THINKING FOR YOURSELF

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“Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?”

Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

 

When you look at what the Bears could be and what they are, it’s a lot like the student who shows all kinds of promise but still keeps getting C pluses.

I know because that once was me. I always went to class. I took notes. I did homework. I talked in class. I read the book/poem only once, and when I got my paper back it was always just a little above average. 

I’d look at papers of students with jealousy at their A’s and A minuses. I was easily as bright as them and wanted to be that good but I wasn’t. Eventually I turned it around but it wasn’t easy, and it definitely wasn’t handed to me or done for me. So what changed?

Well, the first thing I think was I tried to have an original idea about the subject. To think outside the box. A lot of teachers don’t want you to simply regurgitate what is being talked about in class. They want you to think for yourself. I think NFL coaches might feel the same way.

I started to read through the material more than once. Sometimes I had to read through it several times before something would then come to me. It might’ve come from another piece the author wrote. It might come from a hint of something else. A perception, a feeling, a shape, a smell.

It helps also to have a sense of history, too. History about the subject and the author. History about where in time and place it’s happening. A knowledge of history maybe repeating itself. Often subjects that are  tangentially related can also help tremendously. Like if I’m writing a paper about free verse I might bring up the subject of jazz, as an example. I might write my whole paper about it.

I began to turn it around when I began to interpret the story or poem for myself, and develop arguments that sought to assertively prove and disprove my theories. It helps to know your weaknesses too, on the football field and in English class.

I also began to turn it around when I wanted to say something I didn’t think anybody else would want to say. Call it that thing that makes you special. Makes you stick out. Something extra. Something that almost shocks the reader’s sense and sensibilities. Something to wrestle with. Something to discover. 

I think the same might hold true for these Bears.

If the NFL is a poem, and I think it most certainly and emphatically is, then what about it is inspiring you to perform at your best and/or at your worst. In essence, how do you perceive the game you play, and what is your take on how you fit in?

One thing that sticks out to me about this team that isn’t true for other Bear teams for many years now is that they seem comfortable in the hurry up and get points back quickly when they do. When the QB doesn’t have to spend those extra mili-seconds deciding. When it’s quick and easy. 

I remember John Madden being asked why a team that hasn’t been able to move the ball at all, once they get into a hurry up all of the sudden are able to march down the field and score. It happens almost in every game, all the time. Why is that?

His answer was very telling to me, he essentially said he didn’t know. John Madden. Didn’t know. All NFL. All Madden. All everything. Professor Emeritus of the NFL. Didn’t know. 

But then he would also give several ideas before, during and after the game that would answer the question he said he didn’t know.

I don’t remember him saying these points, per se, but I do think I learned them from him, as much as from my own watching of the games.

One—-An offense that is challenging the field vertically makes the defense play tentative and back on its heels. Conversely, a defense that pressures the QB makes an offense play back on its heels as well.

Two—The offense always has the advantage because only they know where they are going and thus can fool the defenders into thinking they’re going to one place when they’re really going to another.

Three—-An offense can pick on the weaker defenders that aren’t as good and exploit the defense. The offense can do this forever until the defense discovers how to solve this problem.

Four—A team that is marching down the field makes the defense tired and forced to play substitutes.

Five—-It’s an easier game of pitch and catch when the quarterback just makes his reads and hits the open guy, or dumps it off or throws it away when nobody is open. 

Six—It’s an easier and more relaxed game for the QB when he isn’t being hit by defenders all the time. 

Seven—-Football is a game of momentum. When you use it more to your advantage you have a better chance at winning.

I get the feeling that Matt Nagy might start going to the hurry up more often. Scoring is always a great way to lift the team up.

My read on the Patriots game was that Mitchell Trubisky in addition to being inaccurate was also forcing a lot of throws. Maybe he needs to play a more gut and feel game as opposed to a mind and read game. Maybe he needs to think less about the game to be more in it.

That’s how I see it. I see them like the student that’s trying to figure out why they’re not doing better. 

One last thing. I also found that going to see the teacher about the very problem I was having was a really good idea. Particularly if you came to the teacher and showed them you were thinking about the subject and presented them with your thoughts, rather than just asking for the answer and wanting the better grade. Often they were not like they were in class. The good ones were appreciative of your concern. They tried to work with and help you generate new ideas or think in fresher ways about old ones. They really wanted you to succeed.

Maybe the key to the Bears isn’t in any of the film or stats or lessons being taught from the coaches. Maybe the keys are found elsewhere. Maybe the keys can be found with individual perspective.

SO HOW GOOD ARE YOU, REALLY?

 

 

 

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I know the Bears game against Miami is lingering a lot like that pepper you don’t see hiding in the huge realm of the pot, and before you know it you’re Homer Simpson out in the desert talking to coyotes that sound a awful lot like Johnny Cash. 

I know 4-1 feels a lot bigger than 3-2, and 5-1 is a mountain compared to 3-3, but they are where they are. The beauty of a spirit quest is that it doesn’t matter what your record is, and it can start at any time.

I mean they could be 5-0 easy. Nobody has really dominated them. Not for 60 minutes. Not even for 30. But now New England comes in with all their bluster and the ridiculousness of their last 18 years and how good they’ve been and how good they still are. We’ll see right away where this Bear team stacks up.

The Patriots have that effect on teams. They make all the great teams look ordinary and the ordinary teams look bad. The last time they came to Chicago it was snowing and beautiful and cold and they beat a Bears team that made the Conference Championship by 29 points. That year was the last year the Bears were in the playoffs. 2010.

Something feels different about this Chicago team, though. Something tells me Matt Nagy isn’t going to sit on the ball and hope a 53 yard field wins the game for him. Something tells me he knows that against the Patriots you have to keep scoring. 

I’ve heard many people equate Tom Brady to Micheal Jordan and that seems fair. Even when Jordan and Co weren’t playing well they were always within reach, and Bill Belichick does what Phil Jackson always did, he keeps attacking even when it might look like they have a comfortable lead. They keep bringing it no matter what.

The Patriots are such a great test for this team right now. It’s the kind of game you dream about playing when you were a kid. If you wanna win the whole thing, you gotta pay the man and beat the best. 

No doubt Khalil Mack needs a big game. So does Trubisky. No excuses. No turnovers in the other team’s end zone. No giving up the big plays at the end of the game. No mental mistakes. 

If they can pressure Brady and if their offense can keep scoring, why can’t they win? Make the old G.O.A.T. wish he was back in the barn with the horses talking about how he left the game at the just the right time.

I always thought that football more than all the other games hinges on being able to harness the right kind of emotions to your advantage. Bravery, fearlessness, an edgy attitude, enthusiasm on the positive side, and apprehension, grief, frustration, misplaced anger on the negative side.

Brady is only about the positive. I can’t remember the last time I saw him frustrated. It doesn’t mean that it can’t happen, though. Even when he’s losing he’s always real cool. What an amazing, amazing talent. He’s so galaxies ahead of everybody else. What a privilege to go up against him. 

Remember what Lombardi said, “if you got any spunk in you at all you’re going to try to be the best at your job whatever it is.”

So how good are you, really?

Bears 28—Patriots 27

WE HOLD THESE TRUTHS TO BE SELF EVIDENT

 

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On Saturday, December 23, 1972 I saw a miracle with my dad. He was 29 and I was five. It was on TV. Almost Christmas. It would be called “The Immaculate Reception”. One of my most favorite memories was also one of my earliest memories.

My dad was screaming all up and down the family room that the Lord was on the job. Urging me with all the frenzy of a mad man to keep watching the reruns of the play closely, and as I did, though I was five, I thought I understood what all the was screaming about. 

That we couldn’t quite see if Franco Harris actually did catch that ball or lifted it like a purse from the ground, not only made the mystique grow in real time but also makes it grow all these years later too. There’s also the liberating feeling of being a five year old son allowed to jump up and down crazy with your dad.

You might say after that I was ruined. Like a musky fisherman who catches the fish of a thousand casts on their first outing. Maybe from that I came to believe the Lord should be on the job all the time. Why shouldn’t a five year old boy grow up to expect miracles?

My dad was a very excitable guy. He wasn’t afraid to show great joy and jubilation but he also had some deep pockets of hell in his heart. He had massive highs and lows from his personality. One minute he was up here and the next minute he was down there. It was a great blast and a great burden to know him and to have him as my dad. He passed away over two years ago. But like the angels say, there ain’t no use in complainin’.

One thing I knew was that we were watching something special. Witnessing something special, no matter how cold it was outside or how small the black and white TV was inside.

My dad was a husband and family man first and after he married my wonderful and beautiful mom I was born soon after. While many were following a counter-culture in the 60’s or being drafted into the Vietnam war, he was following the roads that a responsible man takes to provide for his family. “It’s what people did,” he would always say years later.

Watching sports was a way to see miracles. We always had the big games on. He loved Al Davis, the man responsible for merging the AFL and the NFL together. He was also a John Madden guy. The Oakland Raiders were the model of everything right about football. 

Chuck Noll and the Steelers were also of course enormous. Any coach as I would later find out—because I was and still am trying to be a writer like my dad—who quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson as he retires from the NFL has a giant place in heaven all reserved for himself.

Don Shula and the Dolphins were giants. Hank Stram and the Chiefs were giants. Tom Landry and the Cowboys were giants. George Allen and the Redskins were giants. Bud Grant and the Vikings were skol giants. 

Later my dad as an old man would encourage me to read, “When Pride Still Mattered” by David Maraniss, because with all these football giants there’s also the God of all of them put together, Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers, and even if you never read a word about him, you still seem to know why he’s such a big deal. We hold these truths to be self-evident.

The Bears were kind of a giant joke. All the good teams were playing a sophisticated game. The Bears were playing a simple one. Roger Staubach knew how to run the shotgun. Fred Biletnikoff knew how to run deep pass plays and get open. The Bears knew how to run Walter Payton three times and punt.

But hey, Walter knew how to hit a guy in the face with a forearm shiver and then lift opposing lineman up with one hand after they tackled him. He was a punishing runner but also a classy act. He endured like the seasons and helped Bear fans endure the seasons. The nickname “Sweetness,” was the cherry on top. No surprise they ended up naming the man of the year trophy after him. Yeah, he was a miracle, too, for sure.

I saw other miracles on TV in the 70s. We watched tennis in our house because my mom would not be outdone and I saw a woman, Billy Jean King tell a man, Bobby Riggs she was better than him and beat him in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. We saw Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova play like giants, and of course Borg, Connors, and McEnroe too.

I saw Kenny Stabler with my dad throw a pass blind and falling down into a Dolphin “sea of hands” only to have it find his surrounded teammate Clarence Davis for a touchdown at the end of the playoff game to win. Again I heard his, the Lord is on the job” cry. I saw all by myself the “hail mary” from Staubach to Drew Pearson to beat the Vikings in cold Bloomington in the playoffs. I also saw Stabler throw another pass to Dave Casper against the Colts in the playoffs in the “Ghost to the Post.” 

When Earl Campbell was taken by the Houston Oilers with the first pick in ‘78, it was like Rome running through the destiny of the smaller world, as defenders made futile attempts at grabbing him only to be left holding a fistful of shredded jersey. He was like a bomb exploding, sending his crown into the chest of weaker men. But in his bigness he was also gentle like Santa Claus. So soft spoken and kind. A great symbol of why the people in Texas have that reputation of buying you beers and going out of their way to help strangers.

Another thing about Campbell. My dad knew him. This made my dad a giant too, although he was one already. He shared a plate of nachos with the 34 inched thighed running back while working on an advertising project. I never asked him later about what they talked about and my dad never said. Sometimes the best thing to do when you’re with someone great like that is to just be quiet with them. Appreciate the silence.

Yes I was privileged to see all these miracles and it helped me add another element to my game, to believe that I too could do something great and pull out a victory with my last second chance. Nothing, not even all the most wonderful things a person might earn or share or feel or know, has a greater chance at making the world a better place more than a young heart believing.

PIGS IN A BLANKET FOR GAME DAY

 

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With the off week its a good time to practice fundamentals and get back to the basics. Most Chicago Bear fans I think it’s safe to say know the importance of good food to go with the game. 

My Dad always had something really tasty going on for game day, and I’d like to share some of what he did. I’d also like to share some of the other possibilities out there for ideas for columns in the future.

Food, football, fun. Maybe you have a person in the house that isn’t as crazy a fan as you. Maybe they don’t want to be left out. Maybe they can help make the food. It ain’t rocket science.

It’s always a good idea to make the game a whole family and friend experience if you can.

First, every game has to have chip and dip. It’s as essential as water is to wine. If it’s just you, plastic bowls are fine, but if you’ve got a group watching the game with you it’s better to invest in some good quality bowls. Every special lady friend I’ve ever known has noticed the difference.

In Wisconsin, where I live we have a Breakstone’s Sour Cream, 16 ounces that covers six people but I always get two. Breakstone’s is the most expensive and clearly the best.

Then get an onion soup mix. I like the dry Lipton Onion Soup Mix or the Mrs. Grass version of that and one packet for each 16 ounces of sour cream is how it breaks down. 

As far as the kind of chips to use it really depends on taste. I like a chip that can hold up to the dip and Ruffles is my favorite. One bag with a group of six should do it, but I always buy two. Tortilla chips are also good.

After the chip and dip is set up you need a kind of main course to make the fans go ooh and aah, and what my dad would do is make what he called “Dad’s Dogs.” 

Hillshire Farms Little Smokies Cocktail Dogs are what they’re called here in Wisconsin, and one 16 ounce package for six people does the trick. Get a pound of your favorite cheese. I love em all but Cheddar, Colby and Havarti are my faves. Get a sweet onion and an 8 ounce can of Pillsbury Crescent Rolls. 

Heat the oven to 375°F. Unroll the can of dough and separate into 16 triangles. Cut each triangle lengthwise into 3 narrow triangles. Place sausage on shortest side of each triangle and roll it with a little chunk of cheese and chopped onion. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Serve with your favorite beverage. Even though many people I know love a beer and a bloody on Sunday, I’ve grown fond of Cherry Coca Cola Zero. 

My Dad would always try to plan it out so the dogs came out right at kickoff time, a tricky plan and he didn’t always do it right on time and could be seen running from kitchen to family room like the madman he was until he just bought a little tv for the kitchen, and then he was, as he liked to say, “high in hog heaven.”

Other ideas for future food columns include——other finger foods, pizza, brats, burgers, cheese and sausage platters, smoked salmon from Alaska to name a few. 

Bon Appetit and Bear down!

SUCCESS AND CONFIDENCE

 

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You could argue that Matt Nagy had the perfect game plan called for the Bucs.

You could argue the Bucs defense has been awful all year.

You could argue the Bears defense is looking like one of the best in the league and Khalil Mack is on his way to an MVP season.

Or the favorite I’m sure—-you could argue that Mitchell Trubisky when given enough time and is decisive enough might have the makings of being a star. 

6 TD passes? A Bear QB?

Whatever they did to simplify things I think also should get mention here too. Whatever works keep doing it until they stop you. It doesn’t have to be a complicated game. They have fast guys. Somebody’s usually open.

If you give enough time to a good NFL QB he should be able to march down the field.

I always remember what the late great Buddy Ryan said about pressuring the QB. He said essentially, “we’re not going to just let sit back there and pick us apart.”

Does it take elite level QB play to win the super bowl? Does it take big numbers on offense and defense? Those are great subject to discuss another time.

What the Bears did to the Bucs is what good teams do. They dominate by scoring a lot of points and playing great defense.

If you’re like me at the end of the year, if the Bears have a chance at making the playoffs, when you’re eating your breakfast in December you can’t get enough Bear stuff to read. I love looking at the Points For versus Points Against differential and how for the better teams the difference is larger and they’re usually in first place. They also have lots of sacks, turnovers, and touchdowns. They get home field advantage. You get the point.

One last thing to mention is Tarik Cohen. In this column you’ve heard me mention him every week. Well he finally got the chance to be featured and the little guy played like I thought he would—-like he was one of the best on the field. He’s a matchup nightmare and he could be very, very good maybe even great.

But for now Trubisky steals the show. He looked so calm and at ease, and hit guys in stride with beautiful throws.

No greater teacher guides a young man more than success and confidence.

Whoo whoo! 3-1!

ARE YOU CRAPPIN’ ME NEGATIVE?

 

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PHOTO BY W. SCOTT MCGILL

 

2-1? Are you crappin’ me negative? And in first place? That is all so awesome. But all enthusiasm has to be tempered like glass which might be 4 or 5 times stronger than regular glass but is still glass.

If that defense can stay healthy it keeps them in a lot of games.

And if that offense can move up 6 or 7 slots in the stats they might blow more than a few teams out.

But Trubisky has to play better. Much better. He’s already thrown more than a few passes that make you scratch away the last hairs on your head.

Something also looks wrong in the face. In the first half particularly it looked like he was constipated or something. Sweating more than he should. Either his helmet is too tight or the pressure is getting to him. 

Aaron Rodgers by comparison never looks like he’s sweating. I don’t know how you teach poise or accuracy or greatness. Either you’re great or you’re not, right?

Maybe you can unfeel and intuit the pressure with success. Maybe the strength of everybody else can help lift you up as well. Maybe with a lot of wins you can grow into the best version of yourself, reaching for perfection but never getting there because nothing is perfect. He’s really trying so hard and you can see it all over his face. He wants it bad.

I think they need to move the pocket more and have him and Jordan and Cohen all run more. Something to help them get big plays with big chunks of yardage.

If Buffalo can blow out Minnesota, Detroit can blow out New England, and Washington can blow out Green Bay why can’t Chicago win the Super Bowl? For now I’m still eating flapjacks and molasses in that sow belly fat, because if I complain too much about it—-I won’t get that.

And waiting like the blues for the midnight special to shine it’s light on me. 

Until next week….

THEY’RE ALL OUT ON AN ISLAND

 

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“it’s more important to me and my family to walk away healthy than to willfully embrace the warrior mentality and limp away too late.”……….Vontae Davis, Former Cornerback Buffalo Bills

If you’re a fan that follows the game closely I think its important to put perspective back into the game. We kind lose sight of doing that partly because we’re watching so intensely and partly because we have so many deep feelings wrapped up in it all.

Vontae Davis was a former first round pick. He was a two time Pro Bowler and played for 10 seasons and just signed a contract for 5 million dollars. Last Sunday he walked away from football at halftime. Not after the game. Not in mid-season. Not after the season. But at halftime.

Now I know there’s some misguided people out there who think they could endure getting hit like a football player for 5 million dollars. Just like there are people out there who think they could go into the same ring with Mike Tyson for 20 million. 

There’s also a certain warrior mentality that everybody likes to think they have. But there is nothing so warrior than a person who every day is putting their life on the line. I know the need for money makes people think they would do almost anything for it. But there’s also a more overwhelming desire to be alive.

Players are starting to recognize this and leaving the game earlier than they used to. When you factor how hard it must be for someone who’s grown up in difficult surroundings with little money to be tempted by NFL dollars and endorsement money—-it’s crazy. How can it not make you lose some perspective? 

I think it helps the game too if fans can understand these guys are putting so much on the line. 

I know part of what makes a player great is the sacrifice he makes for himself and for his team and teammates. It’s a great honor to do that, to give it everything you have, be it in football or any walk of life.

I don’t think Vontae Davis let his teammates down and I think he’s the only one, more than all the doctors and all of the teammates in all the leagues in all the worlds who knows his body and mind and soul better than everybody combined. 

Plus a team doesn’t want a guy who doesn’t try his hardest. It doesn’t matter if he’s at 50%, 80%, 90% if he’s not able to try his hardest he’s going to be a liability. An army doesn’t want this kind of soldier and neither does a football team. 

I think its disrespectful if he doesn’t leave. Even though I’m only a fan I’ve seen players who stayed long after they lost that killer instinct.

The only critical thing I have to say about it is that maybe he could’ve told a coach privately that he was done and take his uniform and pads off and watch the rest of the game on the sideline in civilian clothes, cheering on his teammates. 

But even that doesn’t tell us how badly he felt it was time to get out.

It’s a paradox I know. I’m still working on it. It’s a violent sport and I love the violence but I also hate to see people lose their minds. 

Two weeks I criticized Kyle Fuller for not being able to catch a ball thrown right to him with 2 minutes left to go in the game and didn’t really take into account his mental state at the time and how hyper-vigilant he has to be with 2 minutes left to go in the game.

Not to mention how tough Fuller is and how hard he hits like a safety.

They’re all out on island.

In more ways than one.