HAWL IN: After seven years, it’s the Bears who must earn the faith
CHICAGO – Happy Anniversary!
Maybe? We’ll not really.
It’s more of a timestamp for the franchise. Something that’s there to remind fans of what could have been and what hasn’t over the better part of the last decade.
That’s January 23, 2011.
If it wasn’t for the Bears’ struggles over the past few years, you’d probably rather forget it.
On that day, the Bears took on the Packers in the NFC Championship Game at rather chilly yet mid-winter tolerable Soldier Field where the sun shined brightly on perhaps the biggest game of the storied rivalry. In his second year at the helm of the Bears, it was a chance for Jay Cutler to have his breakthrough moment as the quarterback of the team while his counterpart Aaron Rodgers was hoping to do the same in his third year starting in Green Bay.
Needles to say, it went the latter’s way.
Rodgers opened the game with a rushing touchdown and the Bears were playing comeback the rest of the way. Cutler injured his knee at the end of the first half and his presence on the sidelines when he couldn’t play started negative vibes that would follow him the rest of his tenure in Chicago.
Todd Collins was terrible in his place. Caleb Hanie did his best, but an unfortunate throw to BJ Raji (That Dance!) and Sam Shields spelled doom for the Bears in an ugly 21-14 loss to Green Bay that ended their hopes for a second Super Bowl appearance in five years.
In reality, it started a string of futility which Bears fans hadn’t known for nearly a generation. It’s one that continues to this day and during which has seen the organization and it’s fan base grow further apart.
Marc Trestman was supposed to be the offensive answer for the Bears. He was the one who was going to end the Cutler frustration of the Smith era, which ended unceremoniously after a 10-6 season and two-straight years without a playoff berth. Two years later, the Trestman hire was a disaster which left the Bears with a 5-11 record and a broken-up locker room that turned 2014 downright ugly around Halas Hall.
That led to the exit of Phil Emery as general manager and the arrival of Ryan Pace. His choice for a head coach – we’ll, sorta – was established veteran John Fox who came in just a year removed from an AFC Championship. Hopes were modest, but once again weren’t met.
Fox never came close to reaching the .500 mark during his tenure, for reasons in and out of his control, and this latest Bears coach was gone after going 14-34 in three more playoff-less seasons.
Faith isn’t exactly something you have in Pace or even George McCaskey right now. It’s been given multiple times since that cold January day the team last played in the postseason, and really since the team last won the championship in 1985. Outside of 2006, it hasn’t really been rewarded.
So why have faith now? Good question.
Matt Nagy has been receiving good reviews from those in the NFL and some of the national pundits and does represent a change from the coaches brought in by the franchise both in distant and recent history. Yet skeptics, with plenty of right to say so, will point out that there was hope for Trestman, Fox, and others in the past. In the end, it was simply more disappointment and less faith given to the higher-ups in the organization.
So as this new Bears era begins, it’s good to be skeptical. Some healthy optimism is great, and it’s deserved considering the philosophy of the hire, but its’ still on the organization to deliver.
Right now there is seven years of frustration – almost to the day – that makes belief without evidence a little hard to embrace.