Why are you a Bears fan? Is it deeply embedded loyalty? Is it tribalism — you live in these parts, therefore this is the team you’ll defend to the death? Is it a genetic thing, passed down like big ears?
I suspect it might be a matter of having no options. I’m dating myself here (just like in high school), but there’s a scene in “An Officer and a Gentleman’’ in which Louis Gossett Jr., playing a drill sergeant, screams at Richard Gere to drop out of the Navy’s aviation school. A sobbing Gere responds, “I got nowhere else to go!”
It’s kind of like that with the Bears, isn’t it? You’re bereft of choices. You’re stuck with this team.
Being a Packers fan in Chicago is not a real alternative, not if you want to live a life free of derision and unhealthy cholesterol levels. Geographically, who else is there? The Colts? That’s like being a fan of unsalted pretzels. Some far-flung NFL team? Enjoy the isolation.
Why are you a Bears fan? Unless you’re 100, there isn’t a long history of success that keeps you coming back. The franchise and some of its fans still talk about the 1985 Bears as if the season were yesterday. Thirty-five years might be yesterday in geologic terms, but it’s forever in Super Bowl terms.
The Bears open the season Sunday in Detroit, and their prospects for 2020 aren’t great. They just went through a training camp quarterback competition in which they all but begged Nick Foles to beat out the unremarkable Mitch Trubisky. But Foles and his three-year, $24 million contract couldn’t do it. That’s not a reflection on Foles as much as it is on the Bears, who apparently wouldn’t know a quarterback from a humpback whale. OK, it’s a reflection on Foles, too.
So, for now, it’s Trubisky, which is why no one is warming hands over the possibility of a Super Bowl berth. It’s why optimism seems to be in short supply around town.
But if Trubisky could just be a caretaker of the offense. If he could do just enough to score some points and let the Bears defense be its dominant self. So many beseeching “ifs.’’
Here’s another: If you could do it all over again, would you pick a different team for which to cheer?
My guess is that you can’t imagine life without the beloved, behated Bears. For better or worse, in sickness and in health, you’re married to each other.
“What’s for dinner?’’ you say.
“What we had last night and the night before,’’ the Bears say. “Also the night before that.’’
The McCaskeys aren’t evil. On the greed meter, the Bears’ owners don’t seem to be in the same league as the Ricketts, who would sell Cubs urinal cakes if they thought they could. But the McCaskeys don’t know how to win or at least don’t know how to hire anyone who knows how to win. If general manager Ryan Pace knew how to win, Patrick Mahomes would be in a Bears uniform and Trubisky would frustrating some other NFL city.
What stands out the most about the Bears is that they ask a lot of you fans. They ask you to keep the faith. Some of you do, out of habit, and some of you don’t but keep blowing on the embers of your devotion. There’s something noble about continuing to cheer for a franchise that has let you down so often. It’s easy to say that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. I wish you’d let your dissatisfaction be known in more concrete ways. I wish you’d cancel your season tickets when the team disappoints year after year. But I admire your allegiance to the Bears’ flag.
What does the franchise do for you in in return? That’s really the only question that matters. Too often, the answer is “not nearly enough.’’ That, of course, is the concern this season. Not only is Trubisky not a top-20 quarterback, but you’d be hard-pressed to find many other Bears offensive players who are in the top 20 at their positions, either. Pace didn’t exactly load up on people who can help the starting quarterback.
I see another .500 season, and that’s too bad because the defense figures to be very good again. This isn’t history repeating itself. This is history cackling at the Bears.
When it comes to baseball in Chicago, you get to choose between the White Sox and the Cubs. With football, you’re born into the Bears, and by the time you reach the age of reason, it’s too late. You see no other option. You slog on, hoping for lightning to strike in the same place it did 35 years ago. Good luck with that. You’ll need it.