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It's been 35 straight seasons and 12 playoff appearances since the Bears last ruled the world.
If you're a Bears fan of a certain age, you can probably go through and name each installment of the Dirty Dozen without hesitation.
You also know that not every playoff elimination is created equal. Some were a direct kick to the kielbasa, as unforgivable as the winter wind off Lake Michigan.
Others were as predictable as parking tickets and potholes.
So let's take a look at each entry from least painful to the ones we still want back years later.
January 7, 1995
Look, no one was stopping the Steve Young juggernaut in San Francisco that year, least of all a Bears team that backed into the playoffs with a -36 point differential. Eliminating the Vikings from the playoffs in front of their home fans a week earlier was enough reward for our attention that season. Pain level: 💔
January 10, 2021
Frustrating, yes. Surprising, no. The most recent Bears loss will likely only be remembered for Mitch Trubisky's NVP award and the Javon Wims GIF that opposing fans will use against us for years. Pain level: 💔
January 19, 2002
This one hurt a lot at the time, particularly since it came only hours after Michael Jordan returned to the United Center in a Wizards uniform. But the truth is that the 2001 team won with a lot of smoke and mirrors, only to get exposed when the offense turned the ball over four times and Shane Matthews/Jim Miller combined for all of 89 passing yards. I still hate the name Hugh Douglas, though.
Pain level: 💔 💔
December 29, 1991
The '90s Cowboys got the first playoff win of their dynasty by dealing Mike Ditka a loss in what ended up being his final playoff appearance. (He'd be fired after a 5-11 record in 1992.) Tom Waddle turned in arguably the best performance on this list, catching a franchise-record nine passes for 104 yards and a touchdown before heading to Northwestern Memorial Hospital for observation after a concussion. Pain level: 💔 💔
January 15, 2006
Lovie's defense was rounding into power, but it wasn't yet good enough to keep Steve Smith from leaving tire tracks all over the secondary with 12 receptions for 218 yards and two touchdowns. It was painful to watch a first-round bye go to waste, but the next year's team would make up for it. Somewhat. Pain level: 💔 💔
January 13, 1991
The 1990 Bears rebounded to make the playoffs after going 6-10 a year earlier. But Jeff Hostetler and the Giants quickly made it apparent they hadn't improved to the point of rejoining the top of the NFC. It was the second-straight playoff elimination in which the Bears managed only a field goal. Pain level: 💔 💔 💔
January 8, 1989
If you ever want to argue that Bear Weather is a myth, here's your best weapon. Returning to the NFC title game for the first time in three years, neither the Bears defense nor the weather at Soldier Field could stop Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. Two of Montana's three touchdowns went to Rice, who caught five passes for 133 yards. Ditka was thoroughly outcoached by Bill Walsh as the Bears' best record in the NFC ended up meaning nothing. Pain level: 💔 💔 💔 💔
January 6, 2019
This is the only game on the list that literally hinged on the outcome of one play so there's no recency bias afoot with it being listed this high. And while I'm not as sure as others that the Bears would've gone into Los Angeles and won the following week, I sure wish Cody Freakin' Parkey would've given us the chance to find out. Pain level: 💔 💔 💔 💔
January 10, 1988
Arrange the next four any way you want to and I'm honestly not sure if I should've put this No. 1. Seeing Sweetness with his head in his hands after the final game of his career still hurts 33 years later. (I'd never read Tony Kornheiser's column on Walter Payton coming up one yard short until this week, but I'm glad I came across it. That guy could write.) Pain level: 💔 💔 💔 💔 💔
February 4, 2007
Those of you who were too young (or not alive) for Super Bowl XX might think I'm crazy for listing this third. And you might be right, particularly given that Devin Hester immediately spotted that Bears defense seven points against a Colts team that wasn't Peyton Manning's best. (That the Bears could've been up 14-0 had they converted Chris Harris' interception on the Colts' first drive is a great Chicago what-if that never gets mentioned.)
Still, no one was that surprised when Rex Grossman and the offense couldn't rise to the occasion and make a game of it in the second half. It was a carbon copy of most Bears' playoff losses — except that Prince played at halftime of this one. Pain level: 💔 💔 💔 💔 💔
January 23, 2011
Think of how different the legacies for Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler and Lovie Smith would've been with a Bears victory in this game (or in Week 17 a few weeks earlier). The only thing worse than losing a conference title game to our oldest rival at home was seeing our oldest rival hoisting the Lombardi Trophy two weeks later. The Bears have played two playoff games since (losing both). Pain level: 💔 💔 💔 💔 💔
January 3, 1987
I think this one is tops because it sowed the doubt that will follow us into every Bears playoff game until they prove otherwise. Despite losing Jim McMahon to Charles Martin's body slam in November, the Bears had still finished the season 14-2 and were drunk on the arrogance created from the Super Bowl XX win. No one thought the Bears could lose, even with Doug Flutie at quarterback.
Indeed, Don Pierson's article in that morning's Tribune read "Bears ready — if Redskins show up."
But Washington, which was a seven-point underdog, did show up behind Jay Schroeder and it was our first sign that the Super Bowl Shuffle might end up being a one-hit wonder.
(On the bright side, it resulted in the classic John Drummond remote spot below, which is still a perfect encapsulation of the drunken and unfound optimism that is Bears fandom 34 years later.) Pain level: 💔 💔 💔 💔 💔
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