After sitting out the preseason, Bears’ starters can’t wait to hit somebody; a Packer will do just fine
“I’m so [expletive] ready,’’ outside linebacker Khalil Mack said Monday. “It’s been so long. ... So I’m looking forward to it, getting out there Thursday, getting to the ground with my brothers.’’
It’s not just Mr. and Mrs. Bears Fan and their son, Walter Gale Butkus, who want the real football games to begin.
The Bears’ starters, who have been denied the joys of tackling and blocking other human beings in preseason games, are dying to hit somebody, anybody. That will finally happen when they take on the Packers in the season opener Thursday night, which can’t come soon enough.
“I’m so [expletive] ready,’’ outside linebacker Khalil Mack said Monday. “It’s been so long. So I’m looking forward to it, getting out there Thursday, getting to the ground with my brothers.’’
As a precaution against serious injuries in games that have little meaning, coach Matt Nagy sat most of his starters in the preseason. In doing so, he basically clamped a bottle of carbonated soda into a commercial paint shaker and flipped the on button. The bottle will be opened against Green Bay at Soldier Field. You might want to stand back.
“I have to have my head on a swivel with [inside linebacker] Roquan Smith right now,’’ Nagy said, laughing. “Every time I walk by, he’s getting ready to hit me. He’s just rolling. . . . They’re ready to go. They’re anxious. I always tell them, ‘Don’t peak too soon . . . when game time comes, then cut it loose.’ ’’
NFL players were put on this earth for one thing, to hit each other as hard as they can. It’s why football was invented — so that these large, overly aggressive people wouldn’t hit the rest of us. Pity the Packers, who have to deal with Mack, who for a second consecutive year was deprived of hitting quarterbacks in the preseason. Last year, he missed the pretend games while he was holding out for a better contract from the Raiders. Then Oakland sent him to the Bears before the regular season began.
‘‘Oh, man, I’m so ready to hit somebody other than my teammates,’’ he said Monday. “Looking forward to it. It’s something I feel like is going to make us a lot hungrier coming out there Thursday night.’’
It is Mack’s belief that, like absence making the heart grow fonder, the absence of hitting somebody in August will make the Bears’ ferocity grow more intense in September.
“Mindset is the whole thing,’’ he said. “I missed the whole [preseason] last year. My mindset was, ‘I can’t wait to go out and take this out on somebody else.’ ”
In the opener last season in Green Bay, Mack had a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a 27-yard interception return for a touchdown, all in the first half. So, yeah, the Bears will have whatever he’s having this time around.
It’s fair to wonder where quarterback Mitch Trubisky’s adrenaline level will be at, given that many of us have hung the Bears’ Super Bowl hopes on his right arm. Somewhere between Mellow Mitch and Maniacal Mitch would be good.
The game has taken on more weight than the typical opener. The Bears are celebrating their 100th season, and if you haven’t heard about that, tell us what life was like inside the hermitage. That the opponent is the Packers, the Bears’ natural rival, only adds to the spectacle. In a question to Nagy on Monday, a reporter described the emotion of the week as “astronomical in the football world,’’ which significantly shrinks the pool of adjectives we’ll be able to use to describe the Super Bowl. But Nagy didn’t blink.
In fact, he agreed with the assessment, though he said it was the coaching staff’s job to get the players ready to play without adding too much motivational stimuli.
“We do know it’s astronomical, and we realize the significance of it, but I think there’s a balance there of doing that too much because then they put too much on [the opener],’’ he said. “I want our guys to just play football, be our team this year.’’
Or, if you prefer, Be You, Nagy’s slogan last season.
“We’ve been looking forward to it for a long time, as have the people of Chicago,’’ guard Kyle Long said of the opener. “Chicagoans understand that this is the game. It’s like NASCAR starts out with Daytona, similar to us. Big marquee matchup. We’re excited about it.’’
Long gets the Bears-Packers rivalry. It’s not clear how many of his teammates do, but he makes up for any of their shortcomings.
“I guess it’s like standing in a hallway,’’ he said. “Some of these teams have short hallways in terms of their legacy. You can’t see the end of the hallway in regard to the Bears-Packers rivalry. That’s the beauty about it. We get to keep adding rooms every year.’’
I don’t know if Long thought of that on the spot or if he had been pondering it awhile. But it was perfect.
And it was great to be talking about a game. A real game with real contact.