YOU LOOKED atpaperboy-size Bears quarterback Rex Grossman warming up before Super Bowl XLIin his too-big shoulder pads and his altar-boy face and you thought, Hey, somekid won a contest to get on the field!
And after seeinghim fumble, trip and heave passes that looked like bags full of kittens whileleading the Bears right down the American Standard in a 29--17 loss to theColts, you looked into the lost eyes of Rex Grossman and you thought, Somedaysoon, this young man has every chance to be my server at the Olive Garden.
I mean, there isbad, there is terrible, and then there is Wrecks Grossman, who did for theBears on Sunday what scallions did for Taco Bell.
And it's a shamebecause after the murderous week he went though in Miami, getting shot full ofloaded questions from the world's media—many of which sounded like, "Areyou surprised how much you suck?"—it got to where you really started topull for him. You wanted him to chew up Peyton Manning himself, dachsund overDoberman, and make them all stick it where the blog don't shine.
But nobrain-bearing fan can actually believe in this guy. He couldn't do the simplestof things. He muffed snaps. He was intercepted twice. He fumbled twice. Hesacked himself. He seemed to be playing in ski boots and oven mitts. He cameinto this game with the reputation as possibly the worst quarterback ever toreach the Super Bowl and somehow tarnished that.
Yes, you say, butit was raining! Well, Manning didn't fumble a single snap, and he had way moreof them than Grossman. This might be because a few times a year Manning willdrag a big bucket of water onto the practice field and make his center snap himsoaked footballs. (And you wonder why some guys do all the winning.)
The differencewas, for the Bears things started falling apart when Grossman got the snap.
Just to give youan idea, check out this crucial series midway through the third quarter, whenChicago trailed only 19--14. After wideout Muhsin Muhammad picked up a nicegain with a catch on first down, here's what happened next:
Second-and-one:Grossman trips, loses 11 yards.
Third-and-12:Grossman botches the snap and falls on the ball like it's a live grenade, loses11 yards.
Next big series,Indy still ahead by five, fourth quarter. Grossman heaves a who-wants-it? partyfavor in the general zip code of Muhammad, but instead the pass is happilyswallowed up by the Colts' Kelvin Hayden, who returns it 56 yards for atouchdown.
"Inhindsight, I wished I'd thrown that one away," Grossman said after thegame. That's sort of like Mary Todd Lincoln saying, "In hindsight, I wishedwe'd stayed home and watched a movie."
Very next series,plenty of time left, Bears still have a chance, Grossman lobs one up for...whom? Nobody knows. Wideout Bernard Berrian has two steps on the defenders, butthe ball is nowhere near him. A man in a different uniform, the Colts' BobSanders, can get to the pass, though. He makes the interception and returns theball 38 yards. End of season.
"I didn't getit out far enough or right enough," Grossman admitted. How not far enough?"I wanted it 10 feet longer and about 10 more feet to the right."
Other than that,it was a very nice pass.
It's not as ifthe world didn't try to warn Bears coach Lovie Smith that his team needed aRexorcism. Some of Grossman's passing ratings in games during the regularseason screamed for it: 10.2, 1.3 and 0.0. Those are not quarterback ratings.Those are Paris Hilton's Wonderlic scores.
Smith was indenial. "We won 15 games with him!" he kept saying. No, you won 15games in spite of him.
To his creditGrossman didn't really make excuses, and there were plenty he could choosefrom: 1) This was only his first full season as a starter (though, quitepossibly, it was also his last); 2) He is not 6'5" like Manning, and he hasmore baby fat than an Iowa Chuck E. Cheese; and 3) Prince's halftime show wasso long, Grossman went 56 minutes without getting his hands on the football.(O.K., maybe that was a good thing for the Bears.)
During his LeastValuable Player press conference Grossman said that "after the hurt goesaway, this is going to be a great football team ready to win a SuperBowl."
For everybody'ssake, including Grossman's, let's pray he's serving all-you-can-eat breadstickswhen it does.
If you have a comment for Rick Reilly, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You wanted Rex to chew up Peyton Manning himself,dachshund over Doberman, but he seemed to be playing in ski boots and ovenmitts.
RIFFS of REILLY
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PETER READ MILLER