Bears need to put more energy into winning, less into gazing at the past
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And now back to football and the concept of winning, which is what all this is supposed to be about.
Brian Urlacher was so eloquent and so giving in his Pro Football Hall of Fame speech Saturday that it almost made you forget how bad things have been for the Bears since he retired after the 2012 season. Post-No. 54, the team’s record is 27-53. That includes at least 10 losses in each of the last four seasons.
We’re told that things are trending in the right direction, that the Bears have a quarterback now in young Mitch Trubisky. But he’s still more an article of faith than a statement of fact. We’re told that, no, really, this time it’s going to take and this time the Bears are going to get it right.
Until then, did you know that Urlacher is the 28th Bear in the Hall? That no other franchise has as many Hall of Famers?
And Dick Butkus — what a player!
I often suspect the Bears of using history as a diversionary tactic or as a shield. If they were any more steeped in the past, they’d be Stonehenge. So it was both a surprise and no surprise at all when team owner Virginia McCaskey, who is 95, showed up at 12:30 a.m. at an Urlacher Hall of Fame party that had spilled into Friday morning. The daughter of George Halas, one of the founders of the NFL, showing up in the wee hours to honor a former player? Priceless, indeed. And there was your story heading into Saturday’s enshrinement. History and sentimentality slow dancing again.
Nothing against Mrs. McCaskey, a classy woman if there ever was one, but the only thing that matters, the thing that mattered to her father, is winning. When former Redskins coach Joe Gibbs presented former general manager Bobby Beathard for Hall induction Saturday, he said that everyone in the NFL is ultimately measured by Super Bowl titles.
So until Virginia or another McCaskey is holding up the Lombardi Trophy to an adoring Chicago, the rest of it is wrapping paper. Or pages from a history textbook dressed up as wrapping paper.
George McCaskey, the Bears chairman, showed up at Saturday’s enshrinement in an Urlacher jersey. It fit perfectly, and it was perfectly fitting. The whole operation feels like a fan-run enterprise, with the McCaskeys serving as cheerleaders — the post-Honey Bear kind, of course. The Hall of Fame is their playground, their comfort zone, their home away from home. They know their way around the exhibits like most of us know our way to the bathroom in the dead of night.
Urlacher talked at length during the week about how strong the feeling of family is at Halas Hall. I’ll bet many Bears fans would root for less of a feeling of family and more of a feeling of winning.
Is there forward progress going on? I don’t know. General manager Ryan Pace hasn’t done well in free agency, and his draft record is uneven, though the grade is an incomplete at this point. Trubisky is still a wild card, an unknown, and pay no attention to all those training-camp interceptions he has thrown, unless they persist, in which case the civic tearing of garments over Yu Darvish’s failings will look like amateur hour.
Urlacher’s speech was uplifting. He gave us a glimpse of the person his teammates saw every day. How deeply he cared about people came through clearly. But events like Saturday’s always leave me feeling a bit empty as they relate to the Bears. Urlacher deserved better than one NFC Championship title, and Chicago deserves much more than the 1985 Super Bowl and the vacuum since.
If you ever get a chance, take a tour of Halas Hall. It’s part museum and part mausoleum. The Bears know how to do history. Don’t misunderstand: History is fascinating. It should be studied, just not to the point of distraction.
Recent history hasn’t been kind to the Bears, which is why they spend so much time gazing at the distant past. It’s human nature to gravitate toward those things that make us feel good.
But you have to learn from the pain of the past, too. Have the Bears learned from Marc Trestman and Phil Emery? From Michael McCaskey? From Curtis Enis and Cade McNown? From Ted Phillips? The past 30-plus years would argue that the Bears haven’t learned a whole lot.
Wouldn’t it be great if they figured out this whole winning thing, if they started a cycle in which all anybody talked about was the glory of the present? The Cubs used to tug at fans’ emotions by bringing up the 1969 Cubs at every opportunity. Not anymore. They haven’t forgotten Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins and Ron Santo. But the 2016 World Series trophy is in their possession, as are three consecutive National League Championship Series appearances and another chance this year to do additional damage.
That’s a lot more fun than a trip down memory lane. Memory Lane — isn’t that part of the Bears’ mailing address?
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