MIAMI (Jan. 28, 2007) -- Coach Lovie Smith bounded down the steps of the airplane sporting an orange tie and several players recorded the biggest event of their football careers on camcorders.
The Chicago Bears returned to the Super Bowl on Jan. 28 for the first time in 21 years.
Their chartered plane had a big Bears logo on the side when it arrived at Miami International Airport. As they taxied up, the pilot opened the window of the mammoth jetliner and flew a giant Bears flag.
From temperatures in the teens, it took the Bears just three hours to reach a breezy 60-degree warmup on a trip that whisked them from snow-covered fields to palm trees.
It also took Smith just three seasons to land the Bears back in the Super Bowl for the first time since 1986.
The team hotel, five minutes away from the airport and miles from the glitter of South Beach, featured a big orange and blue 'C' on the elevator doors and a large sign above many of the doorways with "Finish" sandwiched by two Bears heads.
Smith said Jan. 26 his plan was to take keep the Bears on a normal schedule as much as possible. That will certainly be interrupted by media mob sessions the first four days this week, including one Jan. 30 at the stadium where they will face the Colts in a week.
"We're taking Halas Hall down to Miami. I'm a routine guy, and that's what we're going to do. You have distractions in Chicago. Distractions are everywhere. The guys will be fine," Smith said.
Now the Bears have reached the destination they've been talking about since last spring in their offseason workouts. All season long they've dodged the doubters, who questioned just how good are these Bears because they play in what is perceived as the weaker NFC.
Their 15-3 record was met with some skepticism, and quarterback Rex Grossman has been a question mark -- good one week, shaky the next, with a little of both thrown in throughout 2006.
The defense that led the NFL with 44 takeaways wasn't as tough down the stretch until a strong showing in the NFC Championship Game rout of New Orleans and its top-ranked offense.