For the moment, the spotlight belonged to him. "Number 29,
Raymont Harris!" said The Tonight Show announcer Edd Hall, and
the Bears' fullback bounded down the aisle of the TV studio with
a smile brighter than a neon applause sign. As part of the
opening for the May 1 show, which was taped in Chicago, Harris
and 13 teammates huddled onstage with host Jay Leno. Then the
players headed to their seats in the gallery. But just as Leno
was about to begin his monologue, one player lingered upstage,
jumping up and down, mugging for a nationwide audience.
"The stage manager was thinking, Get off! Go home! But I
couldn't help acting crazy, hogging the camera," says Harris.
"That's just the type of person I am. I was so excited to be on
Harris is just as enthusiastic about the season ahead. It
doesn't matter that he will play Ed McMahon to Rashaan Salaam's
Johnny Carson. Harris is simply excited to be back in the show.
Before the start of the '95 season, coach Dave Wannstedt had
grand plans for the 6-foot, 225-pound back. He said that Harris,
who had finished second in the club in rushing and receiving as
a rookie in '94, would touch the ball 18 times a game. The
fourth-round draft pick, who for two years had played in the
shadow of Robert Smith at Ohio State, would no longer be a
sidekick. Harris would be center stage.
July 31, 1996
The script had to be rewritten when Harris broke his right
collarbone in the season opener against Minnesota, an injury
that sidelined him for the rest of the year. In his absence,
Salaam, the '94 Heisman winner, took over as Chicago's featured
back, setting team rookie marks in both carries (296) and yards
Now Harris is healthy ("Bionic," he adds, referring to the
six-inch stainless steel plate in his shoulder) and back in the
starting lineup with Salaam, though there is no doubt which
player is the team's primary rusher. "Rashaan's the man," says
The offense will feed off the talents of both players; Harris is
the better receiver and blocker, while Salaam is the stronger
runner. Harris should average six to eight catches and carry the
ball 10 to 14 times a game. Salaam should catch three or four
balls a game and have 18 to 22 rushing attempts. If Salaam can
hold on to the ball--he fumbled nine times last season--Chicago
will have one of the premier running back tandems in the league.
"The great thing about having those two guys in the backfield is
that it really gives you a little bit of the old days, that Tom
Rathman-Roger Craig thing, where one back can block for the
other," says Wannstedt. "So we'll be able to throw to them both
and use them interchangeably."
Unlike the 1985 Super Bowl team, this Chicago squad features no
celebrities. (No player chatted up actress Sharon Stone in the
greenroom of Leno's show that night.) All the same, Wannstedt
feels his team is headed for stardom this season. And though
there are plenty of questions, the Bears are unfailingly upbeat.
Can Erik Kramer, the Clark Kent-turned-Superman quarterback,
repeat last year's record-setting performance? Kramer had the
best statistical season in team history, setting records for
most passing attempts, completions, yards and touchdowns. "I
fully expect he can have the same type of production, if not
better," says offensive coordinator Ron Turner of his
How much will the Bears miss wideout Jeff Graham (now with the
Jets), who set a team record of 1,301 yards receiving? Not all
that much, apparently. Chicago has dynamic receivers Curtis
Conway (12 TDs last year) and Michael Timpson (74 receptions
with the Patriots in '94) waiting in the wings, and second-round
pick Bobby Engram looks to be a steal.
Isn't the organization worried that volatile middle linebacker
Bryan Cox (page 12), the former Dolphin who signed with the
Bears as a free agent in February, might detonate at any moment?
"I love the guy," says Wannstedt. "I think he'll be a great
player and a great leader who will help us get to the Super Bowl."
But aren't thoughts of a Super Bowl appearance this year a bit
premature? After all, Chicago has lost six of its last seven
games with the Packers, the team favored to repeat as the
divisional champ. "We came close a year ago to beating Green
Bay," says Wannstedt. "We'll beat them because we're a better
team than a year ago." For the Bears, the road to the Super
Bowl, and the greenroom, runs through Green Bay.
BY THE NUMBERS
1995 Yards per Game (NFL rank in parentheses)
Rushing Passing Total
OFFENSE 120.6 (9) 233.9 (12) 354.6 (9)
DEFENSE 90.1 (5) 250.1 (27) 340.1 (19)
Staying Out of Trouble
Generally, the worst things that can happen to a quarterback are
sacks and interceptions. Erik Kramer avoided both of those cruel
fates better than any other regular NFL quarterback last season.
Among passers with at least 224 attempts, Kramer had the lowest
rate of "bad things" (sacks plus interceptions) per 100 drop
Fewest Sacks plus Interceptions per Pass Play
Drop backs Sacks Int. Rate
Erik Kramer, Bears 537 15 10 4.66
Troy Aikman, Cowboys 446 14 7 4.71
Neil O'Donnell, Steelers 431 15 7 5.10
Steve Bono, Chiefs 541 21 10 5.73
Drew Bledsoe, Patriots 659 23 16 5.92
PLAYER TO WATCH
Second-round pick Bobby Engram may lack size, but he certainly
won't lack for playing time. Chicago is counting on the 5'9",
192-pound rookie wideout to fill the slot position and return
punts. At Penn State, Engram set career records for receptions
(183), yards receiving (3,298) and touchdown catches (34). "He
can do the things Jerry Rice can do," says Nittany Lions coach
Joe Paterno of Engram, who won the Biletnikoff Award as the
nation's top receiver as a junior in 1994.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
Head coach: Dave Wannstedt
QB Erik Kramer 522 att. 315 comp. 60.3% 3,838 yds. 29 TDs 10 int. 93.5 rtg.
RB Rashaan Salaam 296 att. 1,074 yds. 10 TDs
FB Raymont Harris 0 att. 0 yds. 0 TDs
TE Chris Gedney 5 rec. 52 yds. 0 TDs
WR Curtis Conway 62 rec. 1,037 yds. 12 TDs
WR Michael Timpson 24 rec. 289 yds. 2 TDs
WR Bobby Engram[**] (R) 67 rec. 1,197 yds. 13 TDs
LT Andy Heck 6'6" 298 lbs.
LG Todd Perry 6'5" 312 lbs.
C Ed Cunningham[**] 6'3" 290 lbs.
RG Evan Pilgrim 6'4" 304 lbs.
RT James Williams 6'7" 340 lbs.
PK Kevin Butler 45/45 XPs 23/31 FGs
LE John Thierry 4 sacks 4 fum. rec.
LT Jim Flanigan 11 sacks 1 fum. rec.
RT Chris Zorich 1 sack 2 fum. rec.
RE Alonzo Spellman 8 1/2 sacks 1 fum. rec.
OLB Joe Cain 0 sacks 0 int.
MLB Bryan Cox[**] 7 1/2 sacks 1 int.
OLB Vinson Smith 4 sacks 0 int.
CB Donnell Woolford 4 int. 0 sacks
SS Marty Carter 2 int. 0 sacks
FS Mark Carrier 0 int. 0 sacks
CB Jeremy Lincoln 1 int. 1 sack
P Todd Sauerbrun 55 punts 37.8 avg.
PR Bobby Engram[**] (R) 19 ret. 9.8 avg.
KR Jack Jackson* 15 ret. 26.0 avg
[**]New acquisition (R) Rookie (college statistics)
* 1994 college statistics