JANUARY RELEVANT!!!

IMG_1140.jpg

 

The Bears are in the playoffs and a lot of things are going through my mind. In no particular order——

How different the playoff games feel. The way the crowd can’t seem to contain itself with so much on the line.

Matt Nagy asked the fans to be particularly noisy.

A lot of writers like to play the game of who would you rather play, figuring that the weaker opponents, or opponents the team matches up well against will make it easier to get to and win the Super Bowl.

I disagree. A great team will beat other great teams no matter what the record. If they have to go on the road to do it, so be it. A great team rises to the occasion and plays their best game against another great team. A great team wants to play another great team. 

A great team will have a bunch of ultra competitive guys, too. Guys that scream and kick and scratch on each play. That play with an edge, even borderline nasty. They block well and tackle well. They believe so much in themselves no matter what. They want to help other guys on the team, too. They want to lead the team. They want a group of guys to lead the team. Everybody buys into it. Everybody believes it.

And then of course great players have to play great. Not only the great players, but also fair and good players. Some might even become famous with how they distinguish themselves in the big games.

When I hear athletes who win, they say things like nobody gave it to them, they had to take it. They earned it.

When picking whose going to win a tournament a lot of handicappers will pick a team that is on fire. That has a lot of momentum and winning a lot of games as they go into the playoffs.

This makes a lot of sense to me. Some recent Super Bowl winners that got hot as the season drove on—-The 2013 Seahawks were 9-2 in their last 11, the 2014 Patriots were 5-2 in their last 7, the 2016 Patriots were 7-1 in their last 8, the 2017 Eagles were 5-2 in their last 7.

This year’s Eagles are 5-1 in their last 6 and this year’s Bears are 9-1 in their last 10. Something’s gotta give.

If the Bears are fortunate enough to beat the Eagles they’ll go on to L.A. to play the Rams. I think they’re better than the Rams. I will also be rooting for whoever the winner of Cowboys/Seahawks is as they would then travel to New Orleans to play the Saints. It’s hard not to look ahead.

Three times the Bears have faced the Eagles in the postseason. In the 1979 playoffs they lost 27-17 on the road, in the 1988 fog bowl playoff they won 20-12 at home, and in 2001 they lost 33-19 at home. 

The three quarterbacks that started those respective games and their QB ratings? Mike Phipps, with a QB rating of 30.1, Mike Tomczak, with a rating of 56.7 and Jim McMahon who also played in that game had a rating of 75.7 and Jim Miller who started had a rating of 31.7 until he got hurt and then Shane Matthews had a rating of 17.9.

No matter how good the defense is, and those teams in the 80’s had some really great defenses, you need clean QB play. Is Trubisky poised for a clean game against the Eagles?

Everything also seems to get magnified. If a team is up by 3 points it feels like 7, 7 feels like 13, 13 feels like 20. One turnover in your own zone feels like the whole game has changed. Even the home team QB is asking for quiet because the fans are so insanely pumped up they can’t contain their own jubilation. 

The ’85 team I remember how the fans kind of took over. One long big loud scream to bring the snowflakes. 

Another part of all of this is confidence. A confident player isn’t so nervous that the jitters affect his game. He’s emotional, he’s got the right attitude, but he plays within himself. He’s totally respecting his opponent, but he’s so sure he’s going to prevail. Sometimes you don’t need facts or evidence or a compelling argument. All you need is a hunch. A feeling can be greater than anything.

Can Trubisky play like that? Will he not be asked to do too much? Can the Bears stay in the lead as they have in most of the games they’ve won? Can they not play coming from behind? 

How is Eddie Jackson’s foot feeling? How strong are the meds? Can he block out the pain? Is 60% of Eddie Jackson better than the next man up, Deon Bush?

I was listening to longtime Bear reporter Hub Arkush on the WSCR, the score earlier today and he said Khalil Mack is having a year as good as Lawrence Taylor ever had. Pretty rare air, he said. 

Can Khalil Mack simply take the game over?

I was listening to Dan Bernstein on The Score and he said that Bear fans don’t know how to feel about how good a QB is because they don’t know what one is. They can’t recognize it. Great point.

I thought Nick Foles deserved to start this year and I think he’s great. Anybody that beats Tom Brady in the Super Bowl deserves to be a QB 1. 

It’s all got me thinking about mountains and man. Man was meant to rise. He visualizes himself ascending. Women too, of course. We were born to test ourselves. The great ones are never satisfied with being just good. 

The mountain is the symbol for all that. It has different sizes for geological reasons, to be sure but also has different sizes for motivational ones. 

Somewhere on a desk, maybe there’s a list. Mount Fuji—-12.3 feet. Matterhorn—-16.9. Kilimanjaro—-19.3. Denali—-20.3. Mount Everest—-29. 

Somewhere in this Chicago organization, on a desk or in a locker or locker room the Eagles are a mountain to be challenged and will prove just how high these 2018 Bears will be allowed to climb.

ARE YOU THINKING SUPER BOWL?

 

IMG_1258.jpg

 

 

I know it’s kind of sacrilegious to look ahead to the championship game when the tournament hasn’t even started yet, but hey, I’m not playing, and I think that fans of this year’s Bears are beginning to have that Nagy  feeling the team might be able to compete for a Super Bowl.

So many things have to go right for a lower seed team to win the big game and they usually don’t. Only two number 3 seeds since the NFL went to a six team playoff format ever made it to the Super Bowl, the 2006 Colts who won in Super Bowl XLI and the 2003 Panthers who lost in Super Bowl XXXVIII. The Colts beat the Bears 29-17 and Panthers lost to the Patriots 32-29.

This Bear season has been one of exceeding expectations. While many of the so called experts had the Bears 7-9, 8-8, 9-7 and not making the playoffs most everyone had them winning more games under the gutty Matt Nagy than last year’s boring John Fox and showing some kind of guile and promise.

Then Khalil Mack came, like almost from the sky and a city started to wonder. Then that first Sunday night game of the season came against the Packers. Then that first half.

It reminded me a lot of my drinking days. The kind of misconception and false euphoria you get. Sometimes I could crawl inside the bottle and not even catch the whiff of a buzz, and other days just one drink and I was on the wings of love.

After that first half sip of the season against the Packers I was on the wings of love. I thought the team was at least going to be competitive and at best going to have a shot at making the playoffs. Was it real or just a buzz?

The playoffs have a tendency to do what statisticians call reverting back to mean. Meaning if the regular season was something like a fluke, the better teams in the playoffs will find a way to cull the worser teams out.

What does that have to do with the Bears? Well, they’ve only played three teams with winning records for the whole year and they’re 2-1. The loss coming to the Patriots and the wins coming against Rams and Vikings, and all three games at home.

That’s probably why this week’s game against the Vikings at Minnesota has them as five point dogs. A game on the road against a playoff caliber team will probably be a similar forecast should they get that far.

But what about the fact that everyone in the NFL on any given Sunday can be not only good playing at home but maybe even great. The numbers always show that most teams do better at home. It’s something impressive I think to go into anyone else’s home and win.

What is it about this team that might be the kind of team that is able to go on the road and win?

Well for one, they’ve exceeded all realistic expectations of a first year coach and have him looking and sounding a lot like a Coach of the Year. Two, they have taken the ball away 36 times, 9 times more than the next team and are easily the best in football at it. Three, they’ve given up an average of 18.2 points a game, the best in the NFC and the second best to the Baltimore Ravens who average 17.5.

 I decided to look back at history to see teams that won the super bowl with 11-5 and 12-4 records and how they stack up against this team.

 

11-5 TEAMS THAT WON THE SUPER BOWL THAT REMIND ME OF THE BEARS

 

2001 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

They beat the Rams 20-17 in Super Bowl XXXVI on a last second field goal by Adam Vinatieri. They didn’t dominate anybody in the playoffs. They just played great defense and won. Kurt Warner and the Rams and the Greatest Show On Turf never got on track. Tom Brady got his chance and never looked back. The beginning of a dynasty. I think the Bears are easily as good as this team except for the kicker, the quarterback and the coach. Ok it’s a stretch, but a dynasty has to start somewhere.

2005 PITTSBURGH STEELERS

They beat the Seahawks and Mike Holmgren 21-10 in Super Bowl XL after some really bad officiating that went against Seattle. On “A Football Life”  Holmgren admitted he asked an official if the game was too big for him, and said it was one of the biggest mistakes he ever made in his career. Just goes to show you even fantastic minds do really stupid things, and all it takes is a couple of bad calls and you could be holding up that trophy. That Steelers team had a great defense and gave up 16 points a game in the regular season and reminds me a lot of this year’s Bears for that reason.

 

12-4 TEAMS THAT WON THE SUPER BOWL THAT REMIND ME OF THE BEARS

 

1993 DALLAS COWBOYS

Those Jimmy Johnson teams were great and the team that beat the Buffalo Bills badly 30-13 in their second meeting in Super Bowl XXVIII was definitely better than the Bears. They had home field advantage and never looked back. They beat Green Bay and San Francisco in the playoffs who were undeniably good and were improving with each game. This Cowboys team was ranked 2nd in the league in scoring and 2nd in the league in points allowed. They gave up an average of 14.3 points per game. Even as great a defense as this Bear team is they’re not that good, are they?

2002 TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Brad Johnson was no Hall of Fame QB but he played great that year and had a defense that was outstanding. Only three players on the defense that year made it to the Pro Bowl, Simeon Rice, Warren Sapp, and Derrick Brooks, but it was filled with studs and Dexter Jackson won the Super Bowl MVP. They caused turnovers and scored points when they did, and against the Oakland Raiders it was a route 48-21 in Super Bowl XXXVII. The game was never close. We’ll see how good Jon Gruden can make the Raiders. I wouldn’t bet against him. In the playoffs they gave up 16 points in the Divisional and Championship game combined and in the regular season only gave up 12.3 points a game. The Bears have four Pro Bowl starters on this year’s defense and of course are a turnover causing machine.

2006 INDIANAPOLIS COLTS 

Have to mention the team that beat Lovie’s best Bear team 29-17 in  Super Bowl XLI. Many Bear fans I know still remember fondly that Devin Hester return for a touchdown to start the game. Peyton Manning was probably in his prime and coach Tony Dungy had a lot of good teams over the years and when he got his shot he was really ready for the big game. Even after going down 14-6 the team rallied quickly and by the 4th quarter the Bears seemed like they were already beat. Something about that Colts team I remember, that defense was ranked 23rd in the regular season in points allowed, but in the playoffs, they beat the Chiefs in the Wild Card round 23-8, and the Ravens in the Divisional round 15-6. Dungy was always known for his great defensive mind. Bear defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, also known for his defensive mind, seems for sure to get his head coaching chance after this year.

2010 GREEN BAY PACKERS AND 2007, 2011 NEW YORK GIANTS

There’s three other teams I think are worth mentioning here. The 2010 Packers that won super bowl XLV was the team that beat the Bears in the playoffs 21-14, and as a number six seed they won all their playoff games on the road, and their defense was on fire the last two games of the season and into the playoffs. Bear fans will remember Lovie not resting his starters in the final game against these Packers and lost 10-3. What does it have to do with this year’s Bears? Well this year’s Bears have won 8 of their last 9. A win this week against Minnesota makes it 9 of their last 10 going into the playoffs, and also the defense has been playing its best football. That Packer team gave up only 15 points a game in the regular season. The only huge difference of course is that team could do it on the road. Will this year’s Bears have a chance to do the same?

The other teams I remember were the New York Giants beating the Patriots twice. The XLII game was 17-14 and the XLVI game was 21-17. Neither team managed to win more than 10 games in a season. Nothing amazing on the stat sheet about those Eli Manning/Tom Coughlin teams, but they did beat Bill Belichick twice and that is maybe one of the greatest NFL accomplishments in the history of the league, and 5 of the 6 games they won in the playoffs combined came on the road.

It just gets me thinking that if the Bears can ever get comfortable playing on the road, no easy feat, but if they can, they might just hit a bunch of teams squarely in the mouth the way those Giant and Packer teams did.

Good tackling and blocking, limit the number of mental miscues, don’t turn the ball over, score touchdowns in the red zone, don’t get rattled by the big game, pressure the QB——there’s a number of other things too that have to go right I grant you—-but remember this—-nobody this year has blown this team out. They’ve been in every single game. It’s harder to do in the playoffs that’s for sure but nothing in the numbers is telling me they’re going to lay a zero in the playoffs.

Something too about Matt Nagy is also telling me that he’s learning quickly as he goes. Most every Super Bowl winning coach has a name I remember well. Can Matt Nagy add his name to that list?

 

THAT LUCKY OLD SUN

 

IMG_0928.jpgTHAT LUCKY OLD SUN

Up in the mornin’, out on the job

Work like the devil for my pay

But that lucky old sun got nothin’ to do

But roll around heaven all day

with music by Beasley Smith and words by Haven Gillespie.

 

Apologies for missing the past couple of weeks and not getting this out sooner, but I wanted to get it right.

My dad was evicted out of his home shortly after the housing market collapsed in 2008 and with his savings completely ravaged and with nowhere to stay for the winter of 2010 he stayed with me at my apartment in Milwaukee.

I remember the year well because the Bears were playing great playoff caliber football. Julius Peppers was on that team with Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs and that defense was really good. 

He would never have asked me if he could stay at my place. Ever. He would’ve just probably died. He wasn’t afraid of dying. Often he would say to me, “don’t ever get old.” Or he also liked to say, “you drink and then you die.”

He was like an old buffalo that was about to get picked off from the herd. You didn’t tell him where to go, but instead showed him the direction and hoped he went there.

There was also something fitting about him coming to stay at my place. It made me feel good to help. Like I was fulfilling some kind of ancient biblical and I’m not even biblical father/son pact. 

He had no real income except a social security check but he did have a summer home that he would never sell and owned outright. It was only for summers but he could stretch it and make it work for three seasons. He also knew workers that would give him discounts because he was in clear need of help and had a kind of charm that people could love. Also the place really needed help.

I was helping him too. Giving him what I could and making sure he had supplies and a car in case of an emergency, even though he could barely walk. 

The Bears were playing everybody tough the second half of the year, with the sole exception of New England who they got destroyed by at home 36-7 in the snow and cold.

I saw the game with my dad at my apartment and will never forget him turning to me and saying, “they’re a very mediocre team.”

My dad was a pretty severe alcoholic, there was no talking him out of drinking. There was no interventions, though we tried. No showing him another way. No shaming him with the truth. He was unshamable.

He was divorced after 25 years or so of being married and turned into a bottles by the bed kind of drunk. Although he was always a huge drinker. 

I tried my hardest to help and nobody would’ve blamed me if I would’ve just left him to his own devices. There is a destruction of self that happens with old age drinkers. It has no mercy and comes for everyone no matter how well they manage it.

He had lost his driver’s license a long while back because of driving under the influence and he never completed the court requirements. That’s when I knew things were going downhill fast.

There’s some who will help a hard luck story but most don’t. I did. And for that whole winter we watched a relevant Bear team in December, two home playoff games in January, and Bull games and Blackhawk games after that.

The Bear games were kind of a godsend and they always have been to me, and when they’re good it’s amazing what they can do to help a broken heart.

I really liked having him over, too. I could give back to him the way he gave to me. Instead of him buying the chip and dip and burgers and dogs and chinese and pizza and ribs——it was me.

And I could make sure we only had cokes. The whole 5-6 months he stayed with me I think we might have had 20 beers between us. Something about the holidays makes it hard for me to not drink at least a little. So we had a few beers at Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter. 

But he wasn’t able to cook for himself, clean for himself, carry any bags of groceries for himself. He had bone on bone arthritis in both knees and still wouldn’t go see a doctor. Hated the doctor. Hated the whole idea of doctors and hospitals and operations. No teeth, no money, barely walking, no driver’s license, it was bad.

Soon he would be in a nursing home and it was a great relief when he was but also a great sadness to see him in his final and most weak and helpless state.

I would make sure they would get the Bear games on the TV in his nursing home room. I also would make sure he had the best movie collection any nursing home resident in the history of United States nursing homes would ever have.

I would also send him bbq and augratin potatoes from Carson’s Ribs. Because he lost all his teeth, they would kind grind everything together for him. He loved those cheesy potatoes.

I would go see him regularly, Bring him milkshakes and burgers, too. He had a weakness for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Anything that he wanted I would get. I wouldn’t have to worry about him anymore but I still would. 

I even brought in an old and dear college friend when they said he didn’t have much longer to live. When his friend arrived and realized that they were allowing us to drink whisky in the nursing home he said, “this changes everything.”

For those of you wondering how a nursing home could let a severe alcoholic anywhere near a bottle, it’s because he was already so far gone at that point and in hospice care, and in hospice care whatever the patient wants the patient gets. 

His face kind of pruned when he tasted the whisky after years of not having any. He wasn’t really drinking it either, but kind of lost in its aroma.

I would write a letter to the nursing home after he died which got read to the entire staff. I know it worries a lot of people who know their parents are probably going to need major help some day and how they’re going to manage can be a great big burden. Everyone knows what a complicated burden health care is, especially in this country.

Despite the fact that the state of Wisconsin has some nasty politics, there’s so many people who go out of their way to help you, especially when it’s about health care. Many people regardless of party affiliation realize that everyone needs to be covered.

It was a big burden for me and he was a big burden for me. But in my family we weren’t allowed to complain too much about our problems, or look for that shoulder to cry on. Everybody was too busy telling everybody else to get out of the way.

But there was a few things we could come together on, and watching the Bears was one of them. The great teams of the 80’s was like understanding Shakespeare for the first time. Or beholding the Grand Canyon. Or being lucky enough to see the moon and stars in the Milky Way at night.

You think that’s maybe a little over the top? It wasn’t for my family. In my family we yelled and screamed and ate and drank. Those playoff losses to Washington and San Francisco hurt. Not as much as real hurt, but they definitely hurt.

When I thought of my dad watching the Bears at my place I thought of how much fun we had watching games together during the 70’s and 80’s.

We also saw a lot of games in the 90’s and 2000’s, and we saw a lot of games in Wisconsin, too.

Watching and rooting for the Bears in Wisconsin is a lot like being a fugitive from the law. There are many of us Harrison Fords hiding in plain sight. Fighting to prove our innocence in the great land of green and gold. Smiling when a Packers loss means the Bears gain.

But the Packers have so thoroughly dominated the Bears over the past 25 years, even my dad had to say they were by far the better team and organization. 

He also liked to say Brett Favre would pump fake more in one game, than Bear quarterbacks did in the whole history of the franchise. 

He loved Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews in that 2010 season, too. He would root for the Packers in the Super Bowl when they played against the Steelers and won.

As crazy my dad got with all his drinking and problems, when the game was on he could turn into this kind of analytical mechanism that saw the game clearly and dispassionately.

I know he would like this Bears year a lot. The fact they got Khalil Mack would’ve made him over the top happy to see they had the balls to get such an outstanding player. The defense this year too is definitely championship worthy and he would’ve known why they’re so good.

And Nagy? Can we say the offense finally has some subtlety and guile?

And Trubisky? Well, there’s still a lot to prove, but the early indications are promising.

It’s really hard to be a Bears fan my dad would explain to me. Take a look someday at all the unmemorable Chicago Bear draft picks over the years https://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/chi/draft.htm

With so many bad teams over the years, it makes the good years like this one really stick out that much more.

To hear my Packer fans complain about their team this year, because they’re not doing as well as they usually do, reminds of that woman with a big and juicy Virginia ham under her arm crying because she doesn’t have any bread. (Got the joke from The Sopranos)

But to know the Bears have a chance of winning the Super Bowl this year has put a little extra curdle in my call, a little squall in my scream. Maybe it’s contagious. Maybe it’s reaching all those dead relative Bear fans, the millions upon millions of them who finally have something better to do than simply roll around in heaven all day. 

5 REASONS WHY THE BEARS ARE WINNING

IMG_1220.jpg

 

RYAN PACE

Give him credit. Give him a lot of it. Give him holiday cheers of it. After swings and misses he seems to be getting better at his job. Better at picking the right coach. Better at drafting difference making players. Better at using free agency as a way to find difference making players and also players who can fill obvious needs. 

Just look at this list——Matt Nagy, Khalil Mack, Mitchell Trubisky, Tarik Cohen, Eddie Jackson, Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, Roquan Smith. The list goes on and its impressive and its young and its really, really good. 

There are so many things that need to go right and Ryan Pace is a guy that makes sure it does.

I know New Orleans and Los Angeles, hell even the Green Bay Packers look like big mountains, but I don’t see why the Bears couldn’t make some loud noises in the playoffs.

MATT NAGY

It all starts with the coach and the way he implements his vision, gets people buying in it, and how they execute. 

John Madden always said you got to be authentic, because the players can spot a phony, and I think that may be his best quality. He’s a genuine dude and that helps players trust him. 

Plus the Bears finally look like a complete team. So many of their teams have always looked one sided. If only they had an offense, you can hear the Bear faithful whine. 

The fact that Nagy was a quarterback I think has really helped Trubisky. He’s gone from being an indecisive quarterback, to playing a game of pitch and catch. It really doesn’t have to be a complicated game. Hit the open guy, and if he’s not, scamper for some yards. 

Is it possible the Bears have an offense that can win a championship? If they do Nagy will become a legend and get all sorts of credit, as will a handful of players. One of the things I look for in a team is how good are the second and third string players. It says a lot about the coach when the whole roster is ready to play.

KHALIL MACK

Ok this was the ballsy move of the century. 

Word had it that the Packers were about to pull the trigger too and the Bears just out bid them. 

I mean could you imagine the Packers with Mack? People who say the Bears spent the farm to get him are ignoring the most important point. Mack is a once is a lifetime player. 

Every Super Bowl team always seems to have Hall of Fame type players on it, at least one or two and hopefully more. 

Is he at 100% yet? If he is I think that defense climbs a few more rungs on the ladder. When he’s a step quicker, he’s going to require a double team. That opens huge chances for everyone else on that line to get the quarterback. 

If they can pressure the quarterback with four they are going to be a handful come winter.

MITCHELL TRUBISKY

I keep thinking they did something to that offense. The team that just beat Arizona by two points is now seeing a confident decision maker in Trubisky. He looks better. Cooler. A cooler head to prevail whilst sitting in the hottest seat in professional sports. But he still makes some decisions where you just scratch your head.

He of course is the key. If he fails the team will fail, but if he has these kind of dominant performances, I don’t see why this team can’t win it all. Nick Foles doesn’t have a giant contract with 80 million dollars guaranteed, yet, but he did have a career day in the Super Bowl, and went throw for throw with the unmatchable brilliance of Tom Brady. 

Is Nagy getting him to play a little over his head, or is his ceiling still being set? Does he have the potential to be not just good but great? If he’s not great, even with that defense, I don’t see them winning it all. 

Also, does he have to run all the time and does he know how to slide?

INTANGIBLES

I could pick a lot of players in this last spot. The ones I named earlier, the whole defense, the whole offensive line, how about how good those playmakers have been? 

Something about confidence makes it impossible to keep it hidden. The world can’t help but notice it. 

I remember from my own competitive playing days how important it was to believe in yourself and in your team. It always seemed to me that intangible quality of belief was just as important as skill. They’re both critical don’t get me wrong, but guys who possess qualities like attitude, character, and enthusiasm always seem to be the guys holding the trophies up. 

Football is such a sport that demands you play with an edge about you, and this team is doing that. Finally some swag to back up the way you play on the field.

Happy Thanksgiving!

THE CHEESE STANDS ALONE

 

IMG_1216.jpg

 

When I can’t no more I go to poetry. When I hurt so badly I go to poetry. When there’s something so inexplicable in my life I go to poetry. It helps me in ways I’m never able to say but always seem to try. It’s the way I pepper my life.

If you find a quote or two in this column a little surprising all I ask is your indulgence.

It was the ’85 Bears season my freshman year and I was going to this small liberal arts college in Wisconsin that had a number of bars in its town, just like most of the towns in this wonderful state. It just so happened the most popular bar was also a bar owned by a Bears fan. Ah fate! Just my luck.

My thinking was that Bear fans would be there and I would root with them all the way to a Super Bowl victory.

Wrong.

Well, right. The Bears of course won, but where were my Bear fans?

I actually found more Packer fans there, not watching the Packers but rooting against the Bears.

Ugh.

That to me said a lot to me about Wisconsin’s feisty relationship with its brother of a state next door. FIB’s I heard a lot in school, and when I completely moved to Wisconsin after college, the distaste for this bordering state was definitely breathing and ruminating in its population.

I’ve been in this state for almost 35 years watching the majority of Bear games here and you might think it would be a no brainer to find a place where like minded masochists might be able to get away, not bother anybody and try to find something to cheer about with this horribly middling franchise. No.

It makes me think of Emily Dickinson when she says, “there’s a certain Slant of light/ Winter afternoons-/ That oppresses, like the Heft /Of Cathedral Tunes-.

Something about that heavy oppressing force that makes Wisconsin growl in the gristle like a badger to the bear invading its space. 

Wisconsin has so much rugged beauty to it, too. The rivers and lakes are so unbelievably muscled and present with achievement it can make drunk people feel like they own it all, if only for a fleeting, misguided moment. 

To be sure the people from Illinois want to be here and buy the land the state has to offer, and I think a lot of the people in this state have been sick of it for years.

Never mind all the economic boons the state receives from such a cascade of people coming to visit. There’s something proprietary about it. Something about it that says you can own our properties but don’t tread on me.

It also flavors the meat of this rivalry so that even a non partisan vegetarian can come to know that great smell cooking on the grill.

It was all encapsulated in the look of an animal faced freshman four inches taller than me, whose hatred for the Bears reached such a frenzy in that ’85 year he almost kicked the shit out of me for throwing a beer in his face, after I had enough of my ears being victimized all game by his bullshit.

When I was escorted out the back, I lost my place to go, and was subjugated to radios and small dorm room tv’s.

The vitriol behind the hatred is complicated, and in writing this I realize there are points I’m going to miss. Love is a so much better way to live. Hate is, well, just ask Dante about why he wrote “The Divine Comedy.” 

I find even after all these years of living in Wisconsin under the enormously prosperous reign of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, still the state likes to give Bear fans that extra pimpful nudge.

When you mention you’re a Bears fan they kind of apologize for you and say things like “I understand, ” or “oh I’m sorry.”

I think the dominance with which the Packers have beaten the Bears over the past couple of 25 years have made the Packer fans feel a lot like that cat that keeps playing with its dead prize, to make it more alive. Many try to console me now when the Packers quite routinely pull out the victory in the last minute.

Don’t get me wrong, the state is amazing. It is by far the greatest state of them all, by leaps and bounds the most generous, kindest, funniest people I’ve ever met. 

My dad liked to say about great people, “they’d give you the shirt off they’re back.” 

They never call themselves great, either.

I used to canvass door to door for various causes and the people I talked to whether red, white, black, brown, yellow, blue were genuinely interested in what I had to say. Even if they disagreed they would help me and many would also give a drink of water, a coke, something to eat, invite me in out of the cold.

They do what great people do instinctively. They care.

It was a template I recognized and it gave me the model I used in trying to become a decent man, throwing beers in obnoxious Packer fans faces during the foolishness of my youth notwithstanding.

I also have a confession. It’s taken me a while to work up to it and you might be tempted to think I’m a Benedict Arnold because of it, but I’m also a Packer fan in addition to being an enormous and even bigger Bears fan.

Not a very good Packer fan though, but one all the same. I too can find creeping up from within me a Bear fan rooting against the Packers, especially if it helps the Bears get in first place or make the playoffs. 

But I can also say I’ve been to Lambeau field twice. Great seats 35 yard line, 12 rows up. Great friend. Vince Lombardi statue. Parking in somebody’s front yard. The Lambeau Leap statue! Everybody walking like free people with beers in their hands in the morning. An absolute and unequivocal privilege.

I know it might look like I’m organizing a petition to stop the killing at the Roman Colosseum only to find me buying a ticket and cheering the carnage on in my little secret corner of the world. Maybe I am.

I understand paradox. Whitman teaches, “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” 

While the Packers have 4 losses so far, and have got some obvious holes in their defense, I feel they will be the team to beat if the Bears are actually going to make the playoffs this year.

Rodgers makes the cheese stand alone.

It’s always so much healthier to root for a winner than a loser, and maybe that’s why I am at the very least one who always needs to be taking his medication.

Though I mingle and merge among them, I remain a Bear fan in occupied Wisconsin.

 

THINKING FOR YOURSELF

IMG_1189.jpg

 

“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?

 

 

 

IMG_1177.jpg

 

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