Bears-Lions: And the winner is…

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Bears-Lions: And the winner is…

Coach John Fox addressed his team at a special meeting on Friday. While he wasn’t getting into details of his remarks, the general tenor was clear for the wrap-up of a season of reforming a destitute culture within one of the NFL’s marquee franchises.

“I think this is unique in that you're kind of finishing one season and beginning another year so how you finish is important,” Fox said.

The specific outcome of the Bears-Detroit Lions game Sunday has not mattered since the playoffs dealt both teams out over the past couple weeks. But it does matter in the minds of Bears coaches who’ve worked since last January to install not only different systems in all three phases, but also a different mindset around winning.

[MORE: Complete Bears-Lions coverage on CSN]

So while the stated objective of avoiding a second straight season with double-digit losses may seem both meaningless and menial, it isn’t for those invested in the process and wanting to be part of a Bears future.

It was more than coincidence that GM Ryan Pace’s first three signings in free agency were two players from winning Super Bowl teams – Pernell McPhee, Antrel Rolle – a third who’d been part of playoff teams two of his previous four seasons – Eddie Royal – and a fourth who anchored offensive lines for playoff teams two of his last three seasons – Will Montgomery.

The point has been to import building blocks with talent and character and, particularly now, to “get some good energy in the building, some wins, some confidence,” said quarterback Jay Cutler. “Because I really don’t feel like that we’re that far off.”

A season on the rebound from its 0-3 start went completely off the rails with losses to lesser opponents with losing records (San Francisco, Washington). A victory over Detroit does not give the Bears a winning record. But it would end a five-game losing streak against the Lions, longest run of futility against that division rival since the six straight losses from 1968-70.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Coaches and personnel staff will be continuing an evaluation process that has been going on for nearly a year for more than a few players. But the bigger focus is on building a culture from within.

“It’s mostly about trying to stay positive,” said defensive end Willie Young, “and keeping all the young guys on the same page and doing whatever it takes to get this thing rolling again.”

And the winner is…

For all of the talk of attitude shifts, none of that really happens without wins to sustain confidence of players in themselves and in everything the coaching staff is presenting. For most of this season, that has been present as the schemes of coordinators Adam Gase, Vic Fangio and Jeff Rodgers put players generally in positions to make plays, and players not making them and pointing thumbs, not fingers.

The Lions (6-9) are a better team than they were when the scraped out an overtime win at Detroit back on Oct. 18, the first of the three times the Bears (6-9) played and failed to reach .500. The Bears? Not so sure what they’ve become.

The Bears had lost three straight before thumping the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Sunday. The Lions have won their last two and five of seven since a 1-7 first half-season with the only win over the Bears. The Lions are wondering about the future of head coach Jim Caldwell; the Bears don’t have a head-coaching question but do have others about themselves and the ability to target a game and win it.

“It would be big,” said cornerback Tracy Porter. “To have that momentum going into the offseason, to finish the season out on a two-game wining streak, that would create huge momentum leading into next year.”

So who comes out of Sunday with momentum?

Moon's prediction: Bears 23, Lions 17

Recalling Bears RB Rashaan Salaam: a gentle young man, now dead at age 42

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AP

Recalling Bears RB Rashaan Salaam: a gentle young man, now dead at age 42

The thing that stood out about Rashaan Salaam to this reporter was the genuine humility that once prompted him to ask, “Why do you want to talk to me? I haven’t done anything yet. You should talk to these guys,” gesturing down the locker-room way toward some of his offensive linemen.

So on Tuesday when the news hit that Salaam had been found dead of undetermined causes in a Boulder, Colo., park at age 42, the first thought, after abject disbelief, was what kind of young man the Bears’ 1995 first-round draft choice was. And your mind goes back to Andy Heck, one of those offensive linemen, saying after Salaam had suffered a knee injury in a game at Cincinnati, that “Rashaan didn’t say anything, just was there in the huddle, his leg actually shaking from what must have been the pain.”

Salaam had won the 1994 Heisman Trophy as a running back topping 2,000 rushing yards with Kordell Stewart and the Colorado Buffaloes. "He was very coachable," former Colorado coach Bill McCartney said, via the school's website. "He had a happy heart. I loved being around him. He didn't take himself too seriously, and he always credited those around him, especially his offensive line. What I liked about him is that he had a sparkle in his eye. He was upbeat and positive."

Bears then-personnel chief Rod Graves made Salaam the 21st pick of the 1995 first round, and Salaam proceeded to then have one of the great rookie seasons in Bears history – 1,074 rushing yards (then a Bears rookie record, since eclipsed by Matt Forte and Anthony Thomas), and 10 touchdowns (exceeded only by Gale Sayers). Salaam was named NFC offensive rookie of the year.

But his year was marked by 10 fumbles (or nine, depending on the source), which became the lasting recollection of a season in which Salaam, Erik Kramer, Curtis Conway and Jeff Graham set franchise records for offense but missed the playoffs.

Salaam never completely shook free of the knee issues, giving way to Raymont Harris over the next two seasons before he left as a free agent (he had signed just a three-year rookie deal, gambling on reaching free agency sooner) after rushing for just 608 yards combined for 1996-97. After stops with Green Bay and Cleveland in 1999, Salaam played briefly in Canada and finished his football with the Toronto Argonauts in 2004.

He managed is money and was comfortable in retirement. But he confided to former colleague Fred Mitchell of the Chicago Tribune several years ago that his partying and use of marijuana contributed to his downfall as a player. "I had no discipline,” Salaam said. “I had all the talent in the world. You know, great body, great genes. But I had no work ethic and I had no discipline. The better you get, the harder you have to work. The better I got, the lazier I got."

Salaam told Pro Football Weekly a couple of years ago that he remained a Bears fan. "It's always great sitting down every Sunday to watch the Bears play," Salaam said.

"Legendary organization, gave me my chance 19 years ago, so they'll always be very dear to my heart."

CSN to chronicle Bears vs Packers rivalry on next installment of Bears Classics

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CSN to chronicle Bears vs Packers rivalry on next installment of Bears Classics

‘Bears Classics’ presented by Xfinity to debut Tuesday, December 13 at 9:00 PM CT -- Exclusively on CSN

Narrated by Chicago Bears/Pro Football Hall of Fame legend DICK BUTKUS

Chicago, IL (December 6, 2016) – CSN Chicago and the Chicago Bears will debut a brand new installment of its partnered Bears Classics presented by Xfinity Emmy award-winning documentary series when the network will chronicle the history of pro football’s longest and, without question, fiercest rivalry: the Chicago Bears vs. the Green Bay Packers.

Debuting Tuesday, December 13 at 9:00 PM CT exclusively on CSN, Bears Classics will reflect back to the conflict that began in 1921 when the National Football League's charter franchise, the Chicago Bears, met an independent team that joined the league that year, the Packers from Green Bay, Wisconsin.  With more than 1300 NFL games played for each franchise, the win-loss records are nearly even as the Bears hold an overall advantage, while the Packers lead in total championships (13-9).  From the big city on Lake Michigan to the small town some 200 miles north, the Bears & Packers continue to make their mark as combatants in pro football's oldest rivalry.  

This special edition of CSN’s Emmy-winning Bears Classics documentary series, subtitled The Longest War - Bears versus Packers, will once again be narrated by Chicago Bears legend/Pro Football Hall of Famer Dick Butkus.  Butkus played for the Bears from 1965-1973 and is credited for redefining the middle linebacker position.  He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979.  CSN’s Sarah Lauch is the Executive Producer of Bears Classics, Willie Parker is the Producer, and Kevin Cross is the network’s Senior Director of News & Original Content.

In addition to the documentary narration by Butkus, among the numerous players/media/execs interviewed in this edition of Bears Classics include exclusive interviews with the following individuals:

GALE SAYERS

Bears Halfback (1965-71)

MIKE DITKA

Bears Tight End (1961-76); Bears Head Coach (1982-92)

BRIAN URLACHER

Bears Linebacker (2000-12)

LANCE BRIGGS

Bears Linebacker (2003-14)

DAN HAMPTON

Bears Defensive End/Tackle (1979-90)

GEORGE MCCASKEY

Bears Chairman

LOVIE SMITH

Bears Head Coach (2004-12)

JIM MILLER

Bears Quarterback (1999-2002)

DENNIS McKINNON

Bears Wide Receiver (1983-89)

BRETT FAVRE

Packers Quarterback (1992-2007)

AARON RODGERS

Packers Quarterback (2005-present)

JERRY KRAMER

Packers Right Guard (1958-68)

JAMES LOFTON

Packers Wide Receiver (1978-86)

Please note the following quotes from CSN’s premiere airing of Bears Classics: The Longest War - Bears versus Packers, debuting Tuesday, December 13 at 9:00 PM CT:

MIKE DITKA (on the Bears-Packers rivalry): "It was a war based on respect. I never disliked them. I would say they had something we wanted because they had a better team and had championships, and we finally did get one.”

BRETT FAVRE (on Bears & Packers Hall of Famers): "I was talking and said 'surely, the Packers have the most Hall of Fame members.’ Well, we're four short; it's the Bears that have more. So we still have a few more to go...says a lot about the Bears.”

BRIAN URLACHER (on playing against Packers QBs Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers): "Aaron’s a little more mobile…Brett ran, but he didn’t like run to create.  Aaron kind of dances around back there and will wait until the guys break open, Brett would just throw it no matter what.”

JERRY KRAMER (on the teachings of Packers legendary head coach Vince Lombardi): "We never got beat. The clock ran out when the other team had more points when we did, but we never lost a game. So it’s that constant…will to win and that will to excel.  Those are the things that endure.”

GALE SAYERS (on Packers/Bears games at Wrigley Field): "You came out here and you knew that the fans would be on your side.  It would be different if they were in Green Bay or something, hell, they’d kill you, but here, no way.  And we played Green Bay on that field a long time.”

CSN will also re-air this episode of Bears Classics on Saturday, December 17 at 10:00 PM and again on New Year’s Eve (Dec. 31) at 7:00 PM.  Details regarding January’s premiere episode of Bears Classics will be announced in the coming weeks.  In addition, fans can also get interactive prior and during every airing of Bears Classics with their thoughts, memories and comments by utilizing the Twitter hashtag #BearsClassics.  Plus, CSNChicago.com will provide additional, online exclusive interviews and commentary write-ups from CSN’s team of Bears experts.