Saturday marks the 10th anniversary of one of the most memorable victories in Bears history, a 39-14 rout of the New Orleans Saints in the 2006 NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field.
For the first time in 21 years, the George Halas Trophy fittingly returned home. It was presented to Halas' daughter, Bears owner Virginia McCaskey, at midfield during an emotional post-game celebration after the franchise advanced to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1985.
"You could see it in her face how excited she was," Lovie Smith said after his biggest win in nine seasons as Bears coach. "This was a dream for her for a long time. We told her we would do that. The team told her that they would bring it to her."
Saturday marks the 10th anniversary of a 39-14 rout of the New Orleans Saints in the 2006 NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field. We look back at photos from one of the most memorable victories in Bears history.
Fantasy and reality merged into one on Jan. 21, 2007 along Chicago's lakefront as the Bears overcame a lull early in the second half to register their most lopsided playoff win since hammering the New England Patriots 46-10 in Super Bowl XX.
Quarterback Rex Grossman, who led an offense that produced four touchdowns without committing a turnover, heaved the ball into the stands after taking a knee on the final play. Snow, confetti and thunderous cheers from jubilant fans filled the air as Bears players shared hugs and high-fives in the post-game bedlam.
The Bears generated four takeaways and outrushed the Saints 196-56. Thomas Jones set a franchise playoff record by rushing for 123 yards on 19 carries and scored two touchdowns. Cedric Benson added 60 yards and 1 TD on 24 attempts.
The Chicago defense registered three sacks and limited the Saints rushing attack to 56 yards on 12 carries. After gaining 143 yards on 21 attempts a week earlier in a playoff win over the Philadelphia Eagles, running back Deuce McAllister was limited to 18 yards on six carries.
The Bears took a 16-0 lead on Jones' 2-yard TD run with 1:56 left in the second quarter. But the Saints stormed back as Drew Brees threw touchdown passes of 13 yards to Marques Colston late in the first half and 88 yards to Reggie Bush early in the third quarter, closing the gap to 16-14.
New Orleans actually had a chance to take the lead on its next possession, but Billy Cundiff's 47-yard field goal attempt was well short. The Bears then scored the game's final 23 points, a run that was fueled via a game-changing play by the defense.
After Brad Maynard's 51-yard punt bounced out of bounds at the New Orleans 5, Lance Briggs and Mark Anderson pressured Brees into an intentional grounding penalty in the end zone, resulting in a safety that increased the Bears' lead to 18-14.
"They had a little bit of momentum," said defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, "We were looking to create something to get the momentum back and the safety came at a great time for us."
The Bears followed by scoring touchdowns on three of their next four possessions. Grossman engineered a key five--play, 85-yard drive by completing 4 of 4 passes for 78 yards capped by a 33-yard TD pass to Bernard Berrian. The speedy receiver caught the ball while tumbling backwards into the end zone after eluding cornerback Fred Thomas.
Two plays later, Adewale Ogunleye forced and recovered a Brees fumble while sacking the All-Pro quarterback at the New Orleans 26. The Bears converted the turnover as Benson bolted up the middle for a 12-yard TD run, extending the lead to 32-14 with 11:37 remaining.
Jones later clinched the victory with a 15-yard TD run with 4:19 to play, igniting a wild celebration that included the customary Gatorade shower for the Bears head coach.
"It doesn't get any better than that," Smith said after the game. "You start off early in the year—minicamps, training camp; all those things. You see how hard the team works, you lay out a plan and they buy into it. You want it to end this way."