The McCaskeys might be able to build a stadium, but a winning Bears team? What’s that?
The franchise’s agreement to purchase land in Arlington Heights is a reminder of its priorities.
I don’t care if the Bears move to Arlington Heights. They can move to Arlington, Virginia, for all I care. It would end a lot of suffering here.
I do care that they care more about a new stadium than they do about football.
I care that they seem to care about everything but football.
It is so Bears that news of their agreement to purchase the Arlington Park racecourse property came Tuesday night while fans were in an uproar about all the things that ail the team on the field.
The timing of the $197.2 million agreement is not the franchise’s fault. Everything else is — an owner who doesn’t know how to hire the right football people; a general manager who doesn’t know what good players look like; a coach who wouldn’t be able to devise a game plan to avoid a survey taker on Michigan Avenue; an offensive line that can’t block; and a quarterback, pick a quarterback, who has no idea what he’s up against. Last week, it was in-over-his-head Justin Fields. This week, it’s placeholder Andy Dalton, if he’s healthy. Next week, it will be a dachshund that also plays the piano.
Those would seem to be pretty big issues for a team purportedly in business to win games. But when you finally grasp that the actual playing of football is way down on the priority list for the McCaskey family, then you understand why Bears fans are screwed.
The McCaskeys are related by blood to team founder George Halas but not by football soul. It’s why there’s a gleam in chairman George McCaskey’s eye whenever he talks about the renovations to Halas Hall or the franchise’s 100th anniversary celebration or the Bears statues outside Soldier Field or the team’s strong presence in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
It’s not that those things are unimportant.
It’s that they’re not the thing.
Football is. Winning is. Championships are.
The family knows how to keep its eye on the prize. As for what the prize is, it doesn’t have the foggiest.
When owner Virginia McCaskey demoted her son, the late Michael McCaskey, from team president after the botched hiring of Dave McGinnis in 1999, one of the duties he took on was improving the landscaping at Halas Hall. He took to it with a zeal usually associated with government coups. If you’re looking for something to describe how unsuited ownership is for the business of football, the answer is there in the petunias and ferns.
When the time comes to fire general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy for their sins against football, the McCaskeys will do what they always do. They’ll consult a search firm. George McCaskey will call the Maras and the Rooneys, the longtime owners of the Giants and Steelers, respectively, as if people who remember when the game was played with leather helmets can solve the Bears’ problems. And then George and team president Ted Phillips will hire the wrong people again.
I always imagine one Rooney or another cackling when the Caller ID on the phone says “Bears.’’
“It’s George again. I wonder if we could get him to hire a circus fire-eater as head coach. Let’s try!’’
You get the feeling that the football side of the operation is distasteful to the McCaskeys, that, if it’s OK with everybody else, they’ll stick to their other pursuits and say a prayer for a winning season. So you can understand their spines being atingle over the possibility of a new stadium. It’s something a family can sink its teeth into. Steel and cement. A legacy. George Halas Stadium? Hmmm.
The Bears aren’t happy with Soldier Field, which, at 61,500, has the lowest seating capacity in the league. The NFL is all about big, shimmering palaces with revenue streams that jump their banks. The Bears want what the Cowboys have, what the Rams have.
But one pesky question does need asking: How many times over the years did the Bears say that the improvements to Soldier Field, funded by taxpayer money, would help the team be more successful at the game of football? Remember? All the great free agents they’d be able to sign? All the talented players who’d be drawn to a shiny stadium and a dazzling practice facility?
They said it too many times to count.
What arrived instead was more of the same. More futility. More bumbling coaches and team executives. More time to bask in the glow of the ’85 Bears. All these years later, that glow is down to a few embers. A new stadium won’t change that. Winning football — whatever that is — will.