From November 2010 to May 2011, I wrote for a site called “The Sports Blog Network,” a sports website launched by Chris Reed. The site folded, as websites do, and at some point in the past year (maybe longer?) the content was removed.
I loved the work I did there and appreciated the opportunity Chris gave me (thanks man!) so I am reposting all of those stories on ReadJack.
Super Bowl Bears? Don’t dream it. Be it.
Originally published on Sports Blog Network November 29, 2010
The day I turned 29, my beloved Chicago Bears were 4-3, riding a two-game losing streak, and preparing for an out-of-country battle the following day with the winless Buffalo Bills.
If the outlook was brilliant for the Chicago 53 that day, it was only because the Bills were such proper doormats. Lovie’s gang, after all, had followed a shaky 3-0 start by dropping three of four.
Pounded for ten sacks at the Meadowlands.
Upset at home by the ever-aging Seahawks.
Along with the first three wins – none of which could be considered powerful – the team had won its fourth game by dispatching the winless Panthers in decidedly unimpressive fashion. Then came the back-to-back home losses, and then the off week, and now this: a “showdown” with the 0-7 Bills.
That was Sunday the 7th. The day before, I received a birthday message from my old Indiana University writing professor Tony Ardizzone, native-Chicagoan, dedicated Bears fan, and stone-cold sports realist. When he wasn’t instructing me on the editing process or instilling the value of keeping a quote book, Tony was always good for some Bears banter, which, as a veteran Chicago sports fan in his early 50s, usually included sarcasm slathered in a humdrum misery, scars accrued over a lifetime of losing.
I thanked him for his note, and then said: “I would say that the Bears are on their way to an agonizing 7-9, but I’ve seen so many 7-9 Bears teams that it’s like saying the Cubs are on their way to an agonizing non-World Series winning season.”
I figured this show of world-weary pessimism would satisfy Tony, would send him nodding his head at my growth and maturity, would show him that I’ve finally learned not to hope for the best. The Bears were, after all, still over .500, and a half game out of the division lead. Winning only three more games would be rather heart-wrenching.
“Keep writing,” Tony responded. “Don’t lose faith.”
And then: “As for the Bears, it’s possible they lose out. I hope not, but I see seven wins as optimistic at this point.”
Imagine that: A 3-6 finish. A torturous free fall. Complete disappointment.
Can’t say I wasn’t warned.
As it happened, the Bears snuck past Buffalo with a come-from-behind, three-point victory. Not resounding by any means, and surely nothing to sway a hardened Chicago man like Tony from his 7-9 best-case-scenario forecast. My own best-case of 9-7 wasn’t much better; you can make the playoffs with nine wins, sure, but what then? We didn’t have a Warner-Fitzgerald combo that could trump all other aspects and sail us into the Super Bowl.
This felt like a lame-duck team in a cooked-goose season. Super Bowl contenders don’t allow ten sacks, or choke away shoulda-beens against inferior clubs on the home field. They certainly don’t need 4th quarter magic against an 0-7 team that can’t even maintain popularity in its own country…
But 5-3 is 5-3, and first place is first place, and nobody cares how fluky your wins are if you can put it together in the second half of the season and peak while the others are dying.
And wouldn’t you know it? That’s what we’ve got with these 2010 Chicago Bears.
The Monsters of the Midway are 8-3, with four straight victories to their name and sole possession of the division’s top slot. They gouged out their first signature win on November 14th with a rousing 27-13 defeat of the Vikings, went down to Miami four days later and blanked the Dolphins for signature win number two.
And they bagged a third yesterday, a no-doubt-abouter over Mike Vick and the hot-to-trot Philadelphia Eagles.
Of course, 8-3 does not a postseason make. In 2008, Favre’s Jets were 8-3 before famously skidding to a 1-4 close and watching the playoffs from home, comforted not one bit by their nine season wins. To really feel good, the Bears need to win two of their next four and enter the Week 17 trip to Lambeau with ten wins already in their pocket.
It’s a tough road, but after starting the season as, in my eyes, “the worst 5-3 football team the NFL has ever seen,” the 2010 Chicago Bears are carving out an Identity. A go-get-um D, led by a rag-tag, motorized line of forgotten men and overachievers: Idonije, Toeaina, Adams, Melton, and Tommie Harris, who, in the last few weeks, has performed not as a talented first round bust but as a last-legs veteran itching to prove himself.
It was Harris who made the play of the game yesterday. With his team’s lead shrinking and the Eagles destined to take control as they drove the field and marched inside the Chicago ten, ol’ Number 91 shot his big paw into the air and tipped a would-be Vick touchdown. The ball fluttered meekly and was plucked by Chris Harris who returned the pick 39 yards.
Cutler and co. took over from there, conducting their own drive with completions to Hester, Bennett, and Knox, ultimately scoring on a six-yard TD strike from Cutler to Bennett. It was their second touchdown hook up of the late afternoon, the first time in Bennett’s three-year career that he scored twice in one game.
Bennett’s strong play was another success story for a Bears receiving corps that, along with tight end Greg Olsen, is maligned more than it is praised, despite the fact that all four men have made impact plays throughout the season.
In fact, the Hester-Knox-Bennett-Olsen quartet of 2009-2010 has gained more yards and scored more points than any other foursome in any two-year stretch of the Lovie Smith era.
Much of that credit goes to Cutler, whose stats are even more impressive when you consider that in two seasons, Number 6 is on pace to be sacked 89 times, compared to 68 sacks allowed in the highly-successful passing seasons of 2006 and 2007.
Ah yes: the offensive line. If it weren’t for that line, I would feel entirely confident in announcing the Bears as a true NFC contender. Watching this Bears offense is like watching Lance Armstrong compete in a Tour de France on a bike with no breaks. He might be faster than the competition, he might be a greatly skilled rider, but ye gods! That bike is out of control!
The line had a few more brutal swings and misses against the Eagles, allowing Philly defenders to traipse upon gentle Jay for four more sacks.
But for much of the game, Cutler was upright and throwing, and he capitalized on his newfound verticality with four touchdowns and a career high quarterback rating of 146.2. All eyes were on Vick and the Eagles, and this screwy band of Bears whipped ‘em up and down the field for 31 points and their eighth win of the year.
In the NFL, Super Bowls are won after Week 10. That’s the thinking anyhow, and in the twenty seasons of wild card playoffs, only the 2006 Colts have finished under .500 from Week 11 to 17 and lived to hoist the trophy.
That was a cockamamie bunch, allowing a league-worst 173 yards rushing per game in the regular season, and then storming its way to a championship with only 331 ground yards allowed. I’m sure anyone who loved those Colts cared not one lick that their team went 3-4 after Week 10 or that a determined kitten could have racked up 100 yards rushing against their de-fense. All that mattered was their mark in the new year: 4-0, 82.8 rush yards allowed per game, one Lombardi Trophy added to the cupboard.
And if the Bears keep up their winning ways, no soul on Earth who waves the navy and orange will care that Jay Cutler has been sacked 21 more times in 11 fewer games in Chicago than in Denver, or that we’ve had a revolving door at offensive line, or that Julius Peppers earns approximately 12 million more dollars per season than Israel Idonije but has collected a half sack less.
Should the Bears, the 2010 Chicago Bears, win Super Bowl XLV, the confusion and frustration of watching what was thought to be a 7-9 football team will fall away like so many autumn leaves.
Yes, it is November 29th, 2010, and I am thinking Super Bowl. This team does not have the holy-cow-this-is-really-happening thrill of the 2005 team, or the big play dominance of 2006, or even the big play near-misses of 1999. Thus far, there’s nothing here to fondly remember beyond the win column. The team’s veterans have tasted Super Bowl defeats, and so have I. Now, with five games to go, it’s championship or bust.
That might sound cooky, but so what? Cookier things have happened. And so, to my friend and mentor Tony Ardizzone, a man with 32 more Bears seasons under his sports fan belt, I say with great respect: Keep watching. Don’t lose faith.
Jack M Silverstein is a staff writer for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. Say hey @readjack.