Winning a Super Bowl is no small deal, but ask anyone who watched the NFL in the 1980s and they'll tell you the Chicago Bears easily could have won two or three championships.
Those Chicago defenses, which boasted three future Hall of Famers, are some of the best ever. Add in one of the top three running backs to ever play the game, and it is somewhat astounding that those Bears squads only played in one Super Bowl.
Perhaps more than any other team, the Bears have the 49ers to blame for not accumulating more rings. The teams met twice in the NFC Championship game in a four year span, with San Francisco coming out on top both times. The 49ers went on to win the Super Bowl in those years, and it's hard to argue that if the Bears had beaten San Francisco that Chicago wouldn't have been the Super Bowl favorite.
“That great defense of the Chicago Bears would’ve won more than one Super Bowl if it wasn’t for the San Francisco 49ers," said Jesse Sapolu, an offensive lineman and four-time Super Bowl champion on the 49ers.
What made the rivalry so enthralling was the differing styles of the teams. The Chicago Bears lived and died by their defense, a hard-nosed, no-nonsense bunch that pummeled opponents. That's how it always was in the Windy City, and that's how it is today. Even though the Bears have some legitimate weapons on offense --quarterback Jay Cutler, running back Matt Forte and wide receiver Brandon Marshall -- they are still a defensive team through and through.
"It represents the city of Chicago," former Chicago linebacker Dick Butkus told the San Francisco Chornicle of Chicago's tradition of defensive excellence. "It's a tough city -- people work hard and give 100 percent effort, and you can correlate that with the way the Bears play defense. I think the fans really appreciate it."
Meanwhile, the 49ers of the 1980s were led by one of the greatest offensive innovators the game has ever seen. Bill Walsh pioneered the West Coast offense and mentored Hall of Famers Jerry Rice, Joe Montana and Steve Young.
When the teams met in the 1980s, Walsh's high-powered offenses had the upper hand over Buddy Ryan's menacing defenses. San Francisco outscored Chicago 51-3 in their two NFC Championship meetings.
On Monday, fans can expect another defensive battle. Led by Brian Urlacher, Charles Tillman and Julius Peppers, these Chicago Bears are a nightmare for opposing offenses. And the 49ers, once an offensive juggernaut, are also led by their defense. NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis lead a rock-solid linebacking corps that, along with a menacing defensive line, is allowing a stingy 292 yards-per-game. That mark is the best in the NFC and third in the NFL.
Adding to the intrigue of this matchup is the fact that the 49ers' current head coach, Jim Harbaugh, spent the bulk of his career in Chicago. San Francisco's previous head coach, Mike Singletary, also suited up for the Monsters of the Midway in the 1980s.
And if defensive aficionados get their way, this won't be the last time these two teams square off this year.