Football

Welcome back to THE VAULT, my weekly sacrifice to the Dark Lord of Bears fandom. Through a combination of a shrine to Josh Bellamy and a woven idol made entirely of Bobby Engram’s discarded trash, I hope to write 750 words and pay tribute to the fans before me so that one day during my darkest hour the spirits of men in mustaches and sweater vests whisk me to safety. Also if this blog blows up and I make this my full time job, I hope to one day be in the position to insult Jay Mariotti to his stupid face.

Speaking of Jay’s that I’ll never be cool enough to even insult, Jay Cutler’s 2015 Bears were a John Fox led 6-10 dumpster fire that shares an uncomfortable level of talent with Mitch Trubisky and Matt Nagy’s 2019 eventual 7-9 shitshow. Let it be noted once again, if prime Jay Cutler was under center for this team, they’d be playing a lot better until he inevitably got hurt and the Bears had to turn to one of their menagerie of garbage backups (the 2015 season being highlighted by Jimmy Clausen’s outstanding performance against Seattle- a game that might not look out of place this year).

The Bears were 3-5 going up against the then 4-4 St. Louis Rams, in a game won handily by the good guys, 37-13. Not only did Jeremy Langford out perform Todd Gurley in every statistical category, Ka’Deem Carey also gained more yards on the ground than Gurley. Langford caught a screen pass and took it EIGHTY THREE (shouts out to Clark from Des Plaines) yards to paydirt. Hell, even Zach Miller scored from over eighty yards out, grabbing 5 balls for 107 and 2 touchdowns. Zach Miller was the last capable Bears tight end and that’s sad because he was literally a journeyman though he played way above his pay grade in his time in Chicago.

It’s always been a testament to the various Bears offensive lines that so many mid-round, ostensibly just average running backs have found success in the blue and orange. Jeremy Langford got 537 of his career 762 rushing yards his rookie year despite backing up Matt Forte for more than half the season, and was then replaced by Jordan Howard three games into the next year. Jordan Howard is a beast and should be on an NFL roster, but he is about a league average running back depending on his situation. The John Fox-led Bears was the perfect situation for a relatively slow, grinding running back that gets more effective as the game goes on.

Jeremy Langford, Alshon Jeffery, and Marty Bennett are the Bears players on the offensive side of the ball for this team that the Bears turned loose for one reason or another, and the only one I really think could’ve stayed and made a difference on the field was Marty. Notable castoffs on defense are Adrian Amos, Bryce Callahan, and of course a now retired Willie Young. Goddamn I loved Willie Young.

You can see some of the building blocks of last year’s NFC Champion Rams on this 2015 trash heap football team, mainly Gurley and Aaron Donald. Sure, Jared Goff is just blonde Mitch, but he had a core intact that made Sean McVay look pretty damn smart for a year. Sounds familiar, somehow. Also, we have a Big Dick Nick sighting, as America’s favorite cocksman was the godawful Rams QB of the week!

Also, James Laurinaitis was on this team! The son of BIG JOHNNY himself! This game took place years after the John Laurinaitis/CM Punk feud, but I’d still like to think the Bears won this one for Phil Brooks as well as themselves. Even though CM Punk ignored me when I yelled “HEY YOU’RE CM PUNK” while reeking of weed walking down North Avenue last spring, I still believe in CM Punk, and I think Zach Miller knew in his heart that breaking two tackles and racing down the field to score was basically hitting a Go To Sleep in the heart of one disappointed father.

It’s narratives like that, ones that I’ve just totally made up, that provide the much needed subtext to make this game between two shitty teams mean something to you in 2019. Zach Miller, CM Punk, John Fox, what does it mean? Well, for one, it means the Bears aren’t winning jack shit anytime soon.

We’ve already seen Todd Gurley break down, and the 2018 Rams lost all their momentum near the end of the regular season. The then red-hot Bears exposed the weaknesses Goff and friends had on primetime, and Sean McVay no longer looks like the greatest coach in the history of coaching. It’s entirely fatalistic and somewhat reasonable to suggest that Matt and Mitch are already at 2019 levels of McVay/Goff regression, with less to put on their resumes. It’s eerie to look at these two teams in 2015 and see foreshadowing somehow, but it’s there and it’s hideous.

Everything Else Football

Content Warning: Self-Harm

I got a text at 11:45pm this last Monday from my main football watching homie that just said “I can’t do it anymore, thank you for always being real. Love ya.”

I wake up at 5am for work so I was asleep and therefore missed it, but as soon as I saw it I messaged him until he woke up. Turns out he was drunk and sad and lonely and in a very very dark place, and had no recollection of sending me that text message. I told him if he ever tried to hurt himself I would beat him to death with my own hands.

My guy has been there for me since I was 17, so pretty much exactly half my life. We’ve lived together and helped each other out, and if I had a “real” wedding, he’d be the best man for sure. Football is a big part of that bond, as I’m sure it is for a lot of the people reading this and their friends. It takes a special kind of friendship to be able to sit there in silence for hours except for the occasional snarky comment or mention of how awful your fantasy team is looking this week.

You know the old adage: “If horseracing is the sport of kings, then surely football is… a very good sport as well.” What makes sports so great for me, my buddy, you reading this: the escape. Fuck your dead-end job or your overdue car payment, and that term paper can wait until Sunday night, because it’s Bears football. The thing you grew up watching. The team that means so much to you even though there’s no logical reason to explain why.

That Sunday time is a sort of collective unwinding time for those of us lucky to not be at work, leaving us (hopefully) recharged for the next week of new or repeating nightmares. It’s for that reason that I stopped being so emotionally invested in the outcome of Bears games and just love the experience of watching “My Team” play on Sundays, regardless of what the final score reflects.

Writing “The Vault” has become one of my favorite assignments during the week, because as I’m looking at box scores and game notes and trying to remember how to spell player names, I’m also going back to old memories. I can remember where I was when so many of these games happened, from the couch I sat on to what I ate to how it felt watching Johnny Knox damn near break in half.

My friend was there for so many of those afternoons or nights. The amazing second half comeback against Arizona in 2006. The entire Super Bowl run, when we looked at each other after Devin Hester’s opening kickoff touchdown and knew this was the year without saying a word. We were horribly wrong and smoked the saddest blunt when we got home.

I knew he was lonely and depressed, but one of the hardest things to break out of is the mask of masculinity that we all wear, especially when a lot of the time you spend with someone is spent watching hours of the most bro sport in existence.

Sometimes it doesn’t get any deeper than “what should we get for lunch?”, but I need to do a better job. We all need to do a better job. Maybe it isn’t a good time to ask if someone is doing okay emotionally when the Broncos go ahead late with a 2-point conversion, but football brings us closer together and I hope we can use the bonds we’re strengthening with every yell at the television to notice when our football friends aren’t acting like we’re used to. Prince Amukamara posted the picture and caption on Instagram that I used for the banner image this week, presumably to let his friend Roquan Smith know that he has his back no matter what, and that, combined with my friend’s scary text on Monday really changed how I wanted to do this piece today.

As I sat down to write this, I looked back at the 2015 Bears/Raiders game, and I watched highlight videos. I looked up how to spell Sebastian Janikowski, I looked at how open Marty Bennett got for a Jay Cutler pass, and I got sad. All I could think about is how hard it would be to reminisce on these games if I lost the friend that I spent so many weekends watching them with. So I hope you’ll understand if today’s Vault is more of a reflection on why it is that Bears football means so much to me, and also a plea to you, the reader: check in with your friends, because okay doesn’t always mean okay.