The 2016 Cubs are not the worst thing that ever happened to the Bears, though they might be in the top five.
That occurred to me the other day as I was pondering why everything always has to be so hard for the Bears. When was the last time the team went into a season with the certainty that it was going to be in the postseason? I’m not talking about the annual, overblown, yippee-the-season-is-here hope, but the real certainty of good things ahead? And when was the last time the Bears went into the season without some issue?
I’m pretty sure there was a Bush in office, and it might have been the first one.
This time, the season will start with bad vibes based on an ugly preseason and with one of the team’s best players, guard Kyle Long, dealing with a shoulder injury. Long-time Bear Robbie Gould learned Sunday that he is like every kicker, which is to say disposal, after a terrible exhibition season. The team reportedly plans to release him. As it stands now, the only good news appears to be that Brandon Marshall is revising history 1,000 miles from Chicago.
The Bears are always the subject of scrutiny, but for years they lulled us into low expectations. Most of those expectations were along the lines of, “If these two things go right, those five things fall in the right order and somehow Jay Cutler and Aaron Rodgers exchange quarterbacking abilities, this very well could be our year!”
The Cubs’ stunning turnaround is the sport equivalent of Lazarus waking up, stretching and asking what’s for breakfast. And it has had the effect of raising the level of expectations for other teams in town. If the Cubs can do it, why can’t everyone else?
Bears general manager Ryan Pace and coach John Fox are in their second year with the team and have been given a Theo Epstein-like pass as they try to rebuild the franchise. But, still: When will this organization ever get to the point where a successful year is expected, not wished for? The Cubs make you want to take the Bears by the lapels and shake them. Wake up, already!
The franchise is constantly talking about the glorious past, as it should. But the recent past and the present are still so tightly wound together that it’s hard to move forward. To get a sense of what that feels like, put on a pair of ankle weights and head to the pool.
The cutting of 2014 second-round pick Ego Ferguson on Saturday is not a referendum on former Bears general manager Phil Emery because that referendum took place when the team fired him just before 2015 arrived.
Emery does get credit for taking Long with the 20th pick overall in the 2013 draft, but the amount of credit depends on how much vision you think is required to draft a 6-foot-6, 318-pound athlete whose father is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and whose brother is an NFL veteran.
Emery is the convenient piñata here because he’s the common bond between two players who are going in different directions. Ferguson never came close to matching the potential the Bears saw in him on the defensive line. On the same day the team waived him, news broke that Long had reportedly agreed to a four-year, $40 million contract extension.
Long is a guard who should be a tackle. With his size and athleticism, he should be protecting Cutler’s blind side. That the debate about where he should be playing hasn’t truly been settled says something about the unsettled nature of the team. It’s true that Long hasn’t played as well at tackle as he has at guard, but wasn’t Fox’s miracle-working coaching staff supposed to make everyone it touched better?
With this team, even the good things seem to have some darkness to them. Long has a shoulder injury. The mildness or severity of the injury is so secretive that no one will even acknowledge that Long has a shoulder. For all we know, the injury could require a Band-Aid or an amputation. Welcome to Langley.
Linebacker Pernell McPhee, the Bears’ defensive leader last season, will miss at least the first six games of this season because of a knee injury.
Things happen in the NFL. Most of us know that and accept it. But wouldn’t it be great if, just once, the Bears knew they were going to be good and everybody else knew the Bears were going to be good? That seems like such a foreign concept right now.
It took the Cubs five years of committed losing to get where they are, but at least you could see the prize on the other side. I’m still not sure we see anything with the Bears that says good times are guaranteed ahead. When will it stop being so hard?