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IS CHICAGO READY FOR FOOTBALL AFTER 26 MONDAY NIGHT LOSSES?

SHARE IS CHICAGO READY FOR FOOTBALL AFTER 26 MONDAY NIGHT LOSSES?

It all started in Detroit's Tiger Stadium Oct. 5, 1970. In only the third week of Monday Night Football, the Chicago Bears lost by two touchdowns.

The jinx was on.A quarter-century after their first appearance, the Bears have devolved into one of the NFL's worst Monday night teams. Even the great Chicago team of 1985 made the only misstep in its Super Bowl Shuffle on a Monday night.

The Bears' 26 losses on Monday nights are five more than any team, and the eight-game losing streak they bring to the Metrodome against the Minnesota Vikings Monday night is the longest skid in league history.

Unlike the rest of America, the Bears don't seem to be ready for some football on Monday nights.

"We've been so bad over the last few years," said coach Dave Wannstedt, 0-4 on Monday night since taking over in 1993. "But as I told our team, the reason that we haven't played well on Monday night has nothing to do with it being Monday night, or has nothing to do with who we play or where we play or the weather that we play in.

"It's been very simple. We haven't blocked well enough and tackled well enough to win on Monday night."

They usually aren't even close.

Until their 27-24 loss to Green Bay Sept. 11 - they trailed 24-7 in the first half - the Bears had lost their previous seven Monday night games by an average of nearly 20 points. Chicago hasn't won a Monday night game since beating the Vikings 34-17 at the Metrodome Nov. 11, 1991.

Even the dominating Bears teams of the mid-1980s struggled in the prime-time spotlight. From 1985-88, Chicago was 52-11 overall, but only 5-6 on Monday nights.

"Our media seems to make a big deal out of it, but the guys on the team haven't paid too much attention to it," quarterback Erik Kramer said.

The oddsmakers apparently have.

The Bears (5-2) were tied with Green Bay for first place entering the weekend, and were the highest-scoring team in the NFL at 29 points per game. Yet they still are 31/2-point underdogs against Minnesota (3-4), which has scored more than 29 points only once and has the league's 26th-rated pass defense.

But the Bears believe this game, against a team with a two-game losing streak and an injury-plagued offense, gives them an ideal chance to end their drought and show the country why they believe they can contend for the NFC title.

"We're excited about the opportunity to be on Monday night," Kramer said. "That's a reflection of the league thinking that we might be a good team. Hopefully this is our chance to show it."

In contrast, Minnesota is unbeaten in four Monday night games since Dennis Green became coach in 1992. That includes two wins at Chicago's Soldier Field.

"Denny always says it's the Monday night extravaganza, and that's definitely what it is," cornerback Dewayne Washington said. "You've got to go out and play your best, because you've got the whole country watching. It's a chance for us to put the last two losses behind us and get off to a fresh start."

It is crucial for the Vikings to keep their Monday night streak alive, or their playoff chances will be slim, even with half the season to go. A players-only meeting last week, in which unspecified individuals were singled out for selfish play, seemed to create a more upbeat atmosphere around the team.

"This is a game we need, and we have enough talent in this lockerroom to beat anybody," middle linebacker Jack Del Rio said. "It's a matter of getting on the same page and playing with some fire."

Do the Vikings feel they have an advantage because of the Bears' Monday night jinx? The question seemed to irk Del Rio.

"All that stuff doesn't matter," he said. "That's all part of the hype. It's what was. Monday night we'll find out what will be."