card Round, and with Warner now 100% healthy in 2001, it’s looking worse of a decision that McCaskey didn’t give Warner a third chance to work out with the team.
All bad decisions aside, the Bears can still win in overtime at old Soldier Field. Soldier Field is running out of time for memories, but time is starting to stand still for Chicago. Just last week, the Bears came from oblivion to impossible victory. But there’s no way, even when the team scored 14 points in less than a minute, to win in overtime again, right? And there’s no way that the Bears could win on a defensive touchdown? Well, when Mike Brown plays on your team, anything is possible. Welcome to a moment in history.
Thanks for watching this version of Rewinder. Make sure to comment below and subscribe to SBS, and if you’re wondering….the Bears went on to win the division….the Browns went on a collapse and ended up missing the 2001 postseason.