There was simply nothing better than this Chicago Bears season. The fact that it was gone so quickly is what’s so stunning.
I’m going to eschew the normal Chicago Bears awards that I’ve been doing most of the season. Some reason it doesn’t feel right.
I’ve been ruminating on the Bears’ loss for a few days now. Full confession, I’m not a huge football fan. I mean, I watch a lot of it because much like you I’m hungover and lazy on Sundays and it’s there. But I am a Chicago Bears fan. I’m from here, you kind of have to be.
And I’ve thought about writing all the small measurements, the single inches at points, that could have made the difference. It was just not the last field goal attempt by He Who Shall Not Be Named.
Allen Robinson‘s missed catch at the two-yard-line after his first big, 45-yard reception in the third quarter. If his foot is a few inches in-field, the Bears have first-and-goal at the 2 and maybe get a touchdown instead of yet another field goal.
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If Bryce Callahan wasn’t hurt, would he have been closer to Golden Tate on the winner than Sherick McMannis was? If Eddie Jackson was healthy, would he have made a play on one of the many floaters that Nick Foles barfed up anytime he was under pressure?
On one of Mitch Trubisky’s poor decisions, what if Anthony Miller had hauled that in after the deflection for another touchdown? What if Matt Nagy hadn’t been so conservative in the first half? What if Leonard Floyd had wrapped up Wendell Smallwood in the end zone?
We can do this all day. It misses the point. It only accentuates the hurt. You do it long enough and you’ll convince yourself that you can actually go back in time and change these things. Or that some vortex will open up and do it for you. And then you’ll descend into madness.
On the macro-level, the Bears were done in by not turning red-zone possession into touchdowns. Three times they settled for field goals, and you can’t do that in the playoffs. You have to get the ball in the endzone. It’s that simple. Giving up 16 points should win you most every game. This will be corrected next year, you hope.
But the reason there’s a pall over the city, or there was, wasn’t because of how close the Bears were in various instances that kept them from winning. It wasn’t the predictable nature of the ending. Or at least not all that.
There has never been a Bears team this fun, at least not since the one we can never escape of 1985. The last Bears team to be any good always carried around half the fanbase’s hatred of Jay Cutler because of his face. It never escaped that turmoil.
Lovie’s first batch of good teams in ’05 and ’06 always had a more business-like carriage to it. They won, and they won because of a dominant defense that scored a lot, but it had a different, calmer swagger to it. And the offense never really did much, and when it did it was causing Rex-related heartburn over most of the area. There was always unease.
This team had none of that. It had the dominant defense this place loves, one that scored a lot and caused big plays. But they didn’t hide how much they enjoyed doing so. They took you with them, as if me dancing right along with their Motown routine in Detroit in my living room wasn’t proof enough.
While not everyone is convinced on Mitch Trubisky, and fair enough on that, everyone was convinced that Matt Nagy would find a way around that. And he usually did. They would come up with something and Tarik Cohen or Taylor Gabriel or Allen Robinson would be open. And the Bears would score enough. Maybe not a lot, but enough. And then we’d get to see who would be out in goal-line situations.
It was unpredictable. It was wild. It was FUN.
And then it was gone.
You can’t see the future when you’re having a good time in the present, which is not something they tell you when you’re growing up. You got swept up in the Bears this year, and because it was so enjoyable and you never wanted it to end you convinced yourself it wouldn’t. How could something this joyous? You didn’t contemplate it.
And then it hit you in the face like a bat. All the fun was gone. It felt like your organs were removed through your mouth, leaving a silent void.
The ’15 Cubs are the comparison. They were such a surprise and so buoyant it never felt like they could lose, given the feeling they injected into the fandom. And then they did. And the realization that it might never be like that again. Expectation and demands would squish that unadulterated joy in the future.
And has it been? 2016 was because the Cubs were just so dominant. Can the Bears do that? Football makes it that much harder. Health will always be a question. The schedule will be much harder. The division won’t get easier. They’ve already lost a coordinator. Players will move.
And the expectation will be Super Bowl or bust. It has to be, and that’s not a bad thing. But the wins won’t be a surprise. They’ll be the course. We’ll have been here before. Losses won’t be shrugged off, but a marker for why it could all go wrong again. Most of all, there will be something to lose. There wasn’t this year.
That’s what hurt. It probably won’t be like this again.