By: Robert Zeglinski
BOURBONNAIS – When you’re a good team in the NFL, it’s as if you’re literally sitting on top of the world. Nonstop adulation bordering on rabid insanity files in day after day on social media, in-person interactions, and amongst select more affable teammates. If it seems like you’re untouchable and above burgeoning negativity, it’s because you probably are. If it appears everything you touch in passing turns to gold, that’s because it does, the limits of science be damned. The main differences between your case and King Midas’ is that you didn’t wish for every object to suddenly have an atomic weight of 79. It happened after one of your many triumphs instead. And you won’t die due to starvation because you have nothing edible to consume. Your “gold” is a high profile celebrity status combined with collective expectations to reach for the stars. Two notable signifiers of a plan working as originally conceived. A hearty push to continue trudging along, if as slowly as possible, until reaching the sweet summit of success.
Walk around the abodes of Olivet Nazarene University during this Bears training camp and it’s difficult to avoid questions surrounding the elephant … er, bear in the room. Can they win it all? Can they live up to the hype from a championship-starved city that drinks, eats, inhales, injects, and lives the flawed gladiatorial game known as football? Will they fall short, or rise to the occasion of pressure borne of a town expecting a run to February? And will they stay true to themselves in the process, not basking in their press clippings and praise?
For one of the Bears’ stars in Tarik Cohen, he’s already offered a definitive answer to that last query. Try stopping the First-Team All-Pro kick returner in Cohen from preaching to the gospel. All you’ll do when putting a hand over his mouth is muzzle conviction that never wanes. Ever the boisterous speaker, the smallest player on the roster in Cohen professes the Bears are thinking big this season. Astronomically big, in fact. In Cohen’s mind, after a 12-4 season capped by an NFC North title and a spring of gelling, the Bears are prepared for a, wait for it … “dynasty.”
“Oh yeah, definitely,” Cohen said, doubling down on his use of the dreaded D-word when the Bears reported to training camp last Thursday. “After we win one – You know that’s not going to be our goal just to win one, we’re trying to win multiple.”
Note how Cohen said “after” the Bears win a Super Bowl. It’s not “if” they manage to hoist a trophy, but “when” and then “how many?”One winning season on their log to this point doesn’t matter. Disregard the fact that they haven’t even advanced past the first weekend of January. If it seems like overconfidence on the part of Cohen, it is. But that’s just one of the faces of the team in Cohen loudly expressing what many of the Bears’ leaders quietly feel. The difference between them and Cohen is that they will never express their feelings publicly. Different strokes for different folks for different players.
Cohen will talk the talk, loudly, and then he will walk the walk. What’s important is that other Bears stars will let Cohen do the talking, as he prefers, while knowing they will still walk in line with him. He’s not overstepping any boundaries. He’s actually had a red carpet laid out for his ambitious musings, the way a good team embraces the bullseye on their back. The way they need to.
Take reigning First-Team All-Pro Eddie Jackson, for example. In terms of personality and approach, the quiet modesty of Jackson couldn’t be more of polar opposite to Cohen’s regular breaking of the fourth wall. Cohen looks at the camera and dances in front of it after making a trademark big play. His most comfortable place in life, on the Bears, is when everyone has their eye on his exploits. Meanwhile Jackson always, always keeps his business strictly to the field.
“We’re determined. Yeah, determined. We come in, we work,” said Jackson of what he’s seen from the Bears and how they’re dealing with conversation already positing them amongst the game’s greats. “We don’t just talk about it, we do it.”
Most contexts would dictate two personalities like Cohen’s and Jackson’s never meshing. They’re oil and water, pizza and pineapple. They could never get along. Someone as loud and brash as Cohen can’t possibly connect with someone as introverted as Jackson. Cohen’s ostentatious sensibilities originate from Mars and Jackson’s humble southern customs come from Venus, as the phrase is loosely translated. Circumstances change when a bond of passionate trust is established. Cohen wants to win, and is intently capable of helping his team win. Jackson wants to win and is also quite capable of helping his team win. These two don’t have to act the same way or be the same person to do so. They don’t even have to hang out outside of the context of football. They just have to be driven on a common united front. Take it from there, and the rest takes care of itself. This is a vigorous game of red rover. Someone is trying to break the line with a full head of steam. They have to stand their ground, or risk everyone in line tumbling to the ground. Football and the camaraderie it establishes is beautiful that way.
What better way to express your appreciation for such a contrast of a teammate, of a person, than winning with him? There isn’t. When you come from different walks of life but manage to reach the peak of your career with someone, you’re friends for life. You’re brothers who want to tackle the weight of expectations together, never apart. It’s an inseparable link. It’s funny what even contemplating about basking in confetti falling from the rafters can do for teammates, for a friendship.
“We just have to be selfless,” Jackson said of how the Bears can answer a Super Bowl Liberty Bell surely cracked by now from ceaseless ringing. “We have to appreciate each other and understand what’s at stake. We have to be selfless.”
Every extraordinary team in NFL history whoever accomplished anything noteworthy had its fair share of Tarik Cohen’s – guys who revel in the spotlight and keep the focus on them. Even when the spotlight veers away from their silhouette, these are the kinds of players who make certain to have a backup monologue in their back pocket. That way they can continue to demand attention. And every team has a fine amount of Eddie Jackson’s. Players who thrive thanks to the human-sized magnets known as Cohen, who attract conceivable outside energy. Every championship team has this volatile mix of rambunctious A-list stars and modest but transcendent characters. You can’t etch your name in history with one but not the other. They’re complementary performers. They make each other better through motivation. The presence of one guy helps his teammate process the pressure of contention. They spar in active friendly competition. In every instance, they rise above as one.
The Bears already have a special defense primed to be legendary, thanks in large part to Jackson. Cohen and his offensive foils want to match Chicago’s defensive ensemble on the path to his proposed dynasty. Iron doesn’t only sharpen iron. It works wonders on steel and silver, too.
“We need to be more consistent,” said Cohen. “The defense bailed us out last year a lot, and we want to do our job more often this year.”
“We hold ourselves to a higher standard now. The older guys that’s been here and watched us go from last place to winning the division, we know what it takes to have that success and to have that work pay off.”
Robert is a writer and editor. Follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.