Friday, February 02, 2007
I'm just not feeling it. According to the media, Chicago is overflowing with Bears fever. After all, they are returning to the Super Bowl this weekend after a two-decade absence. The 1985 Bears are the fondest sports memory of my youth, perhaps my entire life. The only thing that might compare would be the 1980 US Olympic hockey team. But the Olympics lasted two weeks, not five months like football season. In 1985 the Bears were simply awesome. They had one of the greatest defenses in NFL history. They had one of the greatest running backs of all time. And they had personalities galore.
I have tried to get excited about the 2006 Bears. I hadn't deliberately watched pro football -- I mean setting aside three hours and parking myself in front of the TV -- for at least a decade. But when the 2006 Bears went undefeated in their first seven games, it was time to check them out. I watched them play the Miami Dolphins, the only team that beat the 1985 Bears, and they sucked. A few weeks later I was visiting relatives who had the Bears game on. I saw them lose to the New England Patriots, the team the 1985 Bears crushed in Super Bowl XX. And finally, since I was staying home on New Year's Eve, I figured I might as well watch the game against the Packers. The Bears got their butts handed to them on a platter (and even after all these years, I still hate to see Green Bay win a football game). In brief, I watched three games and the Bears lost every one. I know it's just random luck, but I haven't see a Super Bowl-caliber team at all this year.
Who are these guys anyway? I mean, we know so little about them compared to the 1985 team. I have to blame the Chicago media for dropping the ball here. As my mom pointed out, TV coverage of fans outside Soldier Field shows everyone wearing Brian Urlacher jerseys. In 1985 the love was spread around -- there was Walter Payton's #34, Jim McMahon's #9, Mike Singletary's #50, Gary Fencik's #45, and of course William "Refrigerator" Perry's #72, preferably in size XXXXXL. There also may have been jerseys for Richard Dent, Wilber Marshall, Otis Wilson, Dan Hampton, Steve McMichael and others that year; I don't remember. But we certainly knew all of those guys both as players and as personas. They gave interviews, appeared on and hosted TV and radio shows, and starred in countless advertisements.
This season, we know a little about Rex Grossman, particularly that he didn't take the New Year's Eve game seriously (mini-rant: what the Hell was that? Football players only have to concentrate for a few hours during 16-19 games a year, and the starting QB of all people couldn't be bothered? Can you imagine what Mike Ditka would have done to a player -- any player -- who confessed such disinterest in a game against the Packers?!). Of course we know Tank Johnson, but for all the wrong reasons. Otherwise, the rest of these guys could be the 1987 Spare Bears for all I know. And Lovie Smith may be a good coach (like I said, I've only seen him lose), but Ditka, for all his faults, was a more authentic expression of the classic Bears spirit. Smith's style doesn't stir the enthusiasm that Ditka's did.
I just can't get excited about these guys, no matter how many hours of vacuous coverage the local CBS affiliate is giving them in the run-up to the big game. I even read John Mullin's book The Rise And Self-Destruction Of The Greatest Football Team In History last week, hoping that revisiting the 1985 season would stir the hibernating Bears fan within. Alas, it had the opposite effect, reminding me how much more magical that year felt compared to this one.
Of course I will be rooting for the Bears on Sunday, but I can't call myself a fan anymore. Fan is short for fanatic, and I just don't feel fanatical about this team. Just the same, I wish them the best. And I hope Fidel Castro doesn't die on Sunday because that would make Miami go nuts.