A new era in Bears history opened Thursday night at Soldier Field in the shadow of our magnificent lakefront and another local phenomenon —Kyle Schwarber and the rampaging Cubs.
In fact, sandwiched between the Cubs sweep of the Brewers and a Cubs-Sox weekend series with more intrigue than in recent memory — and with Patrick Kane’s impending predicament too sordid to ignore — what normally would be a much-anticipated first glimpse of the Ryan Pace-John Fox era was kept virtually under wraps. Soldier Field was barely half-full at kickoff. The announced attendance was 49,424. The Packers drew 67,336 to a scrimmage at Lambeau Field last week.
The Bears probably appreciate the cover. A first-time general manager at 38, Pace doesn’t need a Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer level of scrutiny, with his every move dissected endlessly on talk radio. And Fox, doing everything he can to understate so he can overproduce, would just as soon keep his team hermetically sealed and away from public view until the Sept. 13 regular-season opener against the Packers at Soldier Field.
And Chicago appears almost willing to accommodate him. A Bears fandom that normally embraces change with over-the-top anticipation seems cautious and prudent — finally intent on not believing anything until they see it.
Attendance at training camp in Bourbonnais has been unimpressive. The vibe is … meh. Bears fans are uninspired. Cub fans are pre-occupied. Even Sox fans seem more interested in engaging in Cub envy than latching on to the possibilities of Pernell McPhee, Eddie Goldman and the suddenly flawless Jay Cutler.
It’s the level of cynicism that is surprising. What do the Bears know about Kevin White’s injury and when did they know it? Nobody’s buying the Shea McClellin/inside linebacker story, even with the accomplished Fangio behind it. A smidgen of hope that Cutler might be more efficient under Adam Gase than Ron Turner, Mike Martz, Mike Tice or Marc Trestman is met with dismissiveness and derision.
I don’t quite get that part of it. The Bears have earned at least a little more of the benefit of the doubt after tacitly acknowledging their dysfunction after the disastrous 2014 season and operating against the family grain. They fired a general manager after three seasons. They fired a head coach after two seasons — two things they had never done before.
They went outside the family and hired Ernie Accorsi to find a new GM. They hired a coach with previous modern-day NFL experience — something the Bears had never done since George Halas re-hired himself.
That doesn’t mean Pace and Fox will succeed. But at least they give the Bears a chance to have a chance. So — as strange as it might sound, given the Bears’ recent history — you can lift the embargo on optimism. It’s OK to think the Bears might be a contender or at least will get back on their feet under Pace and Fox and Fangio and not embarrass their fans as they did last season.
The Bears have re-joined the real NFL world. The last time they operated in such a non-McCaskey way was when George Halas hired Jim Finks as general manager in 1974 — the first non-Halas family member to run the football operation in franchise history. It put the Bears on a path to to the Super Bowl. Their only Super Bowl championship.
The Bears are a long way from the Super Bowl. They might be destined to finish 6-10. But, barring a disastrous run of injuries, they’re almost certain to be better at the end than the beginning — the schedule alone almost ensures that. That alone would be an upgrade from the Trestman era, when the Bears opened 5-1 in Weeks 1-3 in his two seasons, but finished 8-18 in Weeks 4-17.
The knock on Fox is that he could not win the Super Bowl — not even with Peyton Manning. Bears fans can worry about that when the time comes. For now, the Bears have to get back on their feet and headed in the right direction. It’s OK to have hope they can do at least that this season.