The Bears love that role. Send them on the road, tell them they have no chance to win. Push them to the brink of extinction. And then watch them respond. They were underdogs at Miami in November and knocked off the AFC East champions. They were decided underdogs again in Sunday's NFC wild-card game, but emerged with a 35-18 victory at the Metrodome.
"For some reason, we seem to play better on the road," said veteran defensive back Maurice Douglass.
This young Bears team is going places. And not simply to San Francisco for Saturday's playoff game against the 49ers, favored by 16 points.
Sunday's improbable victory probably will mean more to this club in the next year or two than it will in this postseason.
It was the Bears' first playoff victory since Jan. 6, 1990, and its first road playoff triumph since Dec. 30, 1984.
Saturday's sojourn to Candlestick Park to face the 49ers, the most successful team in the NFL this season (13-3), figures to be the end of the road for these Bears.
But then again . . .
Coach Dave Wannstedt has this 10-7 team believing they can leap tall odds in a single bound.
After losing twice to the Vikings during the regular season by an aggregate score of 75-41, the Bears thrashed the NFC Central Division champions in front of 60,347 fans.
"They are a good team and they have really been a thorn in our sides," said Bears linebacker Joe Cain. "Today was the best time to beat them. A playoff game and against a division opponent, who we hadn't beat yet. So we get two birds with one stone."
Vikings quarterback Warren Moon, who missed last Monday night's game against San Francisco because of a sprained knee, was out of sync with his record-breaking wide receivers, Cris Carter and Jake Reed.
"I was prepared enough to play in the game after the injury," said Moon. "But I got into a game where I had to throw, throw, throw. That's not the game that I needed to be in after what I was coming off of."
Meanwhile, Bears quarterback Steve Walsh, playing his best game in a month, completed 15 of 23 attempts for 221 yards and two touchdowns. He improved his record as a Bears starter to 9-3.
Even though the Vikings controlled the ball 34 minutes 39 seconds, the Bears won the turnover battle 4-2.
"Someone had thrown out the stat that the last 31 games in the playoffs, the team that won the turnover battle won the game," said Wannstedt. "I didn't know if it was true or not, but I threw it out for the players before the game."
The way the game began, it did not look like turnovers would be a factor in favor of the Bears, who turned the ball over on their first two possessions.
Lewis Tillman fumbled with 9 minutes 21 seconds to go in the first period and the Vikings' Henry Thomas recovered at the Bears' 6. A holding penalty on Minnesota lineman Randall McDaniel nullified a Vikings TD. Finally, Minnesota had to settle for a 29-yard field goal by Fuad Reveiz.
On the Bears' next possession, Walsh's pass over the middle hit the back of the helmet of Bears lineman Jay Leeuwenburg and bounded high into the air. Anthony Parker intercepted the ball and returned it 10 yards to the Bears' 39. Once again, the Vikings self-destructed with a holding penalty on tackle Chris Hinton. Following an incompletion by Moon, Trace Armstrong beat Hinton on a third-down play and wrestled Moon to the turf, forcing the Vikings to punt.
The Bears took the lead for good with 1:46 left in the second period when Tillman bulldozed in from the 1. The drive covered 80 yards on 16 plays.
Robert Smith returned Kevin Butler's ensuing kickoff 58 yards. Butler threw a shoulder into Smith to force him out of bounds and save a possible TD. From the Bears' 33, the Vikings again came up empty. Moon's pass intended for Qadry Ismail bounced off the receiver's hands and into the grasp of Bears linebacker Barry Minter.
The Bears took advantage of their takeaway. Walsh passed 52 yards to Jeff Graham, who stutter-stepped, weaved and sprinted to the Vikings' 14. Three plays later, Walsh rolled out on a bootleg and zeroed in on tight end Keith Jennings for a 9-yard TD pass.
The Vikings finally came to life late in the second period. A 38-yard pass and run from Moon to running back Amp Lee netted 38 yards to the Bears' 8. On third down from the 4, Moon was given too much time by the Bears' line and delivered a TD pass to Carter with :19 left until intermission.
A two-point conversion pass failed and the Bears led 14-9 at the half.
Mindful of numerous second-half collapses at the Metrodome, the Bears came out dealing in the third period, marching 75 yards in four plays. Rookie fullback Raymont Harris broke tackle attempts by Jack Del Rio and Vencie Glenn before sprinting into the end zone to give the Bears a 21-9 lead. It was the Bears' longest run of the year.
When Minnesota appeared to be closing in for one of its customary comebacks, Bears cornerback Jeremy Lincoln picked off a Moon pass with 1:55 left in the third period.
On their next possession, Minnesota got a 48-yard field goal from Reveiz, the longest playoff kick against the Bears.
The Bears countered with a 21-yard TD pass from Walsh to Graham to make it 28-12.
The Vikings stayed within striking distance on a 10-yard TD pass from Moon to Lee with 5:36 to go in the game, but a two-point conversion attempt again failed and the Bears led 28-18.
Reveiz dribbled an onside kick that Tom Waddle recovered.
The Vikings' last meaningful possession blew up in their faces when Moon's pass to Lee was fumbled. Bears defensive back Kevin Miniefield recovered it and returned it 48 yards for a touchdown.