HAWL IN: Bears’ pain comes from the party that ended too soon
LAKE FOREST – It’s not brought up that much anymore since the team got rid of a lot of their forgettable past by finally winning an elusive championship. That’s how it goes in sports – one great moment gets rid of the painful ones.
Yet the 2003 Cubs – the star-crossed team that eventually crossed into infamy with three forgettable games to end the National League Championship Series – suddenly came up in conversation this past week.
What brought this back? Pain.
The end of that season and all of its drama, from Steve Bartman to Alex Gonzalez, a bullpen that couldn’t get outs along with a Game 7 flameout, caused lasting heartache for a Chicago fan base that lasted quite a while after its finish. It was just one of those losses that shook up fans, not believing that a party stopped when it seemed like it was just getting going.
That’s how it was with the Bears on Sunday.
The most anticipated game in eight years took place at Soldier Field, and it was a tight contest throughout, yet the Bears maintained a five-point lead into the final minutes. So much had gone right for the team in a magical 12-4 season that it just seemed destined for them to win. Even when the Eagles managed to get in the endzone to grab a lead against a strong defense, fans thought something was going to happen.
Tarik Cohen had a long kickoff return. Mitchell Trubisky hit Allen Robinson for a long gain. Cody Parkey, who’d improved at Soldier Field since his four goal post hit performance against Detroit, had a makeable 43-yarder with decent conditions that was going to complete his comeback story.
It was meant to be until it wasn’t.
Parkey’s kick was blocked (the degree depending on your interpretation) and it knocked off the upright, crossbar, before landing helplessly on the field.
Eagles 16, Bears 15. Turn out the lights….you know the rest.
Indeed the party was over. It’s common lately when it comes to this Bears’ franchise. They haven’t won the Super Bowl since 1985, and in five of their playoff appearances since then they’ve been bounced in the first round.
So why was this one so painful? Why would this defeat at Soldier Field be associated with the misery of Cubs’ fans over 15 years ago?
For all the right reasons, that’s why. Your pain, oddly enough, shows just how this Bears’ team made themselves successful, marketable, and sustainable.
Khalil Mack’s acquisition a week before the season opener made a good defense great then eventually elite. His mere presence on the field, especially on third down, immediately made defensive series a drama in itself from Week 1 through 17.
After struggling for years in the category, the Bears led the league in forced turnovers with 36 and defensive touchdowns with six.
Oh, and when they got to the endzone, they sure made the most of it. From Motown to pictures, the creativity and joy was spot-on, something fans weren’t used to seeing during a number of lean years over the past decade.
Speaking of things being different from the past, how about a few memorable trick plays. The one above is “Santa’s Sleigh.”
This one is “Freezer Left.”
There were others like this through the season that showed Matt Nagy’s creativity in both formation and name. They were, for the most part, successful, but always brought a flair to the game that continued to peel back the layers of a unique offense.
Oh, and you can’t forget about #ClubDub. It was twelve instances of pure joy for the club.
Maybe that’s why this ending of this season is just so painful. It was just so much fun.
A team can be successful and get attention, but the way the Bears’ did so this year was like few others in team history. This team was as charismatic as any in franchise history, playing with a grit that honors their strong tradition with a new flair that would appeal to this generation of Bears’ fans.
They were a joy to watch, a party that seemed to only grow by the week. By the time the playoffs arrive, it was supposed to continue for a few weeks, because no one was ready for the fun to end.
But it did.
Just when the music was going to get the loudest as the dance floor was filling up with those dressed in orange and blue, the music stopped. The strobes went out, and the house lights came on. Suddenly the party was over, so much hope and joy had nowhere to go.
Oh, and one of the main DJ’s of this party, Vic Fangio, is going to perform elsewhere next year. It only makes the silence grow louder as long Winter months lie ahead.
That’s where the pain comes from. Nothing now for the next seven-and-a-half months to remember the party that was had, and the question if it will continue.
Now that falls on Ryan Pace, Matt Nagy, new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, and a group of talented players who broke through in one way and not in another. Can they keep the fun going in 2019 as the did in 2018, and perhaps be even better? Can the joy of this season continue into February and all the way to Miami next season?
All of those are questions for the future. For now, it’s all about dealing with the hangover of the party that was 2018 for the Bears, and wondering why it had to end the way it did.