Chairman George McCaskey says every fan he talked to during the Bears’ long offseason brought up how the team’s playoff run ended last season in a 16-15 first-round loss to the Eagles.
“Not the kick,” McCaskey said. “The kicker.”
But then they’d say something else.
“Every conversation went along those lines: ‘This is the year. Let’s get it together. Let’s get it done,’ ” McCaskey said recently. “I tell them coach [Matt] Nagy says, ‘Don’t peak too soon.’ ”
The peaking — make that peeking — starts Thursday night, when Bears fans get a look at a team that has championship aspirations. The Bears went 12-4 last season, finishing an eyelash shy of a playoff win. All but three of their starters are back, and the additions fit Nagy’s plan better than the departed players did.
“The excitement is great, and the expectation is great,” McCaskey told the Sun-Times during his yearly Week 1 conversation. “But now we’ve got to deliver.”
The season opener against the Packers caps an offseason unlike any other in Bears history — from citywide agita after kicker Cody Parkey’s double-doink and “Today” show appearance to a convention that celebrated 100 years of the franchise while putting the weight of expectation on the 2019 team.
The season starts off at a rolling boil. The Bears will celebrate their centennial in the Thursday night spot typically reserved for the last Super Bowl champion.
“It’s an honor to kick off the 100th season, and to be doing it in Chicago is a privilege,” McCaskey said. “We’re on a national stage. We want to make the most of it.”
It’s the 199th matchup between the teams. The Packers lead 97-95-6.
“We’re two off,” McCaskey said.
Having Super Bowl aspirations is decidedly different than last offseason, when the Bears were ready to see what Nagy had to offer. Since then, outside linebacker Khalil Mack has played a season with the Bears — “He picked up the whole team, both sides of the ball,” McCaskey said — and general manager Ryan Pace and Nagy were voted the best in the league by their peers.
“It’s about them and the job that they’re doing and how well they work together — how well they communicate, how well they collaborate, how much they disagree,” McCaskey said.
He doesn’t like to compare seasons — much less offseasons — but knows expectations are high. Ask him what he’s eager to see this year, and he settles on one word: “Wins.”
He laid out a formula similar to the one in years past: control the division and win home games. Nagy did just that last year, going 7-1 at home and 5-1 in the NFC North. The lone loss was the heartbreaking season opener at Lambeau Field, when an injured Aaron Rodgers rallied the Packers from a 20-0 deficit.
Win that game — or beat the Giants in overtime in New York — and the Bears’ postseason might have gone differently.
“The goal is to win the Super Bowl,” McCaskey said. “That’s impossible to do unless you make the playoffs. You saw last year, if we pick up a win in New York, we’d get a first-round bye. It’s that close. And the guys know that.”
When the game kicks off Thursday, McCaskey will be grateful for the league his grandfather helped found 100 seasons ago and the fans who love the game today.
“And,” he said, “for the opportunity that the 2019 season presents.”