Watching the playoffs without the Bears, and other empty endeavors
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Bears general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy will have their end-of-season news conference Monday, and they’ll surely want us to know that an End Times-heralding missed kick can’t take away from all the good the team accomplished in 2018.
But over the weekend, as I sat watching the playoffs go on without a particular fun, talented team, I wasn’t thinking warm thoughts about a 12-4 record and an NFC North title.
I thought about Cody Parkey’s clanger off the left upright and the crossbar. About that missed field-goal attempt in the closing seconds against the Eagles. About a season gone in an instant.
That’s what I was thinking about, still.
As it ever shall be, I imagine.
I don’t believe I’ll be alone in that dark room 20 years from now. I don’t envision a lot of people saying, “That 2018 defense was incredible,’’ without the knee-jerk utterance, “but that missed kick,’’ followed by spasms of nausea. You think I’m exaggerating about Chicago’s prodigious memory and accompanying gloominess? Mention the Bears’ much-celebrated 1985 Super Bowl title to a group of fans, and one or more undoubtedly will lament that another championship or two didn’t follow, given how talented the team was.
Parkey’s miss was a cataclysmic event. One that can’t be moved on from, rationally, spiritually, metaphysically, however you want to put it. At a minimum, one that can’t easily be moved on from.
The Bears should have played the Rams on Saturday. They should have played a second-round game in Los Angeles, against a team they had beaten earlier in the season. Instead, the Rams took on the Cowboys. I was left to wonder if the Bears’ defense would have been able to reduce Jared Goff to a quavering quarterback again and whether Mitch Trubisky would have been able to redeem himself after his three-interception night against the Rams in the first -meeting.
No one will ever know.
If the Bears had lost the first-round game to the Eagles because Trubisky fumbled while being sacked or because the Bears couldn’t get a first down, that would have been easier to swallow. But they lost because a man who makes his living with his toes hit an upright, an unfortunate development that had occurred five other times to Parkey during the season. Change “an unfortunate development’’ to “not at all unexpected incident.’’ If it makes you feel better to say that his kick against the Eagles was tipped, have at it.
Let’s turn our attention to two subjects that undoubtedly will come up Monday in the news conference.
Have the Bears built something lasting?
Can they overcome Parkey’s miss?
Those are very real questions. They’re also very separate questions. With the defense the Bears have built around Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks, they figure to have continued success as a team. That’s provided they have good health, which was a huge factor in their 12-4 record.
The second question, whether they can get past the shock of Parkey’s miss, is trickier. Some events carry a brutal weight. It took the Cubs years to recover from their Game 6 debacle in the 2003 National League Championship Series, when shortstop Alex Gonzalez botched a ground ball and unleashed forces normally reserved for the Apocalypse.
No one associated with the Bears wants the former futility of the Cubs intoned here. And it might seem cruel to bring it up now. Pace and Nagy would much prefer that their situation be compared to that of Cubs president Theo Epstein and manager Joe Maddon in 2015, the season before they broke 108 years of futility and won a World Series.
What happened to the Bears on Jan. 6 at Soldier Field harked back to all the rotten-luck things that used to happen to the Cubs, pre-Theo. A “Cubbie occurrence” is what former Cubs manager Lou Piniella called strange happenings, such as the time oft-injured pitcher Kerry Wood hurt himself by slipping while getting out of a hot tub.
With that missed field goal hanging over his head, Pace will talk about the “sustained success” blueprint he borrowed from Epstein. I imagine the listening audience will have a hard time focusing.
Whether Parkey’s miss becomes an event that defines a franchise is up to the players and coaches in the next year or two. But it’s going to be around, like an albatross as neckwear.
I’m guessing the Bears will rid themselves of Parkey before next season. Whether they can rid themselves of what he wrought will be a much bigger undertaking.
The Rams beat the Cowboys -30-22 on Saturday. If I know one thing in life, it’s that there’s no way that the Rams would have been able to score 30 points against the Bears. I’m less sure of what Trubisky would have done.
The thing I’ll remember 20 years from now is that I never got the chance to find out.