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History is what you make it: Putting Khalil Mack’s Bears debut into context

By Robert Zeglinski

A dominant force of nature toppling over an entrenched building by itself isn’t lost in the shuffle of the overall storm. It just means the one tidbit of destruction wasn’t the main story, nor should it be.

Similarly, a great NFL player putting on a transcendent show is not washed away because the efforts of his team didn’t amount to a victory. He still took matters into his own hands as much as he could possibly could. As much as any great player could.

What Khalil Mack was able to accomplish in his Bears debut against the Packers on Sunday night was out of this world. You couldn’t script a better entrance to one of the most storied franchises in football if you wanted to. In just 42 of 60 snaps, Mack emphatically showed why general manager Ryan Pace traded a ransom for his services over a week ago. Despite not playing the entire preseason or participating in live football activity since the end of last season, Mack tore apart the Packers offense by himself anyway. In front of a national audience, Mack rose to the occasion and more.

By forcing and recovering a fumble, getting a sack, and returning a pick for a touchdown in the first half, Mack did something that only First-ballot Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor was previously able to do for the Giants in 1982. Taylor, crucially, a player Mack is oft-compared because of both’s raw aggression, power, and ability to take over a game. Because of both’s knack of instilling fear simply by being present, and a quiet shared confidence that is elevated in the most powerful fashion once the pads are strapped on.

In other words, Mack’s performance was one for the ages in a vision not seen for over three decades. It was that special, magnificent, stupefying, and jaw-dropping all in one.

But the Bears unfortunately fell 24-23, and in shocking fashion after blowing a 20-point lead to the similarly all-encompassing power of Aaron Rodgers. For all of Mack’s Herculean efforts, it turned out not to be enough to overcome what may be the greatest quarterback of all-time. For all of Mack putting a budding spectacular Bears defense on his back, it wasn’t enough to topple another glowing titan of the game.

In defeat, Mack’s performance on limited physical preparation instead became a tidbit to a primary clip that will be played at the one-legged Aaron Rodgers’ future Hall of Fame induction ceremony as one of his signature moments. Does that diminish how Mack was able to run roughshod on Green Bay, especially according to history?

Not in the least.

How Mack featured against the Packers, and how he terrorized them, was rarified air. If anything, it was fitting the best defensive player in the NFL in Mack was pitted against the best overall player in Rodgers in a classic tug of war, making the moment frozen in time even more noteworthy. Two Hall of Famers in a heavyweight bout of powerful left hooks. A storybook statistical line for Chicago in every fashion except for the final outcome.

But if you solely focus on wins and losses, you forget to appreciate greatness in it’s finest forms. A mistake no one should make.

Mack certainly wasn’t happy the Bears didn’t win, as he downplayed his performance.

“It’s cool, but you want to win,” said Mack in the postgame on Sunday night.

Unfortunately for the star linebacker, he’s not the one that gets to pen the fairy tale. He’s merely the galvanizing instrument and main subject of the story. The most gripping story the Bears have enjoyed in over a decade. Maybe more.

In Mack, the Bears finally have a franchise player again. And not a franchise player just in the sense that he’s the best player on the Bears’ roster. No, no. That isn’t doing Mack’s bright star proper justice. He’s a franchise player only a select few get to enjoy in any individual moment. He’s a legitimate face of the NFL, who now so happens to play for the Bears. Someone who will have the magnifying glass on what he’ll do every week, as popcorn is prepared for his next show.

There are only a few NFL players truly worth the sentiment of appointment viewing. Mack is one of them, as he so happens to play for the Bears. Hell, he was already one of them before he joined the Bears. Appreciate him while you can. R. 

Robert is an editor, writer, and producer. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski. 

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