Bears could return to prominence soon

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Every NFL team wants to make it to the Super Bowl. And if you look at the stats, it seems every team can.

Obviously, it’s not quite that simple. But in the last 16 Super Bowls, there have been 11 different champions — the Seahawks, Ravens, Giants, Packers, Saints, Steelers, Colts, Patriots, Buccaneers, Rams and Broncos.

The Ravens’ pair of victories came 12 years apart, in 2001 and 2013, but the other repeaters — the Giants, Steelers and Patriots — did it within five years, and with the same quarterbacks at the helm: Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady. A key ingredient to being a perennial power is having a Hall of Fame quarterback running the show, obviously.

But if you count teams that simply made it to the Super Bowl, the field opens up. Indeed, in the last 16 years, seven other teams have gotten to the Super Bowl and lost. They are the 49ers, Cardinals, Eagles, Panthers, Titans and Falcons. And, almost forgot, the Bears. That makes 18 teams that have played in the Super Bowl since 1999.

So is it wrong to ask, Why not us?

True, few people remember the losers of Super Bowls. Or if they do, it’s with a pinch of contempt. Case in point: How much love does former quarterback Rex Grossman get in these parts, even though he’s the last Bears QB to play in a Super Bowl in 29 years?

If you get to the Super Bowl, you have a chance to win it, and that is as close to the pinnacle as a team can come — until kickoff. The point being: Why not the Bears? Why not soon? Like 2015?

NFL teams can reload, rebuild, re-invent fast. It’s not like Major League Baseball, where new GMs talk about revamping the minor-league system, creating new training facilities in distant places, sending more scouts to the Caribbean and South America and Japan and Australia.

No, big-time NCAA football is the NFL’s minor leagues, tidy and ready to roll. Thank you, NCAA! All an NFL guru has to do is draft well, make a couple of trades (hardly any, because of weird rules) and pick up the right free agents. Some of it is luck, because your stud bull can be crippled by a prairie dog hole at any moment.

When this year’s Cardinals went from great to pitiful, you can hardly blame folks in charge for two starting quarterbacks going down, leaving the team with a mannequin named Ryan Lindley at the helm.

But who cares about the Cardinals? The Bears went 5-11 this season. Can they return to title quality in one year, as chairman George McCaskey said they should? Yes. And, they should.

Stats, again.

The Ravens went from 8-8 in the 1999 season to the Super Bowl crown after the next season. So did the Saints after the 2009 season after going 8-8 in 2008. More impressive than that, the Rams won Super Bowl XXXIV after the 1999 season, coming off a 4-12 record in 1998. The Patriots won the Super Bowl after the 2001 season after a 5-11 finish the year before.

It can be done.

So what if you’ve got Jay Cutler at quarterback? You win with him, not because of him. Or you dump him and get a young Russell Wilson or a cagey Joe Theismann or Phil Simms or Jeff Hostetler or Brad Johnson. They all won Super Bowls, and none of them is named Staubach or Montana.

Ryan Pace, you know what I’m talking about, right?

T-shirts with slogans can get old pretty fast. They can be funny for a moment, or inspiring, or dumber than a box of mud. I saw an all-timer in New Orleans a few years ago. A girl was wearing it, and it said, ‘‘I’M WITH [Bleep]HEAD,’’ and it had an arrow pointing to the guy next to her.

But when I saw Washington Wizards forward Kevin Seraphin wearing a ‘‘Je Suis Charlie’’ T-shirt before the Wizards hosted the Bulls on Friday night, I was thrilled.

People had mixed feelings about the ‘‘I CAN’T BREATHE’’ T-shirts that Derrick Rose and others in the NBA wore before games recently, in reference to the death of a New York man in police custody. But this was different. I felt.

The phrase means ‘‘I am Charlie’’ in English, and it is the response French citizens have chosen to show they are united against the terrorism that took the lives of 12 people at the satirical Paris newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

Athletes aren’t billboards. But when they think, when they care, I love it.


Twitter: @ricktelander

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