For Chicago Bears fans in their 30s, or early 40s, it might be hard not to compare Sunday’s quarterback showdown at Soldier Field with a similar contest 22 years ago. This one will hopefully end far better for the Bears in both the short and long term.
The San Francisco 49ers are led by a raw, second-year quarterback with tantalizing physical tools. They face a Bears team with a second-year quarterback who struggled as a rookie but was more highly thought of as a complete player. On Sept. 3, 2000, the Minnesota Vikings – a playoff team the year previous – started Daunte Culpepper, a raw, second-year quarterback with tantalizing physical tools. He faced Cade McNown, a second-year quarterback who struggled as a rookie but was more highly thought of as a complete player.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: I watched this game as a college student at the ESPN Zone in Times Square. Most bars in NYC still didn’t have league-wide accessibility.]
That game ended up being perhaps McCown’s best as a professional. He completed 27 of 41 passes for 290 yards and two touchdowns. He didn’t throw an interception. He also ran for 87 yards on 10 attempts, adding another touchdown. The Bears managed 425 yards and 27 points, and the Gary Crowton offense looked like the future of the league.
But the Bears lost the game.
Culpepper struggled as a passer, completing just 13 of 23 passes for 190 yards and an interception. He didn’t throw a touchdown pass but ran for three scores and 73 yards. A 20-9 Bears lead disappeared in the second half but both teams exited Week One feeling good about their young passers. Ultimately, neither proved a long-term answer. McCown was benched eight weeks later and exited the NFL abruptly. Culpepper had a far more substantial career, but the Vikings continually fell short of lofty expectations.
What can we learn? Simply that one game does not make a season and certainly won’t define a career. But the quarterbacks will always be connected.