Once Again, The Burden Of Expectation

Oh I got football thoughts, buddy.

We’ve been here before. No matter who you follow, or what you’ve come here to read, you know. The comparisons ran all last season. The ’08-’09 Hawks. The 2015 Cubs. And now the 2018 Bears. Seasons that went far better than expected, teams filled with young(ish) stars announcing themselves on the big stage for the first time, unadulterated joy from the off (well, after the Packers game that is). The first two portended to much bigger stuff. But before we got to that, we had months of just living in a fantasy world where no one really had to worry about the bigger implications to come. You got to be in the moment, completely, which is rare anywhere these days.

So the Bears find themselves in between the steps that both the Hawks and Cubs took. The larger implications are here now, which really means the expectations. Anything less than confetti showers and Virginia McCaskey being knocked over by trying to hold the Lombardi Trophy will be considered failure. The pure exhilaration of last year, the seemingly out-of-nowhere success, AN ACTUAL USEFUL BEARS TEAM FOR FUCK’S SAKE, that’s all gone now. Every win will have a context, a meaning to what comes next, until you get to the end. It’s now a simply pass/fail class.

And yet, football is different (wow, keen analysis, hockey boy). Whereas those seasons for the Hawks and Bears ended with nothing but expectation and excitement for the following campaign, there is a feeling of missed opportunity for the Bears. One, they weren’t simply outclassed at the last hurdle like the Hawks were back then by the Wings. Or simply helpless at the feet of a machine that had everything go right, as the Cubs did that year to the Mets pitching staff (which has never been able to duplicate it since because METS). The NFC was open for the Bears, and they lost to Nick Foles tossing up wounded turkeys that they could only pick off twice instead of the four it should have been. The Rams and Saints were obviously vulnerable, too. It was all there for them.

Internally, the Bears may never have as healthy and functional of a defense as they did last season. Already we have the questions about Chuck Pagano taking over for (Boers Voice) Vic Fangio. Adrian Amos is gone. So’s Bryce Callahan. HaHa Clinton-Dix has pedigree, but is far from a sure thing. Buster Skrine certainly gives the platform for a ton of Coen Brothers jokes, but will he be as exposed as non-Callahan slot corners were last year? And that’s not even getting into health, because it’s unlikely you’ll get 16 games of Earth-destroying play from Akiem Hicks again. Those four picks could have happened if Eddie Jackson was on the field. Will the defense suffer if he misses time again?

Of course, we’ve been here before with the Bears. The 2005 season was the same kind of joy, with another young, brash, emerging defense (though absolutely carrying a decidedly wagon-wheel offense). It ended with a bitter playoff loss at home as well (where your local mechanic was covering Steve Smith for some reason). It felt like the Bears missed something then too, as the Seahawks were hardly a great team.

But the 2006 Bears responded, didn’t shy from the expectations and predictions, roaring to a 7-0 start and eventually a 13-3 record (only the third time the franchise has amassed 13 wins or more, which seems off). We won’t talk about how that ended.

And just like before that season, a lot of hope hinges on a quarterback we have more questions than answers about. Just like Rex did before it all became clear, there are flashes of top-level throws and plays from Mitch. And then there are the ones that leave you with an expression on your face that if you hold for just one second longer will cause permanent damage to the muscles contained therein. We just don’t know. Anyone who says they know is selling something. But Mitch will be swallowed and spit out by this town if they even get a whiff that he’ll be a reason it doesn’t get its second Super Bowl. We’ve done it before.

If you Occam’s Razor this, the most likely ending is with the Bears in the NFC Championship game at worst. There are playmakers all over the field. You can’t make the QB’s job much cushier. The defense is laden with game-turners. They have the swagger already. And while you know there will be injuries, they could just as easily be small and to non-vital players or vital ones for just a week instead of catastrophe. It can go either way.

It just won’t be possible to be as in the moment as we were last year. You’ll always have one eye on the end this time around. You can’t say, “This is so much fun, it doesn’t matter where it goes.” We already did that. You only get it once. You can try, and you’ll maybe even succeed for a short time.

But January will still deal the only feeling and verdict that matters for this team. And this is a definite chance. Unless you’re the Patriots and you’ve found some vortex that only they can see, you only get three or four years. Hell, the Bears are three years away from having to pay Trubisky the boat and losing other pieces to do so or concluding he’s not good enough–which probably means you haven’t won–and starting over.

It goes fast in football. Faster than anywhere else. You can’t miss the bear now.


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