BEARS OLD AS YESTERDAY’S BAD NEWS

CHICAGO — It was like watching one of your favorite TV shows get canceled.

Washington 27, Chicago 13.

Bad news, Bears.

Yes, America, the airwaves are safe once more. No more videos. No more Super Bowl shuffles. No more Taco Bell commercials, if we’re lucky. McMahon, Payton, Ditka, the Fridge? All passe now. This is 1987. The Redskins advance, the Bears go back, where? Their caves, I guess.

Oh, they carried it off for a while, this charade that they were as tough as last year. Carried it off right up to the time they had to start proving it
— their first playoff game.

Washington 27, Chicago 13.

Bad news.

What did it? What knocked them off their golden platters? The Redskins, for one. Mistakes, for two. And the absence of a certain pair of sunglasses, wrapped around a certain mousse- soaked hairdo, attached to a certain “Beat me, hit me, hurt me” body.

Jim McMahon is like cough syrup; tastes terrible, but does the job. And without him, this team is simply Chicago, circa 1983. True, the Bears, who live to defend, would prefer to play football with no points. Just beat each other up for 60 minutes and the team with more bodies left wins.

Unfortunately, sooner or later the ball winds up in the hands of their offense, which Saturday meant it wound up in the hands of the other team’s defense.

Which is not good.

A Doug Flutie interception was parlayed into a touchdown. A Walter Payton fumble was parlayed into a touchdown. Fourteen points down to the Bears is impossible. Fourteen points up on the Bears is fat city.

Washington 27, Chicago 13.

I’m very disappointed,” said Refrigerator Perry, in the quiet locker room afterward. “The playoffs are what we live for.” Judging by how much of his waist now hangs over his belt, he lives for a few other things, too, most of them with frosting.

By the way, in case you’re wondering what the Chicago Bears look like in defeat, they look, well, mortal. Mike Singletary hung his head. Walter Payton was barely audible. Doug Flutie was, where was he? Oh. There. Behind all those reporters.

I’m sorry, but I just can’t get with Flutie as the quarterback of this team. It’s like asking Donny Osmond to front for Twisted Sister.

But this is what the Bears have become. McMahon went down, Steve Fuller and Mike Tomczak faltered, and — poof! — Doug Flutie is signed. Kind of like a birthday present from your grandmother. You appreciate the thought, but do you really have to wear it?

“He didn’t have his best day out there,” Ditka said of Flutie (11-for-31, two interceptions) afterward. “But he’ll bounce back. He’s a tough kid.”‘

Yeah. Well. Those are nice words. But I get the feeling that for every second past two that Doug Flutie holds the ball, Mike Ditka’s stomach creeps another inch up his windpipe.

If at all possible, Flutie exited this game shorter than when he came in. He threw like a college quarterback, which is still pretty much what he is.

He wasn’t the only problem (the defense messed up, too). But he was indicative of the Bears’ imbalance. It’s not enough to keep stuffing your opponents. You have to deposit the ball in the end zone now and then.

No deposit, no return.

Bye, bye, Bears. With two minutes remaining Saturday, Ditka wandered along the sideline to within a few feet of Jim McMahon. There was his injured quarterback — out since November — dressed in jeans, boots and a jacket with animal fur that stretched over his injured right shoulder.

It is hard to know what Ditka was thinking at that moment. “Why couldn’t you be a lefty?” is a good guess.

Instead he could only watch Washington’s Jay Schroeder (who strongly resembles Tommy Lee Jones, with bleach) do the things his own quarterbacks could not do. Dump passes to the running backs, read the defenses correctly, avoid interceptions.

And be tall.

In the end, Schroeder walked off the winner — another case of Goldilocks outsmarting the bears — and the biggest sports celebrities of 1986 became the second major casualties of 1987, right after the Miami Hurricanes.

In a way, it was almost sad, the final scene: Flutie helpless, Payton fumbling, McMahon in street clothes — maybe not your street or my street, but somebody’s street — Perry, a blown-up version of himself, fat and slow and ineffective.

“We’ll be back,” Ditka said afterward.

And we’ll keep your name on file, Mike. But for now, gone is gone. And if you are a Bears fan, try to be strong. Take to heart the words of an optimistic Chicagoan as he stumbled out of Soldier Field on Saturday night.

“Well,” he said, “there’s always the Cubs.”

Now that’s an optimist.

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