Wishing the Bears had tanked rather than followed the tedious road of mediocrity
There’s no “sanctity of the game’’ anymore, not with championships and Trevor Lawrence at stake.
Would you rather the Bears had tanked the last two seasons than gone a combined 16-16?
I’m talking about an enthusiastic tanking, with the chance to draft Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, perhaps the best college quarterback in a generation.
I know what you’re thinking: In this scenario, befuddled Bears general manager Ryan Pace bypasses Lawrence and uses the 2021 No. 1 overall pick on North Dakota A&M quarterback Sven Picklesson, who, like his university, doesn’t exist.
But for the sake of discussion, let’s pretend that Pace chooses Lawrence. You’d take that outcome, wouldn’t you? A quarterback who can actually complete passes downfield? Me, too. I bring up this scenario for several reasons, the biggest being that watching back-to-back 8-8 seasons is like eating at a rice-cake buffet.
But another reason is the outrage over the Eagles’ decision Sunday to remove starting quarterback Jalen Hurts and insert backup Nate Sudfeld with Philadelphia down three points to Washington in the fourth quarter. This was done, Eagles coach Doug Pederson said, to give Sudfeld the snaps he so richly deserved after hardly playing in four seasons. That it would almost ensure that Philly lost and that the archrival Giants would get knocked out of the playoffs in the process was coincidence, Pederson said. As was the Eagles’ ability to move from the ninth pick to the sixth pick in the first round of the draft with a loss, he insisted.
Much gnashing of teeth and tearing of garments ensued over the spirit of competition being sullied. How dare the Eagles obviously tank a game when so many people had risked so much to play during a pandemic-marred season! Was there no shame?
Easy there, finger-wagging Keeper of the Game.
If the Eagles were indeed trying to lose Sunday, it was the logical next step in what’s been going on in sports for more than a decade. It was no different than the Cubs’ decision to tank their way to a World Series title under Theo Epstein and no different than what they appear to be doing again now that their former president has walked away. The Cubs were applauded for being smart. The Eagles’ sin, if there is one, is a lack of subtlety. It’s the difference between a high-priced “escort’’ and someone swinging a purse on a corner. Tanking is tanking.
Let’s bring the discussion back closer to home. If the Bears had a chance to keep the despised Packers out of the playoffs and move up several spots in the draft by purposely losing to, say, the Lions in the regular-season finale, would you, a Bears fan, be in favor of it? My guess is that many of you would be.
It was very interesting that the Jaguars decided to start quarterback Mike Glennon, rather than Gardner Minshew, against the Bears two weeks ago. Minshew gave the Jags a much better chance of winning, which 1-13 Jacksonville most certainly did not want to do if it hoped to secure the right to take Lawrence with the first pick in the draft. So, Glennon.
Yet there was no uproar about the integrity of the game being soiled the way it was with the Eagles’ decision to insert Sudfeld during a close game. That’s because the NFL and its fans are still working their way through the idea of tanking. It’s OK to tank at the start of a season. It’s OK to tank at the start of a game. It’s not OK to tank during a game.
We’re much more comfortable with the idea of tanking in baseball. Football will come around. It’s a business decision, and nobody knows business like the NFL.
Losing on purpose is not good for any sport. When seven out of 30 Major League Baseball teams are tanking at the same time, it makes for a lopsided, unsatisfying entity. And yet … what’s gone on with the Bears for the longest time is no fun at all. They play the Saints on Sunday in an NFC wild-card game, thanks to a loss by the Cardinals in Week 17 and an expanded playoff format. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of hope going forward for the franchise, what with its lack of a talented quarterback. That last sentence is on a continuous loop in Chicago.
So the initial question stands: Would you rather the Bears had tanked the last two seasons than gone a combined 16-16?
I hate tanking. But I hate what the Bears are doing — and the distinct prospect of it continuing — even more. We’ve had four years of Mitch Trubisky. Four years of the Bears trying to tell us that Trubisky, despite appearances, is a good quarterback. And now the possibility of Trubisky coming back in 2021.
“Sustained excellence’’ was supposed to be the goal, but these are the Bears, which is why Pace and coach Matt Nagy figure to be back next season. I’d rather have back-to-back 1-15 seasons if I knew it led to something better than whatever this is supposed to be.
I say this knowing that Pace would fall in love with someone like North Dakota A&M’s Picklesson and whatever beater of a car Picklesson drives. But perhaps Pace would trip, hit his head and accidentally take the next Trevor Lawrence.