Bears defensive end Akiem Hicks looks around Soldier Field on game day and finds the same people.
“I see our diehard fans, the people that ride with us, the people who have face paint and their costume on — I see them there,” Hicks said Friday.
He probably won’t see all of them this Sunday. The afternoon game on Christmas Eve against the winless Browns figures to be the most sparsely attended of the season, a testament to the apathy surrounding the 4-10 Bears’ limp to the finish line.
It will be the third straight underwhelming home finale of the John Fox era. Against the Lions in 2015, the Bears had 10,570 no-shows. Last year, on Christmas Eve afternoon against the Redskins, the no-shows were almost double that: 18,116.
The Bears averaged 5,371 no-shows over their first five home games, ending with the upset loss to the Packers on Nov. 12 that killed off any hope of a second-half resurgence. For the two games at Soldier Field since, against the Lions and 49ers, the no-show average was 9,317.
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Chairman George McCaskey, the Bears’ former senior director of ticket operations, undoubtedly will cite dwindling fan interest when he decides to hire a new coach after the season finale on New Year’s Eve. More than anyone at Halas Hall, McCaskey understands the financial implications — and, just as important, the optics — of doing nothing in the wake of such no-shows.
Though the Bears claim a sellout streak that dates to 1984, they sold 482,951 tickets last year, their fewest since 1979. And the actual attendance, 403,799, was their lowest since 1978. McCaskey couldn’t make a change after last season, given that Fox and general manager Ryan Pace had only been together for two years. But standing pat this year will become more and more impossible with every picture shared on social media that shows a sparsely filled stadium Sunday.
The Bears need about 19,000 fans Sunday to surpass last year’s attendance total. They figure to get that many — but how much more?
“We can’t control what’s out there,” linebacker Danny Trevathan said. “It’s going to be a good game. It’s Christmas — I’m sure people want to stay home.”
At least the Bears have quarterback Mitch Trubisky for fans to watch — and not, as was the case last year, Matt Barkley. The Browns’ winless streak offers some sick intrigue, too, and is better than most Week 16 storylines.
“We love the fans, we appreciate the support, and we love for the seats to be filled [like] back in the day,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “We have a job to do, regardless if anyone’s there or if it’s on TV.”
Fox said the players likely will be motivated by trying to make their Christmas bright.
“I think it is Christmas Eve, [and] most of these guys carry games with them,” he said. “They’ll feel a lot better on Christmas Day after a ‘W’ than after the alternative, so those things are a little more motivational than crowds and records.”
Of course, better crowds will come with better records.
Hicks can appreciate the fan passion that’s there — and, he said, will be there Sunday.
“They show up,” he said. “We’ve had a tough year. Things haven’t always gone our way. But honestly, when I look up into the stands — and I do take a chance to look up into the stands — I do see a great amount of support.”
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