When September rolls around each year, I have one recurring dream: to see the Chicago Bears win a Super Bowl title. I have other aspirations, don't get me wrong, but I choose only to dream about those things which are out of my own personal control. The Bears winning their second Super Bowl is a moment I've played out in my head a million times. I can see it, goddamn it, I can see it. And that vision is what keeps me logging on to this site every few days to share my harebrained ideas with you monkeys.
If the Arizona Cardinals were to win the Super Bowl on Sunday...then what becomes of the beloved Super Bowl? Some teams simply don't belong as the last ones standing. The Cardinals are one. So are the Detroit Lions. The Los Angeles Clippers. The New York University men's basketball team. Me playing Golden Tee. Some folks do the game more justice by continuing to lose. It keeps the universe in balance. Keeps the vocals in harmony.
If the Steelers do their job on Sunday, it is simply another title for a proud football franchise. It is another notch in the championship belt of an organization which - along with the Patriots of late - has come to set the standard for continual excellence in a sport built to deter it. Another Steelers Super Bowl win feels right in the recesses of one's football soul. It's Lambert. It's Bradshaw. It's clean. Nay. It's immaculate.
And didn't Rob Moore play for the Cardinals? Wasn't the team's most important ballgame before January the one at the end of Jerry Maguire? No. They're not allowed to win it all. They're not allowed to set the standard. They're not allowed to be the thing the other 31 teams aspire to be.
Because I can't wake up on the first Sunday of the 2009 season and say out loud, "Damn it, boys. We can be this year's Arizona Cardinals."
...but I love white receivers.
My favorite Bear of all-time is Tom Waddle. My favorite receiver in the game today is Wes Welker. I loved Ricky Proehl and Ed McCaffrey and Phil McConkey and hell, I even like Brian Finneran. I root for these guys not because their skin is white but because they are the fiercest underdogs in the sport. The same reason I root for Tiger Woods and black hockey players and the Williams sisters and Brian Scalabrine. Their success seems to upset the apple cart. Over 90% of wide receivers in the league are black. And - to the best of my knowledge - there isn't a starting white cornerback in the game. This is because (SHOCK ALERT) it takes the best "athletes" in the sport to play these two positions. And guess what? White people aren't the best athletes in the sport.
This is why I'm in favor of the Bears going out and signing Mike Furrey. Not because he's a white guy but because he'll add an aire of the underdog to a club that needs to strip away its self-perpetuated delusion of greatness. Furrey's not a great player; not demanding of a double team. But he's capable of being the type of seven-catch-a-game guy that Marty Booker was at the turn of the century. The kind of guy who moves the chains.
And I hate to subscribe to the broadcasting maxim wherein only white players can be described as "blue collar" or "lunch pail" but that's what Furrey is. (On a side note, if there's a more blue collar player than Lorenzo Neal, I don't get the term.) The Bears don't need stars anymore. They need employees. They need workers. And Furrey will work hard to regain his 98-catch greatness of just a few years ago.
I'm preparing to write a Super Bowl gambling extravaganza on Friday, where I'll provide my thoughts on essentially every prop bet on the board (including insider information regarding the coin toss). Today a last Chicago Bears rodeo of the 2008 NFL Season...
The Wrong Quarterback Concern
Think about the great defenses in the NFL today and in NFL yesteryear and you'll understand what the Bears are missing: a leader. There's no Ray Lewis. No Mike Singletary. No Jack Lambert. Tommie is too inconsistent. Lance is too quiet. 54 is too polished. Mike Brown is too never on the field. Alex Brown has the temperament but does he have the game? Where's the soul of this unit?
I'd Warner But She Won't Listen
Apparently the Kurt Warner-to-Chicago rumors have now reached the mainstream press and thus must be addressed. Okay, here I go. It's really stupid. Signing Kurt Warner would have one significantly positive effect for the Bears: it'd keep him out of Minnesota. Remember Minnesota? They won the division without a starting quarterback?
Get a McClue
Vaughn McClure's article in the Tribune has about five things I don't understand in it. (1) "Trading for a star receiver such as Anquan Boldin might be unrealistic for the Bears." WHY? Could we have at least one reason in this piece for a trade to be so casually discarded? (2) Penn State's Derrick Williams? Really? Isn't he just Diet Devin? And are kick and punt return capabilities really a pressing matter? (3) Wide receiver, according to McClure, doesn't seem to be a top priority. Since when? (4) Brandon Lloyd is unlikely to return to the Bears next season. Now I hadn't heard or read this anywhere but I'll say it'd be an awful mistake. Lloyd is the proto-typical number three, possession receiver and he catches everything - a rarity with this receiving corps. (5) The central thesis is incorrect. If trading some draft picks and acquiring Anquan Boldin solves a major issue with the team, why not do it instead of taking a chance on an unproven commodity? If the Bears are going to target wide receiver with any of their first three picks, trading for Boldin makes infinitely more sense.
I'll simply ask a question to stir something of a debate...
What would you do with the 18th pick in this year's draft?
Not gonna lie, it's tough for me to keep my interest level up on this team from the end of the season until the combine. I just need a break and I bet some of you do too. So instead of putting together a full column, I'll just compile a bunch of things I've been thinking about.
1. The Bears need to be very careful with their Reward-Your-Own philosophy this offseason, especially with Izzy Idonije and Adewale Ogunleye (both Drew Rosenhaus clients). Idonije is a terrifically versatile player but has yet to prove he's an every down defensive tackle. Ogunleye was flat-out bad in 2008.
2. I think it is fundamentally foolish for the Bears to draft a wide receiver in the first round. This is one of the most difficult positions in the game for a young player to learn and the Bears need a player to step into the number one role immediately. If you need a guy to catch the ball and are willing to part with your top pick to attain him...trade for Anquan Boldin.
3. Can we all stop with this Rod Marinelli shit? Some of the other blogs are praising him like he's done something in the last year besides losing every game as a head coach and embarrassing himself in front of the media on a weekly basis. He's the defensive line coach. Nothing more than that. This season's defensive success will hinge on one thing: Lovie's ability to call a good game.
4. If Mike Shanahan doesn't take the job in Kansas City, it'll mean that four high-profile, Super Bowl-winning coaches will be available at the end of the 2009 season. (The other three are Holmgren, Gruden and Cowher.) If Lovie doesn't make the playoffs next season, these four names will be mentioned quite a bit.
5. Brad Biggs begins a piece in the Sun-Times with, "It figures the hottest offensive coach in the NFL used to be with the Bears." While we're relaxing on Rod Marinelli, let's also relax on Todd Haley. Haley oversees an offense that can't run the ball and has the best pair of wide receivers in the league. He's also the offensive coordinator for a head coach who is one of the most creative play-callers in the league.
6. Bob LeGere wants the Bears to draft an offensive tackle in the first round. If they do it, they should do it because they don't believe Chris Williams is capable of starting in the league. If he is capable - the Bears need only to decide between Johns St. Clair and Tait at right tackle - using the other for depth on both sides. Depth is nice but the Bears missed the playoffs by a single game. Depth doesn't win that game.
We move to the other side of the ball now...and there's a theme.
1. DON'T BUY 3-4 HYPE
Julius Peppers has announced he has no interest in signing a long-term deal with the Carolina Panthers under the premise that he longs to play in a 3-4. Peppers is still one of the best pass rushers in the game and rushing the passer was the biggest weakness of the 9-7 Chicago Bears. Maybe he's telling the truth. Maybe he's not. But if he's not franchised and a bidding war starts...I want in.
2. DON'T DRAFT ANY MORE DEFENSIVE TACKLES
I like depth as much as the next guy but how many defensive tackles need to be added to this roster before Jerry & Lovie realize that we can't stop the damn pass? Harris, Harrison, Dusty D (when upright), Adams and the surprising Israel Idonije are fine. Leave them be. We can stop the damn run. This draft should be about the accumulation of men who can cover wide receivers and protect over-the-top.
3. DON'T BE DELUSIONAL
The defense stunk all season long, with a few solid plays mixed in from Alex Brown. This unit didn't have "breakdowns" - they stunk, period. Some fans like to excuse the defense because they believe it's sacrilegious to speak poorly of them. But they finished 30th in the league against the pass. 30th. Two teams were worse. Two. And my favorite stat? The Bears ranked tops in the league in passing attempts against. And 22nd in the league in sacks. It's broken. Fix it.
It's pointless to start writing passionate pleas to Jerry Angelo with headlines like "Get T.J. Houshmandzadeh" or "Consider T.O." The team re-signing period changes direction. The Franchise Tag kills dreams. Instead my pleas will go topsy-turvy, asking the man in charge to avoid the possible pitfalls of an organization in playoff purgatory. (For advice on how you can use alliteration to excess, please email me.)
1. DON'T IGNORE THE RUNNING BACK POSITION
While the rest of the fanbase is foaming at the mouth for a number one receiver, I'm not. When a franchise's best number ones in history have been mid-80s Willie Gault and early 00s Marty Booker, wide receivers just doesn't compute as a necessity. (I understand the counter-argument). The Bears have the versatile Matt Forte and the under-used Hungry Like the Wolfe but they lack a bruising, short-yardage back. They lack the kind of runner a defense will fear tackling in a bristling Chicago December. In the era of two backs, a Brandon Jacobs-type in navy and orange could change the game.
2. DON'T LET JOHN ST. CLAIR WALK OUT THE DOOR
Some players can earn the respect of the fans with guts and St. Clair did that in 2008. He didn't have a great season but he was significantly better than anyone expected. Assuming Chris Williams will be the starting left tackle, having St. Clair could either provide depth on both sides of the line or become an adequate replacement for the over-matched John Tait.
3. DON'T SIGN A YOUNG QUARTERBACK
I know I'm heavily criticized for my support of Kyle Orton but I don't care. This is not the off-season for an open competition heading into training camp. Orton - in only his second season as a starter - showed enough positive play to be named the starter in 2009. This organization needs stability under center and Orton provides that with his consistent play (pre-ankle) and balanced attitude. If a veteran is what you crave, look to Big Gus up in Minnesota or even a sure-to-be-released Jon Kitna in Motown. Let 2009 be a mandate season for both KO and the head coach.
And he has a name eerily similar to the head coach.
So for those of you looking for the hot seat...you've got one at Halas Hall.
The worst team in the NFL in the month of December is playing on Championship Sunday. So are two six seeds. Arizona and Philadelphia won the same number of games this season as the Chicago Bears. What's it all mean? It means exactly what I've been arguing here throughout the 2008 season; an argument that has been inanely and repeatedly shot down by many readers. All you have to do is get into the tournament.
Say what you want about a struggling secondary, invisible pass rush and hobbled quarterback late in the year. The Bears were one win away from being in the tournament this year. A win that would have put Donovan McNabb on a bar stool at McGillin's for the wildcard round; nevermind a possible Super Bowl berth. You pick the win. Eleven seconds in Atlanta? Brian Griese down the stretch? Ten-point lead blows at Carolina and Houston?
The Bears don't need to rebuild this ballclub. They don't need to start over. They need to get one game better and give themselves a shot. One game better at corner. One game better in the pass rush. One game better at wide receiver. A nine-win team is going to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl and the reason is simple. They got in the tournament. The Bears didn't. Pick the game.
I didn't want to write about the hiring of a new defensive line coach because - let's face it - it's the hiring of a new defensive line coach. But Rod Marinelli doesn't come to the Chicago Bears to adjust Anthony Adams' three technique or teach Alex Brown a swim move. He comes to the Hall of Halas to breathe life into a group that (aside from Brown) is as dead as dead can be.
Here's a stat. Of the teams finishing in the top 12 in sacks this season, 9 made the playoffs. The other 3? Dallas and the Jets choked away playoff bids and the Seattle Seahawks have been a terrific pass rush club for years. 9 of the top 12 made the playoffs. The Bears finished 22nd. (Note: the only playoff team that finished below the Bears was San Diego. 1. They went 8-8. 2. They lost their best pass rusher in September.) Stopping the pass is about pressuring the quarterback and the Bears don't do it.
This is how Rod Marinelli will be judged in the navy and orange. This and only this. If the Bears get to the quarterback more in 2009, we'll credit the most popular Rod in Illinois. If they don't, Lovie will fire anybody he can not named Bob Babich.
Because it can't all be bad for a team that won more games than they lost in 2008, I sat down this morning to make a list of the best plays of 2008. I went through the schedule game-by-game, consulted the post archives and even looked through some old beat columns in the major papers (they were, of course, unhelpful). Something became very clear after about an hour: it was all three guys. So instead I'm writing a column about them.
The Honorably Mentioned: Kyle Orton's first half, Robbie Gould's clutch field goals, Brad Maynard's improved punting in bad weather, Devin Hester's ascension to consistent wide receiver, Roberto Garza's intensity.
Matt Forte was the first Chicago Bear to have a signature play this year, scampering half a football field against the Indianapolis Colts for a career-launching touchdown. Forte showed a versatility the Bears haven't had in the backfield since Sweetness but it was a third-and-four close against the Philadelphia Eagles that defined Forte's season. If you want optimism in '09, look not further than the Double Deuce.
Brown is not the prototypical edge rusher but when the Bears defensive line needed a big play in 2008...it was Brown who made it. He provided the two most important positive moments of the season: (1) a ferocious close-line tackle of Correll Buckhalter on the goal line and (2) the beyond-clutch block of a Mason Crosby game-winning field goal to keep the Bears alive into Week 17. Brown is a controversial figure inside Halas Hall - benched by Lovie during and extended by Jerry after a single season. In 2008 he proved the general manager correct. If the Bears are looking to upgrade the edges in 2009, they should start on the other side.
Briggs made big plays and big tackles all season long. But one play defines him as a competitor.
2-2- (2:25) (No Huddle, Shotgun) 6-D.Orlovsky pass short left to 86-M.Gaines to CHI 44 for 6 yards (55-L.Briggs). FUMBLES (55-L.Briggs), RECOVERED by CHI-55-L.Briggs at CHI 44. 55-L.Briggs to CHI 44 for no gain (86-M.Gaines).In a ballgame the Bears were readying to lose to the Detroit Lions, Briggs made a vicious hit on the tight end, forced a fumble and recovered it himself. It was the kind of individual effort usually reserved for safeties on the Baltimore Ravens. Say what you want about this organization's inability to find a franchise quarterback. We know where they grow the linebackers.
We're just a bit more than a week removed from the end of the 2008 season and the Bears have now released three assistant coaches: defensive backs coach Steven Wilks, linebackers coach Lloyd Lee and defensive line coach Brick Haley. This means that all three phases of the porous unit will have new position coaches in the coming months.
Yet how can the responsibility for defensive failures fall squarely on the shoulders of position coaches and not their commander-in-chief, Bob Babich? Better yet, if it's been determined that the defense was coached this poorly throughout the season, why doesn't some of that blame fall onto the shoulders of head coach Lovie Smith - brought to Chicago on a strictly defensive reputation?
Here are my two answers. (1) Bob Babich is the new John Shoop; a coordinator so close to the head man that Lovie is willing to face the firing squad in order to keep him on the staff. (2) Jerry Angelo is forcing these firings as a means of putting pressure on a head coach and coordinator he blames for the team's failures in 2008.
If this organization wants to send the correct message to the fans, fire Bob Babich tomorrow morning. Axe the man who was in charge of one of the league's most disappointing units. Because, though you believe us to be morons, we're not buying that Lloyd Lee's deficiencies are the reason the Minnesota Vikings won the NFC North.
David Haugh posits in today's Tribune that the Chicago Bears should look to 37 year-old Kurt Warner to solve their franchise-long quarterbacking woes. Now I'm trying to go a bit easier on Haugh these days but when he writes things like this it's impossible. I'm not going to waste an entire column explaining how bad Kurt Warner was in the only non-dome, non-Arizona place he ever tried to play (New Jersey). Nor will I provide a play-by-play of Warner's brilliant performance in New England a few weeks back; wherein snow seemed to actually frighten him.
Instead I'll respond directly to the most inane piece of Haugh's column.
Two league developments over the weekend provided evidence for Angelo to support the contention that better quarterback play, more than anything else, can help the Bears return to the playoffs next season. Exhibit A came from the report that the Patriots intend to use a $14 million franchise tag on quarterback Matt Cassel, who likely will back up Tom Brady--committing $29 million (24 percent) of the salary cap to the position. Exhibit B came when Joe Flacco of the Ravens and Chad Pennington of the Dolphins--first-year starters for their teams--faced off.Now read that piece again. Exhibit A is meant to "support the contention that better quarterback play...can help the Bears return to the playoffs." The New England Patriots DID NOT MAKE THE PLAYOFFS. They're not franchising Matt Cassel to backup Tom Brady. They're franchising Matt Cassel because of either a league-wide belief that Tom Brady may not be ready for the start of the 2009 season or to "ensure [they] will receive significant compensation by trading [him]". They're franchising Matt Cassel not because they believe he's a great quarterback but because they believe in having a healthy starting quarterback on opening day.
Exhibit B is that two first year starters faced off. This is fact. One of these first year starters (Mr. Flacco) went 9-for-23 for 135 yards and looked dreadful. The other (Mr. Pennington) threw four interceptions and looked like he didn't belong in the sport. So yes, David, before the game your point made sense. But did you watch the game? And if you so, how can you believe the quarterbacks were the reason these teams made the postseason?
I have no problem with the papers calling for competition for Kyle Orton. I'm a believer in the notion that competition brings the best out of athletes. But going after Kurt Warner - especially for the reasons listed above - would be a disaster.
I'm sitting in front of my computer, repeatedly deleting opening paragraphs to columns that will never exist. I've got nothing to say about about the four ballgames played in the wildcard round this weekend. Zero. There were no lessons for the Chicago Bears to learn, though I'm sure some hack Chicago columnists will give an arbitrary number of things (probably 10) he thinks the team should have learned. You know, like, rushing the passer is good.
No, today I write an entry onto the blog out of the wrenching desire to not have a Friday post linger too long. The four games, to be perfectly honest, made my stomach hurt. I'm not the kind of sports fans, more specifically Bears fan, who can jump into off-season mode the minute the Bears blow their chance at the postseason. Some of you can. I can't. Hell, some of you jump into off-season mode in early December.
Pick your poison from this past weekend. The Eagles inability to put sixes on the board. The Vikings inability to get anything started in the passing game because Tarvaris Jackson is Tarvaris Jackson. The Falcons inability to run against a bad rush defense. The Cardinals taking a mailed-in December and turning it into one of the biggest wins in franchise history. This was mediocre football being played by mediocre football teams.
I missed Bears football this weekend. That's the moral of the story. And it made me slightly angrier to think of our head coach's "but aw shucks, we improved" demeanor at last Monday's press conference. I want him to be sick to his stomach. I want #54 to stop crying about unfair criticism and be sick to his stomach. I want Jerry Angelo to stop gushing over the prospect of adding the first head coach to go 0-16 to our staff and be sick to his stomach. Get sick, you sons of bitches. Get sick. And get this thing fixed.
If they play a postseason game in Minnesota...
...and nobody sees it...did it really happen? The Vikings - in a pathetic display of fan support - have anywhere from eight to ten thousand tickets remaining to their PLAYOFF game this Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. The contest is set to be blacked out on local television in the Minneapolis (and surrounding) areas. Weren't there Vikings fans on this site mocking the Chicago Bears a week ago? I hope they come back Sunday afternoon when their local Fox affiliate will be showing re-runs of that TMZ show. I'll give them score updates.
A Note about Brian Urlacher
Brian Urlacher does not like criticism. You know who does? No one. But everything you need to know is in this quote: "Yes, I wish I would have made a lot more big plays. Obviously, everyone could say that on our defense. I wish I was around the ball more, but I wasn't. Just the way things worked out this season."
Ask yourself this. Would Mike Singletary ever say something like that? Would Dick Butkus? Bears fans treat Brian Urlacher like a great football player - look at the kids around the stadium - but 54 doesn't seem to want the responsibility that comes with greatness. (Spiderman had the same problem.) Great players, in any sport, look at a season's failures and put the pressure on themselves to right the ship. Great players use criticism as fuel to get better, play harder, win more. Brian Urlacher doesn't. Maybe because Brian Urlacher is just a good player who had a couple great years.
We're officially supporting Jeff Fisher and the Tennessee Titans for the championship of the National Football League.