CHICAGO -- Some players had just about reached the locker room. So had the coaches. So had the guys who carry the yard markers on the sidelines.
The Bears had had their celebration in the end zone. Cap Boso, who caught the pass that seemed to have won it in overtime, had been mobbed along the back wall at Soldier Field. The TV guys were doing their stand-ups on the turf. The loudspeakers were blaring that venerable municipal anthem, "Bear Down, Chicago Bears."
Boso was in the tunnel now, "hugging everybody, high-fiving, doing it all." Quarterback Jim Harbaugh was in the middle of a television interview with the guy from Channel 7, "live and in color, I think." The Bears had seemingly pulled out the most improbable of victories over a New York Jets team with a bent toward self-destruction. They had pulled it out with a pair of ludicrous escapes from extinction, once in regulation time, once in overtime -- a double Lazarus with a 2 1/2 twist, degree of difficulty off the NFL charts.
Or so it seemed. . .
Quietly, frantically, isolated from the celebration, the officials were huddling. They bunched together and began shooing players away, the few who were left. They were waiting, listening, waiting.
The play was being reviewed.
It might never have happened before, but it happened early yesterday morning. Instant replay took away a game-winning touchdown from an NFL team in overtime. Instant replay forced the coaches and the players and the guys with the yard markers back onto the field for what turned out to be one more play. It was ruled Boso had been tackled just before crossing the goal line on his 23-yard reception.
And then finally, with 18 seconds left in overtime, Harbaugh dove in for the game-winning score from 6 inches. They reviewed that one, too, before giving it the high sign. Bears 19, Jets 13.
Bears coach Mike Ditka had the 100th win of his NFL career.
The other 99 were nothing like it.
"Yeah, we got some breaks," Ditka said. "But these guys didn't give up. They played hard. They found a way to win. It's a lot nicer to find a way to win than to find a way to lose. This team has earned my total respect. We played our hardest. Maybe that's our remedy -- to play harder.
"Football has been my whole life, it's been my love. But these guys are my life and my love, too. And I'm a lot happier that this is their fourth win this year than I am for it being my 100th win.
"We were lucky. We'll take this one on luck. Maybe we'll get the next one on skill."
How lucky were they? They were luckier than any football team, at any level, has a right to be. With the full harvest moon shining down on the sellout crowd of 65,255, with the American Broadcasting Company hyping it to the hilt, the Jets did more than enough to win in the first 58 minutes of the game, and more than enough to lose it after that.
What did they do?
With two minutes to go in regulation, they held a 13-6 lead and were running out the clock from their 34-yard line. They had gotten the ball back when safety Brian Washington tackled Harbaugh at the 1-yard line on a quarterback draw on fourth-and-goal from the 2.
"I figured that was it," said Harbaugh, and so did several thousand people who suddenly filled the aisles and portals of this great old park.
Anyway, the Bears were out of timeouts. The Jets were looking at three safe running plays and a punt that would have left the Bears with the ball well on the Chicago side of the 50 and no more than 30 seconds left.
They gave the ball to Blair Thomas. It had been a splendid night up until then. Thomas would finish the game with 125 yards on 27 carries. But on that particular run, the Bears' Steve McMichael stripped him. The ball came loose. McMichael recovered. The Bears were alive.
And on a draw-plays-in-the-dirt kind of final drive, Harbaugh ended up hitting running back Neal Anderson with a 6-yard pass. When he landed in the near left corner of the end zone, there were zeros on the clock. Kevin Butler's extra point sent the game to overtime.
"We're very thankful," Ditka said, speaking for his exhausted, bewildered, grateful, undefeated team. "And we've got to get a lot better in a hurry."