After a season that began with high hopes and ended with stories of high players, people are looking elsewhere for their football fix as we enter the time of year where games have real meaning. Sure, the Hawks were invited to the Insight Bowl (motto: “Arizona is warmer than wherever the hell you’re from this time of year”) to play the University of Missouri Tigers. But–slavish loyalty to all things Hawkeye aside–was anybody really breathless with anticipation over this game? Instead, many are looking a few hours east, to my hometown, to cheer on my Chicago Bears.
Following an 0-4 record in the preseason, Bears fans began the season with expectations that were, to put it politely, muted. They stayed that way almost entirely through the season, despite racking up an impressive amount of victories. The last three seasons brought no playoff appearances whatsoever but, ever the optimist, I was never surprised to see the 2010 season unfold as well as it has.
Nor was I surprised by the hiccups. The off-season addition of Offensive Coordinator/Guru Mike Martz was bound to take some time for the team to get used to. After all, much of his play-calling involves the use of sextants, the Pythagorean Theorem and a flux capacitor. These were not the “run first, pass only if we absolutely have to” offensive schemes that have dominated Bears football ever since they played their first game against the Visigoths in the Roman Coliseum in 410 A.D.
Though they won their first three games out of the gate, expectations remained guarded. They had some lucky breaks and were the beneficiaries of some questionable calls (get used to it, Detroit, you’re Detroit) but, last I checked, there’s no spot in the stats column for “Pretty” or “Impressive” or “Convincing”–only Wins and Losses, and the Bears kept accumulating the former.
Especially early on, they played with an offensive line only slightly better at blocking than an equal number of sand-filled road-side construction site barrels and Quarterback Jay Cutler got sacked more often than Paris Hilton at an Oscar party, but, where other teams might have found a way to lose, the Bears did the opposite.
Even after they won three straight in November, they still weren’t getting the respect they deserved. Their last game in that month was against a Philadelphia Eagles team who had, two weeks prior, conducted a nationally-televised vivisection of the Washington Redskins, a team that had beaten the Bears earlier in the season. Conventional wisdom held that they would do the same to the Bears, revealing them as pretenders instead of contenders. But, when the final whistle blew, it was the Bears who were victorious and the Eagles who were sent home in stitches with orders for three days bed rest.
When they started December with their fifth straight victory, the bandwagon started to get a little less roomy than it had been for most of the season but, though we’re big people, we found a way to make room for these latecomers.
There was the unfortunate business of the blow-out loss to the Patriots in week 13, but the Bears learned from their mistakes and came back the next week in a rare outdoor game in Minnesota and trounced the Vikings on Monday Night Football, ending Brett Favre’s night (if not his career) after only 18 minutes. This was also the evening when Devin Hester–though only in his fifth season–returned yet another kick for a score, making him the player with the most kick returns for touchdowns in NFL history. Why opposing teams continue to kick to him is a mystery–it’s like hiring Charlie Sheen to be a valet at your party, it won’t end well–but as long as they’re willing to do so I support their decisions 100%.
And so it was, with that pretty and impressive and convincing win over the Vikings the Bears won their division and guaranteed themselves a playoff berth for the first time since the 2006 season.
How far they’ll go is a matter of how well they continue to coalesce and correct the mistakes they’re still making, but having the opportunity to look forward to playoff football featuring my beloved Bears brings me no small amount of joy–especially when we enter that gloomy part of the year when the holidays are over, going outside is suicide and there’s nothing much for me to look forward to, sports wise, until the Roller Derby season starts up again in March.
So let us sing: Don we now our BEARS apparel, Da Da Da Da Da, Da Da, DA BEARS!!!