Joniak: Memories Of Bears' Win At Cardinals In '06

There's no game I've broadcast that I get asked about more.

Jeff Joniak
April 03, 2020 - 4:42 pm
Categories: 

(670 The Score) Over each of the next seven Sundays, 670 The Score will air the rebroadcast of memorable Bears wins.

This Sunday at noon, you will hear the Bears' come-from-behind 24-23 win against the Cardinals on Oct. 16, 2006 -- known by some as the "Miracle in the Desert." Ahead of each, I'll share some of my favorite memories and observations.

-- There's no game I've broadcast over the last 19 years that I get asked about more. And for good reason. 

-- The Bears trailing 20-0 at halftime -- even against a one-win outfit like the Cardinals -- was at a minimum a daunting task to overcome. Winning the game 24-23 without benefit of an offensive touchdown was miraculous then and remains so to this day. 

-- The Bears set an NFL record for the biggest comeback without scoring an offensive touchdown in NFL history.

-- The Bears entered the game 5-0 with a Super Bowl-caliber defense and were facing a Cardinals team that had scored only 50 total points in their first five games. So I didn’t think rookie quarterback Matt Leinert would have a chance.

-- Leinert then completed nine of his first 10 throws and finished off the opening drive with a touchdown pass to Bryant Johnson. Then after a turnover, Leinert hit Anquan Boldin for another touchdown to give the Cardinals a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. "I was more irate at how well Leinert was playing against the defense," Bears Radio analyst Tom Thayer recalled. "My concern was, 'Oh my God if they can’t stop him, then there’s no way they are going to win the game.' The win was just a relief."

-- Bears quarterback Rex Grossman had a piping hot start to the season but threw two interceptions and lost two fumbles in the first half, and the offense sputtered to a stop. Fortunately, Cardinals kicker Neil Rackers missed one of his three field-goal attempts in the first half. If he hadn't, the final score might have been different.

-- Right before the second half started, sideline reporter Zach Zaidman made it clear that several players ran by him and screamed, "We’re going to win this game, we’re going to win this game." 

-- Zaidman recalled that moment. "They were so fired up," Zaidman said. "As explosive as the Bears offense had been to that point in the season, this was the game that made you believe anything was possible that year." It was the first win in Bears history in which they trailed by at least 20 points in the second half.

-- Spirited speeches by center Olin Kreutz and defensive coordinator Ron Rivera ignited the fire. Kreutz adamantly believed the Bears were going to win the game. Rivera’s defense proved to be the gasoline on that fire. 

-- Late in the third quarter, Bears rookie defensive end Mark Anderson sack-stripped Leinert. Safety Mike Brown scooped it up and ran in for a touchdown. It was a 23-10 advantage for the Cardinals. Later in the game, Brown suffered a Lisfranc fracture in his foot, ending his season.

-- In the fourth quarter, Hall of Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher stripped Hall of Fame running back Edgerrin James and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown. Suddenly, the Cardinals' lead was trimmed to 23-17.

-- Urlacher’s pregame ritual included having chocolate chip cookies waiting for him at his locker. It was head athletic trainer Tim Bream’s responsibility to make sure those cookies were ready. The team hotel delivered oatmeal raisin cookies instead. So ESPN broadcaster Chris Berman raided the company’s pregame buffet and gave two chocolate chip cookies to Thayer to give to Bream. "Berman gets an assist for Urlacher’s performance," Thayer laughed.

-- Urlacher had arguably the game of his career with 19 tackles. "We watched the film and everybody was saying that he just turned into the Incredible Hulk the last four minutes of the game, just killing people and running over and tackling whoever had the ball," returner Devin Hester said.

-- The rookie Hester then finished what the defense started. He returned a punt 83 yards for a touchdown and 24-23 lead. I remember being on the team bus after the game and hearing the Cardinals postgame show on the radio and hearing the call. It still gives me goosebumps.

-- Grossman completed only 14 passes, threw four interceptions and lost two fumbles. The Bears ran 16 times for 38 yards. And they won. Amazing.

-- Despite all of that, the Bears still had to sweat it out in the end. The normally reliable Rackers missed wide left from 40 yards in the final seconds. The Bears were 6-0, dramatically avoiding the upset.

-- I maintain that the type of character the team showed in that game propelled the Bears to the Super Bowl. They never stopped believing anything was possible. It was an idea planted by Kreutz and nurtured by coach Lovie Smith, who as we know always was a "glass half full" thinker.

-- Now on to the rant. I was wrapping our broadcast in the booth at the stadium when the infamous press conference from Cardinals coach Dennis Green occurred. It was the press conference heard round the sports world for perpetuity. I couldn't focus on our show, because all I saw and heard was an angry Green.

"The Bears are who we thought they were!" he yelled. "That’s why we took the damn field. Now, if you want to crown them, then crown their ass! But they are who we thought they were! And we let ’em off the hook!"

And the Bears were off to their long journey to the Super Bowl.

Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.