THE MORNING AFTER: The continued struggle for relevancy

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MINNEAPOLIS – If a game is played, but no one is really paying attention, did it really happen?

Of course it did.

Just like the question about a tree falling in the forest. If it falls, that actually happened. The old saying deals with the fact that very few people – if any – care about one of thousands of pieces of lumber hitting the ground at a particular time.

Hence the comparison of forests and Chicago’s struggling professional football team.

On Sunday the Bears faced the Vikings at US Bank Stadium. It was their last game of the 2016 season and their first ever in the new venue. They weren’t heading to the playoffs and neither was their opponent, so only draft seeding and positive New Years vibes were at stake.

What happened in just under three hours Sunday was a near complete domination by the home team and another dud by the visitors. John Fox’s squad turned it over five times, went 1-for-4 in the red zone, and had four more penalties than the one coached by Mike Zimmer.

The score around the vast stadium told a very accurate story of the events: Vikings 38 Bears 10.

It happened. It certainly wasn’t pretty, but the Monsters of the Midway fell in the Land of 10,000 Lakes with a vicious thud. But did anyone care? Did anyone outside the 66,880 people in the stands and two brave protestors in the rafters care?

Maybe not. Hate to say it, but the Bears’ infamy in 2016 brings out talk of another “I” word no team wants to hear: Irrelevancy.

That’s whats become of the one collective that claims to unify Chicago once the weather turns cool at the beginning of September. Good years, average years, bad years, the Bears typically remain at the center of Chicago’s sports discussion.

Not in 2016.

Apathy for the Bears is at its peak after a 3-13 season – the worst record for the Bears in a 16-game schedule. Only the 1969 Bears – who finished with a 1-13 record – keep this team out of the conversation for the most woeful of all time.

Games came and went with little to no buzz about the group. Such was pointed out a few times on social media on Sunday as the 13th and final defeat came to a sluggish end.

How did this happen? It wasn’t overnight.

After about a month is became apparent this Bears season was lost. Jay Cutler’s new-found consistency evaporated as he got beaten up badly in the two opening games and was injured. A win over the Lions got some interested, so did a win on a Monday night over the Vikings Halloween night.

Both were mirages as the team failed to win back-to-back games all season. Any hope of progress, or a future with Matt Barkley as the quarterback, evaporated when the Bears lost their final two games by a combined score of 79-31.

On top of that, nearly two dozen members of the team went on Injured Reserve this season. That included two quarterbacks, the No. 1 draft pick from the 2015 season and a host of other contributors. Two of the team’s biggest names – Jerrell Freeman and Alshon Jeffery – sat out four games due to NFL suspension for performance enhancers.

Add these results to a six-year playoff drought in which the team hasn’t gone over .500 since the 2012 season, and you have a team that’s on the bottom of the minds of Chicago sports fans.

“I just think it’s a process. We had a lot of injuries. I was suspended. Other players were suspended. It was a lot of ups and downs but it’s a process,” said Jeffery, who finished below his expectations with 52 catches and a career-low two touchdowns. “It’s something that you’ve got to build from and go into next year.”

How about 2017, Alshon? After all, the receiver hits the open market after playing the season on a one-year Franchise Tag contract.

“I guarantee you we’ll win a Super Bowl next year,” the receiver said. “We had a lot of injuries. I don’t think a team in the league had as much injuries as us.”

That might be true, but hardly anyone has kicked up any fuss. It’s another January with the Bears out of the playoffs with a future as murky as ever.

Apathy has crept in with irrelevancy not far away. Just like that tree in the forest, if the Bears fall and no one notices did it really happen?

Sure it did, but it’s just that no one at the moment really cares.


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