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It's a killer view. From the picture window on the east wall of Dan and Maureen Grossman's corner condo 28 floors above the trendy shops and bistros on Chicago's Michigan Avenue, you can look through a skyscraper canyon and see sailboats on Lake Michigan and waves lapping at the shore of a small, sandy beach. They bought the place three years ago after their son, Rex, a quarterback out of Florida, was drafted in the first round by the Bears, and they envisioned a decade of afternoons like last Sunday, when all 2,200 square feet of their prime Magnificent Mile real estate was buzzing with celebratory postgame energy.
Flat-screen televisions mounted at both ends of the living-and-dining room showed NFL games, and couches were filled with several dozen family and friends. ("It's not really a condo--it's a sports bar," says Dan, an eye surgeon back home in Bloomington, Ind., and a former Hoosiers quarterback.) Here was Nancy Grossman, Rex's 79-year-old grandmother. There were his in-laws, Bill and Gail Miska, up again from Tampa. In a far corner of the kitchen Rex was hunched over a plate of pot-roast nachos from Mike Ditka's restaurant. (Now, there's a Midwestern appetizer.) "I've loved playing football since I was a little kid," Grossman said. "But right now I'm really having a blast."
Two hours earlier and two miles away at Soldier Field, the Bears had remained unbeaten (5--0) in the young season with a 40--7 humbling of the Buffalo Bills, a team that came into Chicago at a respectable 2--2 and left with scarcely its pride intact.
For the fifth consecutive week the Bears defense, painstakingly built position by position by head coach Lovie Smith to play his Cover 2, was absolutely sick, yielding 145 net yards and forcing five turnovers. In five games the Bears have given up a total of 36 points, and they've sent Chicago fans and media scurrying for comparisons with the dominant and revered Super Bowl--champion Bears of 1985. "We have a bunch of guys who run and go boom," said middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
They have a quarterback, too. After sitting for most of his rookie year and missing nearly all of the last two seasons with serious injuries to his right knee (ACL) and left ankle (explosive fracture), Grossman has suddenly fulfilled the promise that his famous college coach saw--"He is the best pure passer I've ever coached," says Steve Spurrier, now at South Carolina--and that the Bears invested in. On Sunday afternoon Grossman threw his ninth and 10th touchdown passes of the season and remained the second-rated passer (100.8) in the NFC, behind only Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb (107.2). It is October, and the Bears are looking down at most of professional football. That's a killer view too.
Another living room. Another flat screen. More than 13 months ago. This time the setting is the basement of Rex and Alison Grossman's town house, down the street from the Bears' training complex in suburban Lake Forest, Ill., 30 miles north of downtown Chicago. It is the opening Sunday of the 2005 season, and the newlyweds--married in July--are sitting on their couch alone in front of a 60-inch screen. Rex is wearing an old-school plaster cast on his badly fractured left ankle. They order pizza and sit back to watch the Bears play the Redskins in hi-def.
"This is the life, huh?" says Rex to his bride, a former University of Florida cheerleader. His words drip with sarcasm. Two years earlier he had watched from the Bears' bench through most of his rookie season, and three games into his second season he tore up his knee. Fully rehabbed and ready to start in Year 3, he was bulldogged to the turf in a preseason game in St. Louis, and his ankle was crushed in such a way that a metal plate and 14 screws became part of his anatomy. ("I saw the X-rays," says Alison. "They looked like Frankenstein.")
The Bears would lose that 2005 opener 9--7, accumulating just 166 net offensive yards behind Rex's replacement, rookie Kyle Orton. Grossman felt so helpless and frustrated that he went on the team's remaining road trips, even in his cast. "This is going to sound strange," he recalled last week, "but when I was watching that Redskins game, I felt guilty, like I was letting the team down. There was absolutely nothing I could have done about my injuries, but I was thinking, What am I doing here?"
Alison says, "He never complained, but you could see how much he hurt. It's hard to see someone you care about get his dream crushed--not just once, but twice."
Still, the Bears' defense had carried the team to a 9--4 record by mid-December. ( Chicago scored more than 20 points only once between Weeks 5 and 13.) Grossman returned for two late wins before losing to the Carolina Panthers in a first-round playoff game in which he completed just 17 of 41 passes. With seven starts in three seasons Grossman was still a question mark.