From nowhere to the postseason for the Bears, with the chance for so much more
Subscribe for unlimited digital access.
Try one month for $1!
Subscribe for unlimited digital access. Try one month for $1!
For the longest time, there was nothing.
Bears fans would hope and pray for something of substance from their team, but in the end, they were left with emptiness. It’s hard to get warm rubbing your hands over the ashes of dreams, but at least these people had each other. So they exchanged tears and long-ago memories and whatever else depressed football fans exchange. Face paint, I don’t know.
Now they’re exchanging chest bumps.
Now they have a playoff game.
The Bears went 12-4 and won the NFC North, which means that most people around here should be beyond the pinch-me stage. We’ve watched this team play well week after week, and if there are any doubters left, they’re keeping their doubts to themselves.
But because this season came out of nothing and nowhere, it’s worth pausing one more time to utter the perfect and inadequate word that has been on so many lips this season.
A playoff game and, if things go right, more. Wow.
The Bears play the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles on Sunday at Soldier Field, a first-round home game being another indication of what the team has accomplished this season.
It’s OK to belabor the ugliness that preceded it. Actually, it’s mandatory to do so. You can’t fully appreciate where the Bears are now without knowing where they used to be. Before the spontaneous, combustible fun of this season, they went four consecutive seasons with at least 10 losses. They hadn’t been to the playoffs since 2010.
That’s not a dry spell. That’s a tumbleweed with a ton of frequent-blight miles.
So along came coach Matt Nagy and outside linebacker Khalil Mack, and everything changed in an instant? Is that it?
Well, boiled down to its essence, yes. That’s exactly what happened.
That’s not to minimize the work of general manager Ryan Pace, who got the right man at the right time in Nagy and duped the Raiders into giving up Mack before the season began. But no one could have seen the effect that Nagy would have on the heart of this franchise. A little-known offensive coordinator for the Chiefs, one who hardly got to call plays because his head coach did, he brought a joy and an enthusiasm to Halas Hall that had been absent for decades.
He made players, fans and even the crankiest of columnists believe.
It helped to have Mack, in the way that it helps to have air. He transformed a good defense into one that induces fear in otherwise brave opponents. He made an up-and-down Bears offense almost beside the point.
Four brutal seasons, and, suddenly, this.
Shall we go back further, for pain’s sake? Until this season, the Bears had been to the playoffs only five times in the previous 26 years. They had finished last in their division 10 times. That’s systemic rottenness. The occasional playoff berth pointed more to the randomness of sports than it did to any plan the Bears might have had.
Unless ownership has miraculously gotten smarter after 30-plus years, it’s hard to throw bouquets at the McCaskeys. But it is OK to tip a cap to good fortune and the odds that something good figures to happen if you stick around long enough.
The last time the Bears won a Super Bowl was — and stop me if you’ve heard this a million times — 1985. There are lots of people still living off the buzz of that momentous occasion. But they want more. They deserve more.
Given all the sad history, saying that the Bears are healed now would be rash. But their defense, that tidal wave of a defense, is a good enough reason to believe that there’s more good stuff ahead. That good stuff could include, if everything goes right, a Super Bowl title this season. It’s certainly within the realm of possibility. The Bears have won nine of their last 10 games, and if there’s a question begging to be heard, it’s this one: Why not now?
A sports truism is that you take advantage of the chance that’s in front of you because you don’t know when another one will come around again. Ask the Cubs, who haven’t made it back to the World Series since winning it in 2016. Remember all the talk about their being ahead of schedule two years ago? Of a dynasty in progress?
That could still happen for the Cubs, as could a Super Bowl victory for the Bears another season. But this big, fat opportunity is staring at the Bears right now. Might as well go for it all.
This town has been a football desert for a long, long time. And now, suddenly, it has turned into a ride down a water-park slide. Wow. And whee.