This is a special time of the year, a time when Bears fans, their annual hopes for a good season having been replaced by their almost-annual anguish, agitate for a change in team ownership.
The reality hits them full force that, under the McCaskey family, the franchise has been a moneymaker but a football-game loser. They’d like a divorce. They’d like an owner who can get to the playoffs more than a miserable six times in 28 years, which is what the Bears have done since 1992. A track record that bad is hard to do and even harder to believe, but there it is.
Many of you understand that the McCaskeys are the problem, but I’m here to remind you of one unfortunate fact: They’re not going anywhere. The family is the plastic products in the landfill that is Halas Hall. Decomposition will take about 1,000 years. Demanding a change in ownership is an exercise in futility.
The McCaskeys seem to value their familial connection to team founder George Halas much more than they value a Super Bowl title. The last one of those for the Bears came in the 1985 season, technically under McCaskey ownership but built by people who preceded the family’s assumption of the franchise.
The obsession with the distant past, along with what appears to be a football learning disability, is a huge part of the family’s problem. But if you think history is the most important thing in the world, as the McCaskeys do, then there’s a good chance you don’t think you have a problem. Ponder that long enough, and you’ll get a headache.
The Bears finished 8-8 this season, a huge disappointment for a team that won the NFC North the year before. When it comes to the blame game for 2019, plenty of options are available. General manager Ryan Pace selected the wrong quarterback with the second overall pick in the 2017 draft. That quarterback, Mitch Trubisky, is lacking in ability and mental acuity, and it was painfully apparent this season. Coach Matt Nagy’s play-calling was poor too often this season. Whether that was a product of his inexperience or a product of having a very limited quarterback is the great debate.
But there’s one intractable issue, and it’s the McCaskeys. Fire at them to your heart’s desire, but your outrage will bounce off the family like Nerf balls. Everybody else involved in this mess will eventually be gone, but the McCaskeys will still be standing.
But let’s fire away anyway. It’s all we have.
There’s no impetus for the family to demand excellence from the people it hires. If you own an NFL team, there’s no way not to make money hand over fist. Losing seasons don’t stop teams from their goal of building more filthy richness. But here’s the strange part: The McCaskeys don’t seem to care about money as it relates to having things. They dress down; they drive down; they live down. There’s something noble about that.
Trouble is, they football down, too. They’ve historically refused to spend money on a proven coach or front-office type, even though they themselves don’t know the game. They consistently hire the wrong people.
So what is it they do as owners? They put their energy into things such as renovating Halas Hall, the Bears’ practice facility, and celebrating the team’s 100th anniversary. They do this almost surely because they’re bewildered by the football side of the operation — also known as “the only thing that matters.”
They’re charmed by people who look, act and talk like them. People like the velvet-throated Pace, who, if he weren’t a football executive, would be a disc jockey on an easy-listening radio station in Muncie, Indiana.
Pace and Nagy will have their end-of-season news conference Tuesday at Halas Hall, where they’re expected to say nothing of substance, as well as nothing we haven’t heard before. If that sounds defeatist, please see the Bears’ 28-year playoff record mentioned earlier.
Chairman George McCaskey might be there, and perhaps he’ll say that his mom, owner Virginia McCaskey, is “pissed off’’ by the team’s under-performance this season, the way he did during a horrible 2014. The only time we see Mrs. McCaskey, who turns 97 Sunday, is when the TV camera pans to her during Bears games and national broadcasters, unfamiliar with the public dissatisfaction in Chicago with ownership, gush about the franchise’s history, which started with Halas, her father.
Every now and then, there are whispers that some family members want to sell the team. I don’t know where the whispers come from, but I do know I don’t believe them. Some things are etched in stone, such as McCaskey ownership and one Super Bowl title in the last 35 seasons.
It’s hard to spread your wings and fly while wearing ankle weights, and it’s hard to think good thoughts about a team when it’s burdened by a future that includes the McCaskeys. A future with no end in sight.