Coach's Corner

The agony and the ecstasy of the Bears

My Dad's disappointed in me for being on an airplane last Saturday as the Bears played the Eagles. "You're kidding," he says, "right?" I was trained, as a boy, to pay attention to playoff TV schedules: to avoid eminently avoidable situations like this. I could go skiing any week, but it never occurred to me to look at the NFL playoff schedule and consider the possibilities of the only football team I've ever cared about. This, I'm afraid, says something troubling about the staggering depths to which my cynicism has taken me.

"Well," he continues after a baffled pause, "you didn't seem to enjoy the year very much anyway." This is coming from a person who relishes his reputation as the cynic's cynic: a guy who claims to not even watch sports any more (a monstrous lie) let alone enjoy them. But he's right. I watched all 16 Bears games, but I'd become so conditioned to horrifying mediocrity or worse, that I never believed. I understood (too clearly) how lucky those early wins were. I couldn't do a Peter Pan thing and get with the Chicago program.

My eyes saw an average team, maybe a little better -- though average and some good luck can go a long way in the modern NFL. I saw an overhyped defense that brought back no memories of Buddy and Mike and the '86 Super Bowl. That was a team I was excited about. My eyes won't let my heart go. So no, I don't enjoy a 13-3 year. Each victory is painful because I expect the worst to happen, no matter the score. I'm worse than a coach! This is an ominous malady for a Chicago sports fan -- a fan by definition starved for any sort of good news. I wonder if a juicy steak sounds good to a fellow almost dead from starvation?

So it's with mixed feelings that I board the plane to Colorado. On the one hand I want to see the game. On the other, I can't take the heartbreak of defeat. All the experts like the Bears. There's the home-field advantage and the Bear Weather and the bye week and the A-Train and the NFL's White Shadow, Brian Urlacher. As we walk through the airport in Vail, I spot the characteristic columns of Soldier Field on the airport bar TV screen.

Unconsciously, I'm filled with optimism. I'll miss the nail chewing and ranting at a piece of indifferent glass. I'll see the last moments of a Bears playoff victory. Outstanding! This all flashes through my mind in the moment before my eyes focus on the screen where a green-clad Eagle is prancing in the end zone as the last seconds tick away.

Am I supposed to feel good that I was right all along? Anyway, I'd already begun counting the points the Rams were going to score against us. The Bears, a group as offensively stilted and unimaginative as your average middle-school team, would be left behind early. But if Warner and Faulk both contract Ebola, they'd play the Patriots, their last and only Super Bowl victim. I recognize that the Pats are just as lucky as my Bears, so then I'd think, hey we can -- fuck it, we will! -- crush those guys just like we did way back when the world was good, Walter was carrying the ball and Ditka's hair was bright orange. I'd finally get with the program.

I'd host a real Super Bowl party. I'd be excited. I'd find a lucky Bears jersey. I'd make Roxy, my decrepit, depressed old boxer, sit beside me so I could rub her lucky fawn head. The Bears would win the coin toss, elect to receive, and fumble the kick, right into the hands of an unknown New England special teams player who'd walk it into the end zone for the first of their 49 points. I'd become thoroughly depressed. I wouldn't be a very good host: All that pre-game bonhomie and hearty fellow banter long gone, I'd insult somebody. Some guy's wife would tell me, "It's just a game." I'd insult her. The party would not be memorable ... not in any good sense, anyway. This is how my mind works.

I'm a sick person. Be thankful, if you're female, we're not married. Be grateful, if you're a friend, the party never happened. You'd think badly of me. You'd wonder what ever happened to me: how such a good, lighthearted fellow came to such a black and negative end. A modern Ebenezer Scrooge with a satellite dish and NFL Season Ticket. Is there any hope for me and my ilk, if indeed any wretched like-minded sportsfans exist?

Who cares about Super Bowls anyway? New Orleans is a ghastly, hot, and humid place, even in January. Mongrel tourists, lurid whores, and conventioneers of all sorts mingle in the belly-to-belly congestion of Bourbon Street. The odor of puked-up Hurricanes and stale beer will mix with the obnoxious hoosier shouting of Patriots and Rams fans.

Next Sunday -- Super Bowl Sunday -- I'm going to miss, on purpose, my first Super Bowl. I'm going to go to Dallas. I'm going to get credentialed to the Mavericks/Lakers game. I won't dwell on what could have been. I won't gorge myself on left-over Christmas party food. I won't experience Post-Super Bowl Depression. I'll see a game for fun. I'll visit a brand-new arena.

I won't care who wins or loses.

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