One moment, the Bears and their fans were trying to decide how to dress for a second-round playoff game against the Rams in sunny Los Angeles. Would a chiffon muscle shirt be over the top for a Grabowski? Something tasteful in blue, orange and white?
The next, there was a crater where strapping dreams used to stand.
The most jarring part of the Bears’ 16-15 loss to Philadelphia on Sunday was the abruptness of it, the lasting emptiness of it. There was supposed to be so much more to a wonderful season. We know this because plenty of people had convinced themselves of it. They had willed it; therefore it would be so. That’s why the before-and-after feelings are so stark.
First there was the joyous hum of a celebration about to break out, then there was complete silence.
First there was the chance to win the game and advance in the playoffs. Then there was Cody Parkey’s 43-yard field-goal attempt clanging off the left upright and the crossbar in the closing seconds at Soldier Field. That, suddenly, was that.
All deaths are, by definition, sudden. Every life ends in a heartbeat. But this one came way too soon. The Bears were the surprise of the NFL in the regular season, going 12-4 and winning the NFC North after four years of at least 10 losses. Given the dominance of their defense, it was reasonable to think that the team could win a game or two in the postseason.
And, if you looked at the situation in just the right way, you could see a path to a Super Bowl title.
So when the offseason arrived completely uninvited Sunday night, it was a massive shock. All these hours later, it’s a shock that refuses to budge.
You’ve heard of the five stages of grief? Chicago is still going through the four stages of disbelief.
It can’t be over.
Whose bright idea was it to cut Robbie Gould and sign Parkey?
Because of the strength of the Bears’ postseason dreams, Parkey will go down as one of the saddest figures in Chicago sports history. That’s how these things work. There is no planning involved in it, no groups of people getting together to decide someone’s legacy. The moment the ball hit the upright, Parkey joined Leon Durham and the 2003 Cubs in the city’s permanent doghouse.
Even before the game began, Parkey had one (kicking) foot in the door. He had hit four uprights in a game against the Lions in the regular season, an occurrence so improbable that mathematics professors swooned at the very idea of it. Hitting another upright when the Bears most needed him to make a field goal was a final reminder that general manager Ryan Pace had lost his mind when he decided to waive the popular and successful Gould before the 2016 season.
So this loss was a matter of adding grievous insult to grievous insult.
It was ugly history repeating itself, only worse. You can justify walking into traffic and getting hit by a car. You were distracted, perhaps. But you can’t justify getting hit by the same car on the same street for the same reason a few months later. That’s what happened at Soldier Field on Sunday.
So, shock, yes. Shock over a season that died much too young. And shock over the foolish cause of death. Another upright? Really?
Now there’s a void in Chicago that refuses to leave the premises. It figures to hang around for, oh, a lifetime or so.