Perhaps it was inevitable, a stroke of fate: the golden-boy-turned-black-sheep Rex Grossman would get yet another shot at the helm of the Chicago Bears offense.
In week ten of a disappointing 2007 season for the Bears, veteran Brian Griese suffered a sprained left shoulder that sent him to the sidelines and opened the door for a Grossman return.
The game took place in Oakland against the equally woeful Raiders, and this likely worked in Grossman’s favor. At Soldier Field, he probably would have been met by boos, a reception the former University of Florida standout and Heisman Trophy runner-up had grown accustomed as interceptions and fumbles became the earmarks of his game.
But with Griese down and a disinterested crowd in the stands, Grossman had the opportunity to step back into the limelight and see if he could shine again.
Grossman’s grand return began with a flashback to the Grossman who had been demoted: a fumble with less than two minutes left in the half, the game tied 3 – 3. But Chicago recovered, and Grossman found new life.
What ensued was no clinic in top-notch gridiron performance. The box score from Sunday’s game was littered with second-half incompletions from Chicago’s quarterback, resulting in a string of Brad Maynard punts. With barely three minutes left in the game, the Bears trailing 6 – 3, Grossman hit wideout Bernard Berrian for a 59-yard score, reminding Bears Nation why it had exalted the arrival of Rex Grossman several years before.
According to the company line, Grossman still occupies the position of a fill-in, playing his role until Griese’s shoulder is up to snuff. And Grossman’s sporadic play and lackadaisical attitude in the past warrants nothing more. (In the post-game press conference, coach Lovie Smith said bluntly, “It’s unclear who will start [next] Sunday.”) But Grossman did bring the Bears back from a slight deficit and he did lead them to victory.
What good is a spark when you’re looking for a fire? Bears fans are still pining for a return to 1985 — or, at least, for a solid defense that isn’t so fatigued by an ineffective offense that the whole team crumbles. Last year, when the Bears managed to arrive in the championship game against the Colts, they did so — offensively, at least — by limping in, not charging.
The good news for Grossman, though, is that football is quickly becoming America’s favorite game, and America is a land that thrives on the mythology of the second chance. True, Grossman may be pushing “the second chance” to its extremes, but if he gets the nod again this Sunday against Seattle, he may just be able to win a few hearts in Chicago. Maybe even the coach’s heart.
Already, naysayers are lining up. And it’s true that Grossman is not the long-term answer for the Bears. But is Griese the guy Chicago’s been searching for? If not, who waits in the wings? Is there any chance that some time on the bench has lit a fire under Grossman?
The idea of “the second chance” has a strong tug on our heartstrings, but, when it comes to popular appetite, there’s one question that matters most: “What have you done for me lately?” At least for a few more days, Grossman can answer that question definitively by pointing to the fourth quarter against the Raiders. This answer doesn’t make him a worthy NFL quarterback. Nor does it make him the future of the faltering Bears franchise. But it does give him a sliver of hope that seemed all but impossible just several days ago.