On a mild, but damp Christmas Eve day in 2000, our team bus rolled through the streets of New Orleans. The city that was alive the night before was quiet as we pulled up to the Louisiana Superdome.
After a 6-0 start with the best offense I ever have seen, and talk of repeating as Super Bowl champs, my Rams needed a victory (and some help) to get into the postseason on the final day of the season.
Sure, a victory over the Saints would cap a 10-6 regular season. But unless the Bears beat the Lions that day, we didn't have a chance.
That's right. We had to lean on Cade McNown, Marty Booker and the Bears to help us limp into the playoffs.
I was just a rookie with the Rams, a sixth-round pick who played special teams, started a couple of games because of injuries and really earned my living covering kicks on the turf. But the idea of a playoff check and an opportunity to compete for a ring sounded pretty cool to me.
It might seem like a simple plan. Win and get some help. Not that tough.
However, as a player it weighs on your focus a bit. You aren't in total control and it's hard to keep your eyes off the stadium scoreboard during TV timeouts or when a position coach is trying to make adjustments on the sidelines.
Remember, NFL players aren't robots and in this situation emotions sway back and forth depending on the score from another city.
These present-day Bears are in the same spot. Win out and they have a shot, a chance to survive a stretch that has produced five losses over six weeks after a 7-1 start. Heck, win out and the head coach could come back for another season.
But it's just not that simple.
Sure, there are crazy playoff scenarios for multiple teams at this point of the season, but the Bears will focus on the Vikings and Giants, at least for now, as they need both clubs to slip.
You think Lovie Smith's players will be watching that scoreboard throughout the game Sunday? Of course they will. And they will know what happened to the Vikings before they even line up for the opening snap against the Cardinals in Glendale, Ariz., while keeping one eye on the Giants score all afternoon.
However, let's not forget about the game the Bears actually can control on the road against a bad team. That's the first step, the necessary step to staying alive heading into the Week 17 matchup versus Calvin Johnson and the Lions.
The Cardinals will be starting a rookie quarterback behind an offensive line that has just as many — if not more — issues than the Bears' unit. But they can play some football on defense and I don't see any reason why the Cardinals wouldn't lead with their blitz packages Sunday.
Why not? They have nothing to lose. This is a matchup where the game plan can get pretty wild.
It's not an automatic victory for the Bears. Not after watching this team slide downhill at an alarming rate these last six weeks. But it's a genuine must-win to continue the playoff narrative.
That game down in New Orleans more than a decade ago? We won 26-21.
And within a minute after the final whistle, Paul Edinger kicked the Bears to a 23-20 victory over the Lions at the Silverdome in Detroit. We weren't even off the field and the Bears had put us in the playoffs.
Man, those shrimp po' boy subs tasted good on the way back to the airport knowing we were in the dance.
Special contributor Matt Bowen, who played at Glenbard West and Iowa, spent seven seasons in the NFL as a strong safety. You also can find his work at nationalfootballpost.com.