Super Bowl XLI had just ended and a handful of Bears beat writers made their way into the locker room at Dolphin Stadium.
The horde of media formed around various players from the Bears and Colts at various stations where they held postgame press conferences, but the refuge of the locker room seemed a far better place to find answers of substance.
Most of Lovie Smith's team either was at the interview stations, in showers or the trainer's room but linebacker Lance Briggs stood by himself in the locker room answering all questions.
This was a completely spent and crestfallen athlete at a vulnerable moment. Briggs soulfully and accurately pointed out the sad part of their 29-17 loss is you never know if you'll get another chance because of how extremely difficult it is to get there.
He put extra emphasis on the extremely difficult part.
Briggs was right, of course.
They never did get back, although they had a good shot in 2010 until Jay Cutler came up lame and Green Bay's B.J. Raji picked off Caleb Haney for a decisive touchdown.
The reasons they haven't been back go beyond how difficult it is. They are entirely simple and the start of Super Bowl week is a good time to reflect on this.
They haven't been back there since Feb. 4, 2007 for the same four reasons they haven't won one since Mike Ditka and Buddy Ryan were hauled off the field in the Superdome on players' shoulders Jan. 26, 1986.
If you follow the team, you probably know the reasons and if anyone gives you others they're just clouding the real issues.
4. They haven't drafted well
The team drafting best wins. Free agency is an expensive patch job.
The Bears under GM Ryan Pace spent the first three years patching because of his mediocre job on draft day. Horrible decisions like trading draft picks to pass on Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson and select Mitchell Trubisky at No. 2 were followed with the right decisions on players like Roquan Smith, Eddie Jackson and Cody Whitehair.
As time went on, Pace improved at drafting but had no first-round picks because he traded them away for the pass rusher he couldn't come up with on his own earlier.
There was no rhyme or reason to GM Phil Emery's picks. He talked a good game, drafted Kyle Long, Kyle Fuller and Alshon Jeffery, and also in the first four rounds took Shea McClellin, Brandon Hardin, Jonathan Bostic, Khaseem Greene, Evan Rodriquez, Ego Ferguson, Will Sutton and Khaseem Greene.
GM Jerry Angelo hit it big with one pick after another coming out of the gate, and built that team Briggs played on in the Super Bowl. By 2007, the picks like Matt Forte and Greg Olsen were being overshadowed by Dan Bazuin, Garrett Wolfe, Michael Okwo, Chris Williams, Marcus Harrison, Jarron Gilbert, Juaquin Iglesias, Major Wright, Stephen Paea and Gabe Carimi.
That last group included only players selected in the first three rounds, which pretty much explains why the Bears were as bad as they were much of the last decade.
The list didn't even include Chris Conte. He was a major success story compared to the others.
3. They haven't had a quarterback
The NFL is about quarterbacks. If your quarterback isn't good enough, the only way you're getting there is by building a defense so dominant they carry the team. This has always been tough to do since free agency began because it requires numerous players, numerous draft day successes and/or signings.
But it's still tougher apparently to pinpoint that one player with the arm talent and ability to rapidly process what's happening on the field on a given play than it is to find all these other players at their positions. This is because there are so few who can both throw it and read it quickly.
Trent Dilfer and Joe Flacco could win Super Bowls because they rode the coat tails of tremendous defenses. Rex Grossman quarterbacked the Bears to the Super Bowl because Lovie Smith and Angelo built a tremendous defense. Those happened in 2012 and earlier, before passing completely seized the game.
Jay Cutler was a .500 quarterback, 51-51. Mitchell Trubisky even has a better record as starter, and the Bears haven't won a playoff game with him.
The rules favor passing more than ever now. More thought by coaches goes into the passing game, so it becomes tougher and tougher to make it back with defense alone.
The Bears tradition is running backs and defense. That's a losing tradition now. Anyone who tries building a team this way is a fool. It might even be impossible.
Until the Bears get this situation fixed, until they have a quarterback, they'll never get back.
The Bears know this. It explains all the hoopla over a quarterback in Houston who the Bears have absolutely zero chance of landing in a trade.
2. The wrong leaders
Angelo was a friendly guy with a good knowledge of the game the way it was played in the 1990s and early part of the next decade. However, the extreme importance of passing seemed to escape him as the game passed him by.
Then he panicked and reached for the convenient low-hanging fruit, an angered quarterback in Denver who seemed to have the skills but no leadership qualities. The Bears were locked into Cutler for nearly a decade with this bad decision.
Then they had Emery as GM and in three years he made a mess.
Besides wasting money on mediocre free agent veterans and committing more to Cutler, he hired a coach who was a polar opposite of Lovie Smith. While Smith knew nothing of offense but knew defense and was a player favorite, Marc Trestman knew nothing about defense and seemed to have his head buried in a playbook without a clue how to relate to young athletes.
Then came Pace and coach John Fox, a completely mismatched duo. One was looking for retirement and the other was trying to learn on the job.
The Pace and Matt Nagy era has been slightly better but still without the quarterback—always the quarterback.
1. Clueless at the top
The No. 1 reason the Bears haven't been back to a Super Bowl is the McCaskey ownership family and president and CEO Ted Phillips.
They hired the people who didn't get the job done.
In fact, they really don't even know how to hire football people so they hired the New York search firm, Russell Reynolds Associates to get them Angelo. They couldn't hire the coach they wanted—Nick Saban—so they brought in Smith. They hired Emery and he brought in Trestman instead of Bruce Arians.
They gave the permission to Emery to fire Smith after a 10-win season and replace him with someone better suited to quality control coach than head coach.
They don't know the game well enough so they hired Ernie Accorsi as consultant to bring in Pace, a general manager so green he trades away valuable draft picks for a mediocre quarterback and misses two eventual hall of famers—all after the first pick he ever made was a wide receiver who can't play the game.
When someone from outside actually makes the decision, you can always avoid some of the blame.
Yet, the mistakes continue, and one mistake begets another.
Another year goes by and the Bears aren't part of Super Bowl week.
No one is surprised.