When the Bears and Viking clash Sunday, they can share some tears about having the two longest playoff droughts in the NFC North. The Vikings last made it in 2012. The Bears' last appearance was in 2010, when they won the division and a first-round playoff game against the Seahawks before losing to eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay.

The Bears last won the Super Bowl in 1985, when they defeated the Patriots 46-10 and completed one of the best seasons in NFL history, going 18-1 overall. But in the past 20 years, they have only four playoff appearances. And while Vikings fans might feel like the team hasn't been making great postseason runs, they have made the playoffs nine times in that same span.

The Bears have only seven winning seasons since 1995, and their overall record in that time is 158-175, while the Vikings are at 174-158-1.

The Bears' and Vikings' future success relies heavily on two quarterbacks at different stages of their careers.

The Bears haven't really been competitive on a consistent basis since they won the then-NFC Central six out of seven seasons between 1984-1990.

The Bears signed quarterback Jay Cutler to a seven-year, $126.7 million deal in January 2014, which was somewhat surprising considering he is now 32. But Cutler hasn't been the Bears' problem this season. He has averaged 252.3 passing yards per game, the third-highest total of his career, and a passer rating of 92.2, the highest of his career.

Meanwhile, Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater still has two years left on his rookie deal after this season and won't be a free agent until 2018. The Vikings (8-5) have a great chance of breaking their playoff drought this season, with a two-game lead in the NFC wild-card standings heading into Sunday's game with Chicago (5-8).

U did right thing

University of Minnesota officials have taken heat for paying their football coaches bonuses for a 5-7 team making the Quick Lane Bowl, especially after Nebraska had the same record and decided not to pay bowl bonuses to its coaches.

One thing to remember is that when Jerry Kill retired, the contracts for his assistant coaches automatically voided. The two coordinators at the time, Tracy Claeys and Matt Limegrover, had contracts that ran through June 30, 2017, and the other seven assistants were under deals that ran through June 30, 2016.

After Kill retired, the university gave the assistants temporary deals, covering them only through next month (Jan. 31). Limegrover and quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski were fired, and all the assistants had an uncertain future for a while.

So the university did the right thing, honoring the incentive language in the contracts and paying each assistant the equivalent of one month's salary as a bonus for reaching a bowl.

Caruso on Mount Union

St. Thomas football coach Glenn Caruso knows his football team has a big challenge in front of them Friday as they face Mount Union for the second time in four seasons in the NCAA Division III championship game.

"They're really awesome," Caruso said. "Let's put this in perspective: We think we have a good thing going, the last three years, last four seasons, this is now our second trip to a national championship game and that's really awesome. There are about 240 schools in the country that would love to be able to say they went once, and here we get to go twice.

"To put that in perspective, Mount Union is making their 20th trip in the last 22 years. Twentieth trip to the national championship game in the last 22 years, so that is prolonged dominance. They are the standard by which Division III football is measured. It's so routine to them that it's a part of their culture, and what we strive to be."

It should be a competitive game. Mount Union averages 53.6 points per game while St. Thomas averages 52.5, and Mount Union allows only 7.5 points per game while St. Thomas gives up 9.9.


•Viking offensive coordinator Norv Turner on why Bridgewater didn't have an audible on the final play of the Arizona game when he fumbled: "First of all, we've got a lot of sideline plays. This is one that's worked for us last year, worked for us in the past. We never have a sideline play where we don't have a quick outlet; Adrian [Peterson] was the quick outlet, the way they defended the play. If we had it to do over again, we would have thrown the ball over Adrian's head and kicked the field goal. They defended the play real well. Obviously, we're getting ready for the Bears. My only thing I'd say, I think everyone will learn from that play."

•Oakland beat Denver last Sunday, the Raiders' first victory over the Broncos since September 2011, with a Raiders staff that includes former Vikings head coach Mike Tice as offensive line coach, former Vikings linebacker Jack Del Rio as head coach and former Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave in the same role with Oakland.

Joe Benson was a second-round draft choice by the Twins in 2006, was released after seven seasons and spent time in the organizations of the Rangers, Marlins, Braves and Mets before re-signing with the Twins as a free agent in November. "He was a highly touted prospect, a tremendous athlete, and a guy who had a little bit of a taste with us and then of course didn't work out; injuries contributed mightily," Twins President Dave St. Peter said. "But he's a quality individual and we thought we had an opportunity for him to join us. He'll be at [Class AAA] Rochester in all likelihood and you know, it'll be great to watch him back in our organization and hopefully he provides some depth."

•Working the Gophers-Chicago State basketball game on Wednesday was Gene Steratore, who officiates both college basketball and NFL games. … Attendance at the Gophers game was announced as 10,175, which included the public season-ticket holders and student season-ticket holders, but a good guess would be closer to 7,000, with students limited to about 500 with finals starting that night. Attendance for both Gophers men's basketball and hockey is considerably down from last year.

•Minnesota lost 84-70 on Dec. 8 to South Dakota State, a team that lost 79-67 to Texas Tech — coached by former Gophers coach Tubby Smith — on Wednesday. Smith's record in nonconference games so far this season is 7-1, including an 81-68 victory over the Gophers in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off last month.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com