The 2018 Chicago Bears season has been as surprising as any in my lifetime, soon to hopefully be entering it’s 37th year. It is certainly as surprising as any since the launch of this website in early 2005.
It’s not that the team has been competitive. That was expected. It’s not even that the team is winning. Many of us saw a clear path to eight plus victories even before Ryan Pace acquired one of the sport’s two most dominant defensive humans.
No, this season has been surprising – shocking, even – because of the seismic cultural and identity shift that has occurred at Halas Hall. Seemingly overnight, but of course decidedly not overnight, the Chicago Bears have transformed themselves not only into one of the league’s better teams but unquestionably one of the league’s most exciting.
These are the Chicago Bears, aren’t they?
Their most prolific passing campaign before Erik Kramer’s 1995 one-off was in 1943. For a few periods of the Lovie Smith era, a few weeks of the Trestman tenure and a few moments of the Ditka days they could score points in bunches. But this organization hasn’t done anything one could deem “exciting” on offense since Clark Shaughessy helped the team implement the “T” to beat the Washington Redskins 73-0 in the 1940 NFL Championship Game.
Efficient? Sure. Effective? Okay. Hell, even excellent at times. But exciting? No chance. Devin Hester is the most exciting offensive weapon the Bears have had since Gale Sayers. And Hester literally couldn’t play offense.
The Bears have never had a GM like Pace, a man who attacks elite and available with ferocity. For years the Bears seemed to settle for good enough. Jerry Angelo never thought the Bears had a problem at wide receiver. Greg Blache argued sacks don’t matter because the Bears didn’t have any players who could get them. This GM, he only settles for great.
The Bears have never had a coach like Matt Nagy – a true innovator on the offensive side of the ball. Nagy doesn’t react to what the defense shows him. He forces the defense to react to his imagination. And that imagination is boundless and unpredictable. We laugh when the Bears go with a two quarterback formation or line Akiem Hicks out wide. But in those moments, the opposing defensive coordinator is thinking, “What the fuck is about to happen?”
The Bears have never had a quarterback, a young quarterback, like Mitch Trubisky. No, the kid from Carolina hasn’t put all the tools together yet, far from it, but he has the tools! They exist! And now the Bears can compete with the game’s best at the game’s most important position.
Make Every Play, Clear the Way…
It has always felt like the Bears – to quote David Mamet’s script for The Untouchables – have been bringing a knife to a gun fight. They didn’t have the firepower on offense to consistently go toe-to-toe with a Rodgers. Their good and steady defense was just that, good and steady. But it has always lacked the kind of electric talents required to ruin the game for the better quarterbacks.
The Bears could always win a game here or a game there. They could even put together a good campaign or two: 2001, 2005, 2006, 2010, half of 2013…etc. But when one looks at all the modern, successful seasons of this franchise there is always an evident, fatal flaw. GM, coach and quarterback were the usual culprits.
This franchise has not in my lifetime had the people in place to show up each September and expect to win.
That’s been the most exciting and surprising part of all this. It’s taken this new trinity and only eleven games to change entirely how everybody around the Chicago Bears views the Chicago Bears. And for an institution that will celebrate its 100th something or other next year, that’s pretty damn impressive.
There’s no telling how this season will end. The Bears could flake out from 8-3, under the pressure of expectation, and finish 9-7. They could also find themselves playing football on the first weekend of February. And before you poo poo the latter notion, just ask yourself this question: does any NFC defense that will be playing in the tournament this January even mildly compare to the one the Bears will field? (Don’t waste too much time thinking about it because unless the Vikings get in, the answer is a definitive no.)
Hope No More.
Being a Bears fan has always been about hope. That one day the team would get the right people in the right roles. That one day the team could consistently compete with the game’s best. The one day things would work out on the lakefront. But Hope took the 11:15 Greyhound to Yesteryear.
Desmond Tutu famously said, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness.” There is no more darkness around these Chicago Bears. They are bathed in light. And it’s about time.