Once upon a time … in Chicago
By Robert Zeglinski
No one should be surprised at outward arrogance shown by the NFL. Since the Bears and Packers began as meat and cheese packing outlets in the early 20th century, the league has rarely taken a misstep in business ventures. That type of success tends to breed self-esteem past a healthy point of believing in one’s self. It manifests in an individual believing their simple touch turns everyday objects into gold. The NFL’s growth has proliferated into a beast of an American institution holding more influence over the waking population than most would care to admit. Over the course of the last decade, the No. 1 cultural monolith on this side of the Atlantic has raked in profits in the billions only matched by your favorite trust fund managers. The salary cap has increased by a lucrative $10 million every year since 2013. On paper and on its face, professional football is more popular than ever. It’s literally printing money it can comfortably back at the presses. It’s writing the checks and cashing them in its own bank, in its own gold reserves.
The 100th NFL season being on the horizon made the Bears the ideal host to celebrate the league’s evolution into the most elaborate supplier of breads and circuses ever. Juvenal would have been proud. It also places the Bears on a pedestal for the 2019 season where they’ll receive attention on a national level even their Super Bowl shuffling predecessors couldn’t enjoy. The storylines for the first Bears team to be relevant when social media is an extra appendage for many people are boundless.
From championship droughts and quarterback leaps, to bloodthirsty vengeance for kicking woes’ past, the 2019 Bears have the burden of burgeoning expectations and the weight of a city’s hopes resting on their broad shoulders.
Getting the monkey off Halas Hall’s back
It would take a tremendous amount of collective ineptitude for the Bears to broach upon the Cubs’ formerly traumatic 108-year championship drought. It would also mean the NFL somehow still existed by the time humanity has colonized Mars and found the mass relays near Pluto, by the time everyone’s finally using flying cars, and before the absurdly wealthy have achieved immortality; the latter four of which being more realistic prospects by the year 2100. Even so, the Bears’ ongoing 33-year Super Bowl winless drought is something to behold for a charter franchise that used to stack NFL titles in sets of triplets once upon a time. Every other legacy professional football team (the Giants, Packers and Steelers) has had the pleasure of hoisting a Lombardi trophy this century. The only NFL teams with longer championship droughts than the Bears are modern expansion teams who have never been the last team standing like the Carolina Panthers, Houston Texans, and the Jacksonville Jaguars, and perennially hapless organizations such as the Lions and Cardinals.
Every year the Bears’ failure to instill a sense of pride back in the city where professional football was first organized continues, is another year of angst cresting past the boiling point. The water’s already broken and clogged the stove. The water’s evaporated entirely. It’s about minimizing the damage to the rest of the oven now. If Matt Nagy’s Bears headlined by transcendent talents like Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, and Eddie Jackson can’t win a championship in the next two years, the drought will likely extend well past four decades. Then the real fallout from pent-up frustration begins.
Trubisky, the Favorite Son
Playing quarterback in Chicago has often been compared to playing shortstop for the New York Yankees and center for the Los Angeles Lakers. Playing these specific positions in America’s three largest cities carries more inherent localized pressure than any other sporting destination in the Western hemisphere. However, a crucial distinction has to be made: the Yankees and Lakers have a history of consistent success, and legends galore at shortstop and center. No one alive with their memory and or motor functions intact remembers watching the Bears when they had an All-Pro face-of-football quarterback. (Sid Luckman is more of a bar trivia question than someone to rest your laurels on.) Unlike the Lakers and Yankees, who have a set standard of great play at center and shortstop, respectively, the Bears, historically, can’t fathom what a great quarterback looks like unless he’s playing for a division rival three hours up north.
The only reason Mitchell Trubisky garners as much attention as he does—to the positive and negative extremes—is because he’s a No. 2 overall pick featuring for the Bears and their maligned ledger of passers. And because he represents a Bears’ good faith attempt at finding the first legitimate franchise quarterback since when their natural foil in the Packers didn’t have their own answer under center. Trubisky is Chicago’s preeminent bid to shed itself of a defensive identity marked by bruised broad shoulders. A defensive identity that continues into the modern era both because the Bears’ defense has often been special, and because they’ve never possessed an offense or quarterback to write home about. A simple equation of excellence on side attempting to overshadow incompetence on the other. If Trubisky can’t ascend to legitimate franchise quarterback play this season, let alone optimistically morph into a special generational passer to be marketed league-wide, it boggles the mind as to when the Bears will have such a quarterback. Hope erodes faster than blissful goodwill lasts.
The Bears need Trubisky to take a marked step in improvement if they’re going to be playing in Miami in the early winter. The NFL’s No. 1 reigning defense aside, a cornucopia of offensive talent necessitates Trubisky take on more offensive responsibility if the Bears don’t desire taking an early golfing trip in the new year. His reputation can’t continue to subsist purely on the idea of being a top pick at the most important football position alongside the Bears’ actual game-changers on defense. There is also slight chance that if he manages to squeak past this bar, the locals will finally enunciate his name properly and stop pronouncing it “Tru-bin-sky”. If you believe in magic, wishful thinking can come true. There used to a figure of speech saying something outlandish, like a professional sports fanbase pronouncing names correctly, could only occur “when pigs fly.” And look what happened: pigs still can’t fly.
If Nagy’s bunch is to build on a 12-win division championship season, Trubisky has to be one of their field-tilters. It’s doubtful a city that has no earthly idea of what a good quarterback looks like accepts anything less.
Nagy’s kicking demons
By now the Bears’ coach’s contentious war with Kicker A, Kicker B and himself has been well-documented. He’s treated rookies and amateurs like world-class golfers at Augusta. He’s replayed the most painful play of the most painful playoff loss the Bears have suffered in their six postseason appearances since the early 1990s ad nauseam. Even the utterly deranged Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange—once called an “ideological mess” by the esteemed Roger Ebert—couldn’t cause as much psychological desecration as Nagy has with the aftermath of an ill-fated kick. If Nagy’s elaborate plan is to force the Bears to sit through the pure, unfiltered horror and gore of one play with their eyes artificially clamped wide open, and in turn desensitize them to any future potential failure, he’s taken the roundabout path in doing so. Rip the band-aid off. See who sinks and who swims, as is clearly the mission. It’s already too late to salvage any dignity anyway. Nagy and the deep crevasses of his mind might be farther gone than believed.
Through a nonsensical forthright honesty, Nagy’s openly and publicly admitted that Moby Parkey’s ill-fated 43-yard attempt from last January is on his mind any time one of his new kickers lines up from a similar distance. The last time a reigning Coach of the Year, someone as initially successful in their profession as Nagy, was this consumed by their ostensible demons, they screamed in terror to tear up the floorboards because the sound of a beating heart drove them mad. They dove in after a malevolent, mind-controlling piece of jewelry into the fires of Mount Doom. They then led an extensive naval expedition after a leviathan purely because it consumed their leg. Nagy’s chasing his overwrought guilt, his ring, and his whale all in one. Either his quest for vengeance is quenched by the end of the calendar year, or it consumes his very essence.
A harmful obsession with one unpredictable position aside, it’d be better for the Bears if Nagy learned to keep his fears and insecurities over Chicago’s instability at kicker to himself. Repression in most other cases would be hurtful to someone’s psyche. Ask anyone with the audacity to admit how their parents over-coached them in youth sports, or any competition. They won’t elect to mention a detail. The Bears have too many other potential issues, pitfalls and pending battles with other NFC heavyweights to be concerned with how their coach demands retribution from his kicker. The balance of a confident team prepared to break through is already fragile, threatening to tear apart at the seams at the first sign of kicking adversity. Nagy is too sharp, too patient of a progressive-thinking coach to weigh himself and his players down from his other managing responsibilities by overthinking a position that either strikes the right chord or doesn’t. Exhaustively seeking vengeance at every cost means eventually reliving your past and consuming your trauma needlessly. Seeking greatness and burying the darkest demons of your past is the only virtuous vengeance.
There will come a time when the Bears need house favorite leg Eddy Pineiro to keep their season alive in the coming months. It’ll be a kick that defines this Club Dub generation of the Bears (if the proceedings of January 6, 2019 haven’t already). The only time anyone on the Bears—Nagy included—should think about the monumental stress of this inevitable climactic moment, is when it arrives.
Robert is an editor and writer. Follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.