Any NFL fan looking at Sunday’s matchups would have singled out the 49ers-Bears contest as one to watch. For Yale fans, however, the game had particular importance.

Not only did it feature the NFC Central-leading Bears and the up-and-coming 49ers, but a total of three former Elis. Dick Jauron ’73 came into the game having coached the Bears to a 4-1 start, with Than Merrill ’01 playing special teams for his squad. They faced off against a 4-1 49er team that featured ex-Eli wideout and recipient of “The Catch” Eric Johnson ’01. Not since Jauron and Calvin Hill both graced the sidelines of the Pro Bowl had there been this much of a Bulldog presence in an NFL game.

Take two playoff teams, add three Yalies, and what do you get? One incredible football game.

San Francisco’s young defensive unit helped the 49ers get out to a 28-9 third quarter lead, returning an interception and a fumble for touchdowns. Eric Johnson and the 49er offense also clicked early, as the wide receiver turned tight end had two catches for 24 yards, helping San Francisco score two offensive touchdowns as well.

When crunch time rolled around, however, Jauron and the Bears came roaring back. The crafty Yalie countered Johnson with two members of Michigan’s class of ’01, Anthony Thomas and David Terrell. The two combined for three scores, forcing the game into overtime with the score tied at 31.

The extra period proved to be the Bears defense’s time to shine, as Mike Brown picked off a bobbled Jeff Garcia pass and returned it 33 yards for the game winning score. With the 37-31 victory, Jauron’s Bears improved to 5-1, their best start since 1990.

We’ve seen Yalies assume the presidency; someday soon we might see one hoist the Lombardi Trophy. All we can do now is hope. And root for the Bears.

Week 7 Highlights

New Orleans at St. Louis: The Saints have done it again. To everyone in the league, the St. Louis Rams are an enigma. To everyone but the Saints, that is. To the rest of the league, the Rams are an unstoppable offensive force whose mastermind, Mike Martz, keeps everyone guessing at what they’ll do next.

Nobody guesses right.

Nobody except Jim Haslett and the Saints defense. The Saints intercepted Kurt Warner not once, not twice, but four times. They held Trung Canidate, coming off a near 200-yard rushing effort against the Jets, to under 20 yards. They controlled the pace of the game, despite the fact that they fell behind 14-0 to start. Aaron Brooks threw three touchdown passes without an interception, helping the Saints to the 34-31 victory.

N.Y. Giants at Washington D.C.: Two weeks ago the Washington Redskins were the worst team in NFL history. Now they’re one and a half games out of first place in the NFC East.

Two weeks ago, the words “Marty Schottenheimer” and “West Coast Offense” brought a stream of curse words from the mouth of any Redskins fan. Now their response involves playoff implications.

How Tony Banks, a Cowboy castoff, goes from chump to champ, is beyond me. Also beyond belief was the score on Sunday — Redskins 35, Giants 21.

Since I stated that I believed in the Giants, they’ve done nothing but lose. Maybe it’s the curse of the obscure Yale Daily News NFL column. That, or Kerry Collins is finally playing down to his potential.

Random Thoughts

Cincinnati 31, Detroit 27 — Matt Millen: “Harrington, Dorsey or Grossman. Hmm–“

Tampa Bay 41, Minnesota 14 — Alstott grinds the Moss off Tampa’s heels.

NY Jets 13, Carolina 12 — Two lame quarterbacks makes for one boring football game.

Baltimore 18, Jacksonville 17 — Cunningham is king in filling Elvis’ shoes.

Dallas 17, Arizona 3 — Plummer can’t unclog Cowboy curse.

Denver 31, New England 20 — Bledsoe can rest easier. Now he may get his job back.

Oakland 20, Philadelphia 10 — Just keep thinking the Chargers are the best in the West.

San Diego 27, Buffalo 24 — Flutie proves Johnson’s a flake.

Miami 24, Seattle 20 — ‘Fins earn win over Dilfer-less Hawks.

Indianapolis 35, Kansas City 28 — Seems Trent Green really was the second-best QB on the Rams.

Monday Night Preview: Tennessee at Pittsburgh

This should be a classic battle in the trenches between two powerful AFC Central teams. The Bus looks to run over Eddie George and the Titans, who look to get back on track after a slow start. Pittsburgh may be in first place, but the Titans are the Central’s defending champs.

The Verdict: Bettis continues his streak of 100-yard games on Monday Night, but the Titans win, 17-14.