Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and the Bears’ decades-long dearth of icons

You have to go back to Walter Payton and Mike Ditka to find someone as important as the two great, and annoying, quarterbacks.

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Tom Brady (left) and Aaron Rodgers talk after a Patriots-Packers game in 2018.

Tom Brady (left) and Aaron Rodgers talk after a Patriots-Packers game in 2018.

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

When an NFL player retires to spend more time with his family, does it follow that, when he un-retires 40 days later, he does so because he doesn’t want to spend more time with his family? That taking the kids to school or sitting down for dinner at 5 p.m. is a little more domestic togetherness than he had imagined?

That would be the logical conclusion. Another conclusion would be that Tom Brady can’t let go of football or the spotlight. What kind of person decides to announce he has changed his mind about retirement during Selection Sunday for the NCAA Tournament? The kind of person who knows that millions of sports fans will be staring at TV screens when he drops his news.

A few weeks ago, tired of Aaron Rodgers’ look-at-me act, I wrote that it would be quite all right if he’d do us all a favor and get lost. Take his drama, his vaccine misdirection, his State Farm ads and his famous girlfriends and go away. I’d invite readers to go back to that column and replace all of the Rodgers references with Brady references. If it weren’t for Brady’s seven Super Bowl rings and Rodgers’ one, they might be the same guy.

Let me stop you before you call me jealous and bitter. I’ll do it myself. I’m jealous and bitter. But it’s not what you might think. This isn’t about the Bears’ decades-long inability to find a quarterback, though I have tested positive for jealousy and bitterness about that situation many times. This isn’t about Rodgers’ new contract extension with the Packers, a development that means the Bears likely will have to face him twice a year for the next couple of seasons — after they had hoped with all their hearts that he would play for another team in 2022. And this isn’t about the possibility of the Bears meeting Brady down the road. (What’s more likely, the Bears or Brady in the playoffs in 2027?)

There’s something deeper here. It’s that the Bears never seem to have a player like this, a megastar, a person who torments opposing teams and their fans for years — and maybe his own fan base once in a while.

An icon.

This is about the decades-long absence of a true Bears superstar. Brian Urlacher? A great player. A Hall of Famer. But not iconic, unless iconic means having your face on a phalanx of interstate billboards promoting a hair-restoration company. No, you have to go back to Walter Payton and Mike Ditka to find a Bears player or coach who could make a non-sports fan stop in his tracks in any street in America.

I don’t want to do too much self-analysis here, lest I discover that, deep down, I’m actually an emotionally needy orphan boy from Luxembourg. But when I complain about Rodgers and Brady and their need for attention, endorsements and affirmation, maybe I’m feeling an emptiness for our city. We deserve much better than what we’ve gotten from the Bears. We also deserve a player big enough for a stage as big as Chicago.

There was speculation that Brady had considered signing with the Bears before he signed with the Buccaneers two years ago. I don’t know if it’s true. What is true is that the Bears rarely land the big prize. Or when they do — acquiring Khalil Mack — it doesn’t work out.

The true believers among you, the ones who can’t quit the Bears, say Justin Fields will become the icon I seek. They say he’ll be the star quarterback the franchise hasn’t had since Sid Luckman and the iconic player it hasn’t had since ‘‘Sweetness.’’ But they’re dealing in aspiration, not reality. Very little from Fields’ rookie season backs up their hope. Here’s the thing, though: You never know. And not knowing is intoxicating. The McCaskeys count on it.

I’m not going to apologize for asking whether Brady un-retired after he realized there was too much home life involved. I’m not going to apologize for being up in his business. He has been trying to sell me products for years, and I don’t recall asking for them. Fair’s fair.

Packers fans were divided about whether they wanted Rodgers back in Green Bay. Many were tired of his self-absorption. But I’m guessing most of them are more than pleased that his quarterbacking talents again will benefit the Packers.

Sick of Brady and Rodgers? Me, too. But I’d put up with all kinds of nonsense in return for an icon.

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