For the Bears, 2016 got off to a festive start — a week’s worth of celebrations all over the city, a parade of sorts.
It was time to honor the ’85 Bears. Again.
With a reunion at Soldier Field, a film premiere and more, it was time to party like it was 1986. Jan. 26 marked the 30-year anniversary of the Bears’ 46-10 victory over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX.
With the Cubs finally attaining the seemingly unattainable – their first World Series championship in 108 years – the focus soon will shift to the 2-6 Bears.
It’s been almost a week since Game 7 and a few days since an estimated 5 million fans gathered downtown to the tune of “Go, Cubs, Go.” Even the most worthy, life-changing hangovers can’t last that long.
The sobering reality for the Bears is that they now own the longest championship drought among the city’s major teams.
Thirty years isn’t depressing by Blackhawks or Cubs standards, but there’s a generation of fans in Chicago that knows Mike Ditka more for his infomercials and ESPN appearances than for his coaching.
Asked when Chicago might stop wallowing in the accomplishments of the ’85 Bears, former quarterback Jim McMahon was candid.
“Probably, not until they win again,” McMahon said in January.
So when will that be?
A season and a half into the Ryan Pace/John Fox era, the Bears are 8-16. Marc Trestman had eight wins in his first season as Bears coach. But the panic button that some outsiders seem to be on the lookout for doesn’t exist at Halas Hall. After all, this is a rebuild.
When Phil Emery ran the Bears, he did so with a win-at-all-costs philosophy. He talked about winning multiple championships. It sounded good — even looked good on the field at times– but ultimately, Emery and Trestman’s run snowballed into a controversy-laden disaster.
The Bears’ philosophy is very different now. It’s not about investing in the old but starting anew. Look at everything that’s changed over the last year and a half. Pace not is only turning the page on the Emery/Trestman era, but finally shutting the book on Lovie Smith and Co.
Tough, sometimes hard-to-figure decisions are part of that process, but changing the locker room is essential. For every headline-grabbing troublemaker that was cast away – i.e., receiver Brandon Marshall and tight end Martellus Bennett – there were fan favorites to cringe about. And that’s OK.
There are no guarantees that Pace’s efforts will work. But it’s an approach that requires time. Chairman George McCaskey gets it. It’s why he’s said multiple times that he’ll be patient. And it’s why false reports about friction have turned into a rallying cry at Halas Hall.
Comparing team-building efforts in different sports can be difficult, if not dangerous. But there is one tangible parallel between what the Bears are trying to do and what the 2010 Hawks and 2016 Cubs had.
It starts with trying to establish a young, talented foundation of players. It oftentimes takes losing to get it. The Bears are experiencing that now.
Finding that winning core of players involves a targeted approach to free agency. The Bears have done that in signing outside linebacker Pernell McPhee, linebacker Danny Trevathan and others.
But drafting well is everything in the NFL. Pace can’t fleece teams for a Jake Arrieta or a Kyle Hendricks.
Injuries have marred Pace’s first class, starting with receiver Kevin White. But Pace’s second class – highlighted by the performances of outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, center Cody Whitehair and running back Jordan Howard – has offered hope.
Getting second-year nose tackle Eddie Goldman back from injury helps, too. The plan also is to get safety Deon Bush and linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski more involved.
After all, developing young players and getting them to produce is crucial for the rest of the season.
Winning consistently with them will take time. In general, the Bears are a thin, inexperienced team in need of more difference-makers. It might take three or four drafts to see that winning foundation emerge.
All of this is not meant to imply that the Bears want to do what the Cubs did — they had 91-, 101- and 96-loss seasons. No one likes using the word “rebuild” around these parts, and tanking doesn’t really exist in the NFL. When healthy, the Bears have potential. Beating the Vikings is an example.
But turning around an organization takes time. Cubs fans who also root for the Bears should know that. It could be worth the wait.