From Bear Down and Get Some Runs:
Information on “psychosis,” as taken from www.willigocrazy.org
Psychosis is a temporary mental state. A person experiences a psychotic state for a while, then they come out of it.
One or more of the following six things usually characterizes a psychotic episode:
1. an underlying chemical imbalance which makes the person vulnerable
2. a trigger: something the person perceives as stressful
3. a history
4. a distinct change in the thought process
6. lack of understanding of the real world
“The Edge…there is no honest way to explain it, because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.”
—Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
It is just past midnight. Meghan and I got back from Ann Arbor four hours ago. She went to sleep. I am up thinking.
To say I passed a breaking point today as a sports fan would be putting it nicely. Today’s game against the Cleveland Browns sent me over the edge…maybe not The Edge, like the one that Hunter Thompson described, but certainly an edge, perhaps a few, ones I probably knew existed but never realized were this close. It was the kind of experience that people who actually live on the other side of The Edge might recall fondly over tea one afternoon. People like Sylvia Plath, Jim Morrison, Ernest Hemingway, and the good doctor himself…I’d imagine folk like these possess personal favorite breakdowns, tales of hellacious drug-induced weekends in which they woke up on the kitchen floor Monday morning in a mess of broken plates and bowls and discover, if only accidentally, that one of their thumbs is missing…
…and the very fact I’m not entirely shaken by my comparison of my own mental state to that of four people known for their destructive lifestyles and suicidal deaths should tell you just how far along I’ve gone. It was that kind of day.
Is diehard sports fandom a destructive lifestyle? Should we be medicated? I’m sure there is a psychological explanation to what took place inside my head nine hours ago; perhaps it was something chemical, or maybe just your standard mental-emotional breakdown.
No matter the case, I am sure of this, (and I say it with absolutely no trace of humor, irony, or fun): for twenty minutes there, I was not of sound mind and body.
The day began innocently enough. I awoke on Heldman’s couch at 10:30. Meaning we had two and a half hours to shower and dress before the Bears. I did so, and threw on jeans and my Robinson jersey, and although the Bengals weren’t playing until 8:30 that evening, Heldman threw on his Rudi Johnson jersey for personal security. Lorrie dropped Meg off at Heldman’s, and the three of us made the trip to Buffalo Wild Wings to meet Robby and Weiss. I immediately locked eyes with a Browns fan, who gave me a half “hello” and half “you’re going down” look. I returned the look. We grabbed seats nearby.
Then came trouble. Rather than having the TVs organized so that fans know exactly where to sit to see their game, it was a free-for-all with every person in the place asking the manager to flip the station, and the manager was rushing around with his headset on, trying to please us all. The Bears game began, the big screen right in front of us showing some air purifier infomercial. I missed kickoff, and then the first play, and then another, as I squinted across the room to the appropriate television.
“God damnit! This is ridiculous.”
“Baby, just ask the manager to change the station.”
“Everyone’s asking the manager to change the station. I’m missing the Bears.” And with that I walked over to the other TV. The game went to commercial, and I went back to our seats just as the manager was coming over. He switched the three regular-sized TVs to our game, and changed the big screen to Lions-Ravens. I can’t stand being out of state.
“OK, is everything cool?”
“I hate missing the kick.”
“OK, but it’s cool now, right?”
“Meghan, I have sixteen chances per year to watch the Bears,” I said, answering a question she didn’t ask. “That’s sixteen games times three hours a game, which is 48 hours. 48 hours a year. Two full days out of 365. That’s it.”
Of course I knew that she knew this. She knew about the “sixteen chances” angle and all that it entailed. In retrospect, I was clearly on my way at this point, and as I have dissected every aspect of my meltdown, I’ve concluded that my problem was mostly my own astute observation that all of the Bears’ “X-factors” were on display, and that most of them went the way of the Browns. This was a Revealing Game, one that revealed all of the problems that the Bears need to overcome if they want this season to be a success (read: playoffs). The Bears’ X-factors:
1. Kyle Orton
2. The Thomas Jones/Cedric Benson backfield
3. Charles Tillman and the Bears’ secondary
4. The #2 receiver
All four of these X-factors revealed themselves in this game, and those revelations, mixed with the pain of the final outcome, was, I think, more than I could handle.
Early in the first, Trent Dilfer killed a Cleveland drive when he lofted a careless pass towards the endzone, well over the head of his intended receiver and into the waiting hands of Charles Tillman. It was Tillman’s first pick this season, and since he missed much of 2004 with an injury, it was his first pick since the “Randy Moss Pick.”
That was December 2003, the day the rookie Tillman became a legend, and since that time the man they call Peanut has had one season lost to injury—thus allowing him to keep his “big play” “shut down corner” rep—and the early part of another season in which his weaknesses have only slowly been revealed. His miscues against Cincinnati were written off as a bad game, rather than the possibility that Peanut has work to do. Because he can be that guy, that corner we all think he can be…but he’s not there yet.
All of this was going through my head as the Dilfer pass fluttered, sputtered, and fell meekly into Tillman’s hands. Bad throw, easy pick, good for us but nothing special.
The Bears’ ensuing drive ended at their own 31 when rookie receiver Mark Bradley fumbled after catching an Orton pass. Shades of Cincinnati, our second receiver being careless with the football…first Gage, now Bradley. I was angry, but no more emotional than usual. In the early going, I’ll usually let my fellow fans ride the waves while I stay on the big picture. I’m always vocal in that I maintain a consistent dialogue with the game, but only down the stretch do I explode either way.
Still, something was bubbling…
Cleveland kicked to go up 3-0. We traded punts, and then…yuck. After gaining 28 yards on seven carries, Thomas Jones was sidelined in order to “work Benson into the lineup.” Many NFL teams use two backs, but this was not Lovie and Ron Turner bringing the rookie in as the “change of pace.” Let the swift Jones burn the defense outside, and then bring in the bruising Benson to pound the middle. This wasn’t that. This was an effort to turn Benson into a starter, and it was disastrous. After a completion to Bradley for a first, the Bears went to Benson on four straight plays. His yardage: 5 yards, 4 yards, negative 1, zero.
But the Browns returned the ball and the momentum soon enough when Mike Brown ran 73 yards with an errant Dilfer pass. I was up yelling, high-fiving every Bears fan in the place, all of us carried into high spirits on the Brown pick. But typical Bears: Jones squirted into the endzone off a swing pass only to see the score nullified by a personal foul on Roberto Garza. We kept going backwards until we had fourth and goal from the 26, forcing rookie Robbie Gould to kick his first NFL field goal. I didn’t even realize Doug Brien was out. Cleveland got one last kick before the half to make it 6-3, and Orton kneeled the game to halftime.
I called Ben.
“Who’s this Gould kid?”
“Undrafted rookie from Penn State,” Ben said. “And actually, I think it’s pronounced ‘Gold.’”
“Isn’t it spelled ‘Gould’?”
“Why isn’t it pronounced ‘Gould’?”
“It just isn’t.”
We paused…and then Ben started up.
“This is going to be the Washington game all over again, isn’t it.”
“Yeah. I get that feeling.”
And yet I also had an uneasy feeling, one unlike the casual disappointment after the Redskins loss or the full-on malaise after the Bengals blew us out. This game was shaping into something different, a feeling of something unholy…
Thomas Jones took over in the second half. After he gained 50 yards on 12 carries in the first, the Bears wisely fed TJ over and over to start the second. And he produced. Carrying the ball seven times for 73 yards, TJ busted off runs of 23, 15, and 25 as he took the Bears down to the Cleveland eight.
But there was more to it than just a guy who was running hard and running well. There was more to all of this than science, more to it than the right play call and the line creating holes and the running back using his speed and vision to gain yardage. That may be what the other Bears fans at Buffalo Wild Wings were responding to when they stood and cheered and high-fived each other, but I saw more. This was a man—a football player—who was strapping his team on his back and taking them some place special, and he was inviting all of us to come along. It was that look in his eyes, the look of a man with a purpose, a man making the transition from a player filling a position to a leader using that position to make a statement. Thomas Jones was no longer important because he was our best running back; Thomas Jones was important because he was Thomas Jones.
On that drive, I saw in him—in his eyes—the look of a man determined to make his team a winner. It was the look of Brett Favre, of Ray Lewis, of Tom Brady, of Donovan McNabb.
The drive was capped with an eight-yard swing pass to fullback Marc Edwards. And while it would have been fitting for Jones to score, it did not matter. What mattered was what Jones announced on that drive, the confidence he injected into his teammates, the duties he had so obviously taken over in such a powerful and meaningful way that there was no use debating it: Thomas Jones was the Bears’ offensive leader. With him went the team.
…but then, back to the “Benson plan,” and more sickening results. After a Cleveland punt, the Bears gave Benson another chance to be “worked into the lineup.” Never mind the display Jones had just put on five minutes earlier, or the fact that he was ready to put another long TD drive on the board, ready to put the game out of reach. The Bears went back to Benson, and he responded with a fumble. Cleveland recovered. I seethed.
All throughout the restaurant were Bears fans as outwardly upset as I. “Benson sucks!” were tossed around the restaurant with a casual anger…and perhaps if I hadn’t watched that previous drive, hadn’t seen the look in Thomas Jones’s eyes, didn’t know exactly what was at stake, I probably would have been just as flippant as everyone else.
But I knew. I saw the Bigger Picture, the Larger Trend. I saw Jones’s ascension into the team-carrying pantheon, and I saw the Bears’ coaching staff meddling with that in an effort to pay off the Benson-investment, and the whole scene made me physically ill. Here was a Walter Payton-type effort, and the Bears were canning it to see if Curtis Enis could make the grade. Granted, Thomas Jones is only equal to Walter Payton in position and team, and Cedric Benson has my confidence in playing a career with much more of an upside than Curtis Enis…but that’s how it felt. This was bigger than just some running backs succeeding or not succeeding, bigger than touchdowns and fumbles, bigger than coaching strategies and coaching decisions. This was the opportunity for something magical and legendary, the opportunity for a football player to take his team and his fans someplace we could not get without him, and it was being sullied in the name of a business investment, and nobody seemed to notice it but me.
Still, we entered the fourth with a 10-6 lead, and a defense that had stuffed the run and kept Dilfer off balance all day. I suppressed all of these thoughts and zeroed in. Browns punt, Bears punt, Browns punt, and then the bad news: Thomas Jones was leaving the game with a bruised knee. This was the kind of game that needed Jones, the kind of game destined to be put out of reach with a Jones-led drive.
Instead, we got an Orton fumble recovered by Kreutz and some nice runs by third stringer Adrian Peterson, but nothing long or sustained. The Bears punted. Dilfer then moved from the Cleveland 46 to the Chicago 33, and struck gold with a 33-yard TD pass to Antonio Bryant. 13-10 Browns.
I was angry but calm. There was still time to win. But on our next drive, Peterson knocked into Orton while picking up a blitz. Orton fumbled again, this one recovered by Cleveland, and on their second play following the turnover, Dilfer went back to Bryant for a 28-yard touchdown. This time he just beat Tillman to the endzone, and I lost it. After screaming profanity, I began shaking a bit, and then out of frustration that I couldn’t throw anything in a public place, I smashed my Coke—a regular fast food cup with a straw—down on the table.
At this point, as Meghan pointed out to me later, people were definitely looking at me and talking about me. I was deep within a complete and total rage. I knew I was making a scene, but I was operating at such a primal level that I wasn’t concerned with anyone’s judgments. (Although I do wish I had been able to curtail the loud, public cursing. I don’t like swearing in public, particularly if there are kids around.)
The Browns now led 20-10, having collected two scores on the same play with the same receiver burning the same corner. And all in 38 seconds. My mind raced to my earlier thoughts on Charles Tillman, thoughts I had ignored because they weren’t a direct factor, but ones that none the less were clearly brewing in my mind. Once they were unleashed after the back-to-back Dilfer-to-Bryant-past-Tillman’s, there was no containing my emotions. On the next drive, Orton threw what looked like an interception, the Cleveland defender diving for the ball and then dashing nine yards with it. The Bears challenged the pick, and as the head official peered upon the replay, FOX put the play on a loop and continuously showed the same “Game Summary” graphic which informed us again and again that Jones had been amazing but was out with an injury and that Benson had been terrible and that the Browns had just scored fourteen points in a half a minute, and the FOX announcers went on and on about how the Bears had given this game away, and still the official was in the booth for what must have been four goddamn minutes, looking at the replay, the one that FOX kept showing us, the one the announcers kept telling us about, back and forth, again and again, and finally I got so fed up that I lifted the empty chair next to me, restrained myself from chucking it into the screen, and instead held it an inch off the floor and slammed it down.
“Make up your goddamn mind already!”
The call was reversed, and the Bears got the ball back. and after a Bobby Wade personal foul backed us up 15 yards, our drive ended on fourth down with an incomplete pass to a very frustrated Muhsin Muhammad. A big group of Bears fans left in disgust, and some Browns fans left too, high-fiving each other as they went, with one of them actually looking at me and smiling in a “We got ya that time” look.
“Do you want to go?” Meghan asked as sweetly as ever.
But I did not look at her.
“Game’s not over yet,” I said, staring stubbornly at the game clock as it ticked hopelessly away, knowing that nobody would stop it, that it was just a formality at this point, that the Bears had lost. “We still have 47 seconds.”
We sat until the clock expired—just as I always do—and when it hit 0:00 I stood and went to the bathroom. My mind was painfully focused; the pain of the loss, the bang-bang fashion in which it happened, the revealing nature of the game and all of the mistakes…I was a mess. Inside the bathroom, small TV’s sat on the wall over the urinals with Game 4 of the Astros-Braves series in the eighth inning. As I stood there, a Packer fan draped in a Favre jersey and a Packers hat walked in. He was fresh off the good feelings of Green Bay’s first win of the year, a 52-3 destruction of the New Orleans Saints. We didn’t exchange dirty looks; he was happy that his team finally won, and respectful that my team did not. We stood there, peeing, watching TV, and as the ESPN announcer plugged the Cincinnati-Jacksonville Sunday Night Football game, one of them began talking about the Bengals offense, and what they did two weeks ago to the “fourth best defense in the league, the Chicago Bears.”
“We didn’t look like the fourth best today,” I said, with no trace of fun.
Innocently enough, the Packers fan laughed.
“Fine,” I said when I went outside to Meghan, who was on the phone. “Fuck this goddamn game. Let’s go.”
The car was parked in a garage, and when we got there, I realized I was holding back tears. This was now extraordinarily unusual, far beyond my normal emotional response. I’ve cried after games before, but only a few times, and always on big occasions when I was much younger. I cried when Northwestern lost the Rose Bowl, I cried when the Pistons beat the Bulls in 1990, and I cried in fourth grade when the Orrington School flag football team (us) were eliminated in the playoffs by the Washington School flag football team. I didn’t even cry when the Cubs lost Game 7.
But a regular season football game? Week 5? A game that left us only a game out of first place? This wasn’t the playoffs, and it was not a mathematical elimination. But all throughout, this game against the Browns felt like something greater. It chewed me up and pissed me off, and when I am angry, I often cry.
Meghan asked me at halftime if I would do the first stretch of driving back to Indy since she was tired. I said fine. After the game, we didn’t even have to talk about it. Meghan was going to drive. When we got to the car, I was in such a rage that I kicked the bumper twice with the heel of my shoe, and then pounded on the trunk with my fist. She looked at me; I did not look back. She got in the car, and I had her open the trunk so that I could make sure we had everything and didn’t need to return to Heldman’s, but really I was just trying to compose myself. It worked for a bit, but once I got into the car, I grew upset, and I punched the dash board. She looked at me, waiting for me to calm, and then she drove away.
I was still very much in my own head with a lot on my mind, and I wanted to get it all out so that I could see the entire situation for what it was, and allow myself to step away from it. I began telling Meghan all about what I had seen during the game, about the four X-factors, and conclusions I’d drawn.
1. Kyle Orton—All things being equal, Kyle Orton is not going to win games for you. He’s not ready yet. He is a terrific rookie quarterback, nowhere in the league of Ben Roethlisberger, but also nowhere in the league of Ryan Leaf. Give Orton a good running game and solid pass protection, and he will be able to make enough plays and avoid enough mistakes to get the win. He showed that in the Detroit game, as well as the Washington game, in which we were in a position to win if it weren’t for the false starts.
However, he’s no Brett Favre. If everything else is even, and Orton’s play is to determine whether the Bears win or lose, they will lose. He has the potential to develop into a terrific quarterback, but he’s not there yet.
2. The Thomas Jones/Cedric Benson backfield—Thomas Jones can carry this football team; Cedric Benson can hardly carry the ball. Simple as that. If the Bears want to use Benson as a change of pace back, that’s one thing. But the “work him into the lineup” approach is not working.
3. Charles Tillman and the Bears’ secondary—Tillman can be a great cover corner, and although the word out of camp was that his battles with Muhammad had made him a tremendous player, I’ve yet to see the results. He’s got the attitude of a shut down corner, as well as the confidence of his teammates, but he’s yet to produce like one. Too many pass interference calls, too many blown assignments. We can stop with the Pro Bowl talk with Peanut until he proves otherwise…which I think he will, but he hasn’t yet.
Going along with that, with the exception of Mike Brown, the Bears’ secondary is vastly overrated. Tillman is not a Pro Bowler, Azumah is a wonderful football player with a great football IQ and a terrific return man, but he is not one of the best corners in the league, and Chris Harris is a hard hitter who is still learning a lot of the nuances of the position, which figures, since he is a rookie. Harris may be a starter, but as of right now, it’s been more about Mike Green losing his job than Harris winning it. Nathan Vasher is a terrific nickel back, but hasn’t been able to win the job from either Tillman or Zoom. The Bears began and finished the game as the NFL’s stingiest redzone defense but lost because they allowed the Bryant touchdowns.
4. The #2 receiver slot—First it was Wade, then Gage, now Bradley, with second year man Bernard Berrian waiting on deck. These are all talented guys, but they all seem better suited as a #3 than a #2. Regardless, one of them is going to have to improve and take over that job if the Bears are to be successful. Moose cannot be Orton’s only target. We don’t need Rice and Taylor, Swann and Stallworth, Moss and Carter, Carter and Reed, Smith and McCafferey, or even Harrison and Wayne. What we do need is for one of those four guy to solidify the second receiver slot and loosen the defense off Muhammad.
When I finished my rant, I felt better, but I was still beyond sanity. It was twenty minutes after the final tick on the clock, and we’d stopped at a gas station. I was nearly frothing from anger when we pulled up, and then a wave of euphoria wiped over me, and I slipped into some kind of delirium. All of a sudden, I felt like I’d gone mad. I couldn’t stop laughing. Perhaps I was seeing the humor in my getting so upset over a regular season game. Perhaps I’d just gone off the deep end. Whatever it was, Meghan made me go inside and buy a Coke so that I would walk around some and get my head straight.
And it worked. I like to push my emotions as far as they can go so that nothing is ever suppressed, and then I release them completely and move on. The bigger the emotional situation, the stronger the emotions and the longer it will take me to let go. This was obviously the case here. With such a powerful amount of sports-related pain and frustration, mixed with the acute insight of exactly what was happening with my team and why, plus the annoyance that nobody else was seeing it, I just went over the top. But I got some water and a candy bar, and I got back in the car, and I felt better. It was clear to me what had happened, that I had peaked and was now back to normal. Meghan, on the other hand, looked upset.
I drank some water.
“I decided to get water instead of Coke.”
She didn’t say anything.
“You know, the whole no-Coke thing.”
“YOU FREAKED ME OUT!”
“Are you kidding? You were screaming and swearing, you slammed down your drink and picked up a chair–”
“It wasn’t even a foot off the ground!”
“Come on Jack. You lost it.”
I smiled. “That’s true.”
“I almost moved.”
This got me. “Seriously?”
“I considered it.”
“Well that’s no good. I don’t want to make you do that.”
“I stayed, didn’t I?”
“Yeah. You stayed.”
She paused, and then looked at me, and then almost said something, and then didn’t, and then looked at me again.
“Well?” I asked.
But she didn’t say anything. Her eyes darted a bit around her head. She was clearly thinking about something, something that required delicacy.
“Well?” I asked again.
“Don’t hate me, OK?”
“I could never hate you.”
“Because I know that you hate when people say this…”
“…and I say it with an absolute love for you…”
Big uh oh.
“…and I know that you’re going to put this in your book and I’m going to end up looking like a villain or a traitor or something, but baby…”
Here it comes.
“…it’s just a game.”
And then, before I can say anything…
“I mean, I’m a Cubs fan. I love the Cubs. Maybe not as much as you love the Bears, but I love the Cubs. When they lost two years ago, I was upset, but I wasn’t cursing or throwing things or anything like that. You lost control of yourself today.”
“No. It’s just a game. It is fun, and yes, it’s important, but it’s just a game.”
“OK, but I–”
“No. Jack. It’s just a game.”
Is it possible that I’ve taken sports too far? I hate to think that’s the case, and yet I know that my actions and emotions during and after today’s game far exceeded anything that would suggest I have sports in their proper context. It can be difficult to keep a good perspective on the importance of a single play, a single game, a single season, particularly when your entire being is totally involved in that play or that game or that season. How do you remove yourself and remind yourself that “it just doesn’t matter” and still go through the full experience, an experience that requires your full submission? How do you detach while remaining attached? How do you pour your heart and soul into a team, and then let go?
Perhaps my emotions got the better of me earlier today, but I’ve always been a person who believes in experience first and analysis second…involvement first, perspective second. Because of that, my fear that I may have “overdone it” is eclipsed by my faith in gut reactions. Certainly a person who wants to make the most out of sports must be willing to face the possibilities of embarrassment, public obscenity, and subtle hints of violence. Well, shouldn’t he?
More coverage of Da Bears from readjack.com
Hunter Thompson examines the value of football in America…
…and here, in a 2003 interview, he discusses his famed football chat with Nixon