Little-known Hanie rallies Bears but falls short

By Steve Ginsburg

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Caleb Hanie went from obscurity to the brink of being the toast of Chicago on Sunday but the gutsy quarterback, whose boyish good looks belies his steely demeanor, fell short of rallying the Bears to a Super Bowl berth.

With first-stringer Jay Cutler ineffective before leaving the game with a knee injury and his backup Todd Collins having no luck, Bears coach Lovie Smith turned to Hanie.

Hanie, a Colorado State product, is virtually unknown to even the most ardent of NFL fans outside of the Windy City, having attempted just 14 passes in his three-year NFL career.

"I never felt out of it," Hanie told reporters. "I felt comfortable and that's how our team has been all year. Just fight, fight, and fight some more."

While Green Bay begins preparations for the Super Bowl on February 6 in Dallas, the Bears are left wondering what might have been if Hanie entered the game earlier.

"He went out there and laid it all on the line," said Bears cornerback Tim Jennings. "He came in, stepped up and played great. He gave us a good spark. We just fell short."

The 24-year-old Hanie completed 13 of 20 passes for 153 yards and a touchdown, leading the Bears' moribund offense to two scores in the final quarter.

But Hanie had a fatal miscue in the final minute when Sam Shields picked off an errant pass with the Bears driving for a possible game-tying touchdown.

Chicago coach Smith said he felt good about what Caleb was able to do.

"As the third quarterback, you don't get a lot of reps but he stayed in the game mentally and really felt like he belonged there," said Smith.

"We had an opportunity there at the end to tie the game and that was down to Caleb leading us. So I can't complain about his play at all."

Hanie said you "dream" about playing in such a big game "and try to envision what would happen if you have to go in the game."

"You don't expect to come in and play on a day like this," he said. "Especially the NFC championship game. But that's just how it goes sometimes. That's football."

(Editing by Frank Pingue)