It’s finally that time of year again. I’ve been ready for some football since February. Even with the thrill of the Chicago Blackhawks’ victory in the Stanley Cup, there’s nothing quite as engaging as a weekend-plus of football. I’m no expert, but I’ll watch pretty much any game at all, even if it’s just a high school matchup on public access in the background while I work. Yet for a Bears fan, even this joyous time of year is tinged with tension.
That’s because we’ve been in perpetual agony since January 1986, when the Monsters of the Midway took Super Bowl XX. Every year, we expect them to hoist the Lombardi trophy again. And every year, it seems like they may have a shot. There was the magic of the 2006-7 season, when only Peyton Manning stood between the Bears’ defense/special teams magic and immortality. (The offense didn’t do much then, or for several years following.)
There was the great hope of the 2011-2 season, when Devin Hester was smashing records, Brian Urlacher was healthy and Lovie Smith seemed to be on a roll until Jay Cutler was injured and the season crashed. Even last year looked good on paper, but the Bears slowly fell through the power rankings while Lovie grimaced from the sidelines. (I’m convinced that helpless grimace is half the reason the team fired its coach after a 10-6 season.)
So here we are, with Marc Trestman as head coach and a few fresh faces on the field, and a packed stadium cheering the Cincinnati Bengals, those perennial underachievers who have managed to enter the 2013-4 season as the most promising contenders, with receiver A.J. Green blazing through the secondary in flares of orange. (As I write this, he has beaten the Bears’ Charles Tillman twice, though Tillman has two interceptions today.)
The Bears are driving midway through the third quarter, and looking somewhat like Bears A, rather than the Bears B that apparently filled in for the first half. As always, the special teams unit has grabbed the glory, with Robbie Gould nailing a 58-yard field goal that broke a team record. But the Bears are down and looking for that elusive spark. More acute observers will note the differences with last year. For me, this feels almost the same.
For my sins, I’m also a Cubs fan, so I can speak to the agony of both. The Cubs fan endures endless failure, content that the experience, at least, is worth sharing. The Bears fan endures endless frustration, as a handful of possessions each year seem to separate a good team from greatness. We know, sure as Ditka, that we will be back on top one day. It’s that faith that makes each frigid season so exciting. And so terribly, brutally anxious.