Finally, in his third year, Simmons has arrived. He is third on the Pack with 31 tackles and is tied for second on the team with three sacks. The reason is no mystery, at least to Simmons. "I'm healthy," he says. "If I can withstand injuries, I should be able to prove that I can play at a high level."
Projected as a starting outside linebacker in his rookie season, Simmons went down in camp with torn cartilage in his right knee and didn't start until the third week. Then after seven straight starts, he was slowed again, this time by a pulled hamstring that plagued him for the rest of the season.
Again a starter in training camp in 1994, Simmons sprained his left knee in the third preseason game. He returned five games into the regular season, but Bryce Paup, who had been moved from inside linebacker to replace him, was playing at a level that earned him a trip to the Pro Bowl. Simmons became a situational player and a special teams member. By season's end he was so frustrated that he let the front office know about it.
"I'm a team player, but I don't think I'm a special teams player," Simmons said at the time. "I want more responsibility than just trying to beat somebody down the field in a straight line."
When the Packers let Paup shuffle off to Buffalo this season without even making him a contract offer, Simmons was partly mollified. But he still felt uncomfortable when he reported to training camp. "I didn't absolutely fill that void [left by Paup] in their eyes at first," Simmons said. "I honestly think they were looking for somebody else."
If so, Simmons brought a halt to the search with his play. Now he's so content he is talking about staying with the Pack when his contract expires after the 1996 season.
Jekyll and Hyde
Until rookie Rashaan Salaam blooms into the next Walter Payton, Chicago's offense will be known as Air Bear. For the most part, the erstwhile Monsters of the Midway, the franchise that gave us Nagurski and Grange and Ditka, have eschewed the smash-mouth style of yore for a fairly sophisticated passing attack. Chicago may be 3-2, but this clearly is not the kind of football Bear fans have come to know and love.
The Chicago passing game falls into two parts. The Good News Bears are the ones who have averaged 27.8 points through their first five contests. But the Bad News Bears are the ones who screw up in key situations. Consider what happened late in Week 4 against St. Louis: Trailing 34-28, the Bears faced a fourth-and-eight at their 49. Quarterback Erik Kramer talked the coaches out of calling a crossing pattern in favor of a short route to Curtis Conway. The pass was completed, but Conway was stopped short of the first down. "In hindsight," Kramer said, "maybe I should have stuck with the crossing route."
Here's another maddening thing about the Bears' passing game: Since he signed with Chicago as a free agent in 1994, Kramer has had his best four days statistically in defeat. On Sept. 12, 1994, he threw for 289 yards and three TDs in a 30-22 loss to the Eagles. The following week he amassed 261 yards, in a 42-14 rout by the Vikings. Also last season he totaled 309 passing yards in a 21-16 loss to the Lions. And then there was the recent game against St. Louis, when Kramer passed for a career-high 317 yards while becoming the first Bear QB to throw four touchdown passes in a game since Jack Concannon in 1970.