Brendan, almost every single person I know in Chicago is trying to get tickets for Sunday’s game against the Saints. “I gotta be there,” they say. “I gotta be part of that atmosphere.” To which I reply, “If you’re so eager to throw your money away, just give it to me.” It’s my contention that actually going to the game—any game—is among the most overrated experiences in sports.
I admit my perspective might be somewhat skewed—my seven years as an itinerant beer vendor have left me with a casual disdain for stadium patrons and a deep dislike of steep stadium stairs. But let’s say, Mr. Koerner, that you actually followed through on your initial impulse and flew out to Hoosier country. Even if the weather cooperates, you’d be surrounded by thousands of sweaty, excitable strangers who would likely step on your foot or compel you to do the wave. A ticket would cost hundreds of dollars, and that’s only if you’re lucky enough to get it direct from the stadium. If you’ve still got any money left, and you’re thirsty, hope you enjoy your $7 Miller Lite. What’s more, odds are good that you’d have a view that’s worse than what you’d get on that 17-inch beauty in your kitchen. Plus, there’s always a chance of the Goodyear Blimp going Hindenburg and setting the RCA Dome on fire. (This is my scenario. I get to imagine what I want.)
When the reality of the experience is laid out, going to the game actually sounds like some sort of horrible, Guantanamo-esque punishment. So, why do it? For some ill-defined concept of “atmosphere”? Because you want to be a “part of the game”? Sure, back when tickets cost 15 or 20 bucks, it was worth it for those intangibles. But nowadays? If you stay home, you can enjoy HDTV, better beer at cheaper prices, and, assuming you have at least one friend, a sense of camaraderie that’s far more intimate than what you’ll find at the game itself. If you miss the cold, you can open a window. Plus, homebound sports fans get to enjoy the announcing talents of Joe Buck! OK, so maybe there are some benefits to going to the game.
I know I sound like a crotchety old man, and I don’t want to belabor the point. But at this point in the playoffs, I’m not there for the party; I’m there for the game. Bears football—especially played at this level—isn’t a social event for me. It’s a deep and often painful obsession, and T-shirt cannons, kiss cams, and fat guys with painted chests just distract from the drama that’s playing out on the field.
I know I was down on my team yesterday, but after seeing the lack of respect they’re getting from you guys, I’ve gotta defend my Bears. Let’s start with the most controversial man in Chicago—Studs Terkel. (He’s simply too old to be starting at fullback.) Moving on to Rex Grossman, I’m not quite sure why everyone’s so down on him. Is it the turnovers? The bad reads? The way he’s forced plays all season? The fact that he was thinking about his New Year’s plans on Rush Street and ended up playing as badly as any NFL quarterback has ever played in that end-of-season Packers game?
Look, I don’t expect anyone to love Grossman, and to argue that he’s a Pro Bowl QB, as one overeager Chicago sportswriter did a few weeks back, suggests an alarming break with reality. But, even allowing for two or three bonehead plays this Sunday, he’s good enough to keep the Bears in the game, and that’s all they need from him. Nobody’s calling Grossman a Tom Brady, but I think he can be a Drew Bledsoe—a serviceable-to-good QB with occasional flashes of brilliance who will toss the odd long ball, make enough short reads to keep the chains moving, and spend the rest of the game handing it off to the backs. Not buying Bledsoe? OK, how about Gus Frerotte?
Let’s go back to the Bears running backs, whom I’ve dubbed the “Chicago Bulls” (trademark pending, T-shirt riches assured). They’re both gutsy, powerful, and unfairly overlooked. Thomas Jones can battle Brian Westbrook for the title of most underrated back in the league. Jones rushed for 1,210 yards this season and 1,335 last year. He’s physically huge and a great inside-the-tackles runner. Cedric Benson, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2005 draft, has shown in the last few games that, if the Bears deign to give him the ball, he has the sort of elusiveness and field awareness that remind me of an in-his-prime Eddie George.
On numbers alone, Jones and Benson match up well with Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush. That doesn’t stop me from being extremely worried about the Bears’ ability to contain New Orleans’ more famous runners. Even when Tommie Harris was healthy, the Bears consistently gave up big rushing days to big-time backs; last week’s 108-yard performance from Seattle’s Gimpy McHalfspeed didn’t inspire much confidence in the defense’s ability to shut down the run. The Bears need to own the line of scrimmage in order to keep this game close.
Everybody’s been talking story lines today, and I fully admit that the Bears can’t compare to the storybook season of The Team That Healed a Broken City. But when you cut out the dramaturgy, you’re left with football: 22 men, four quarters, two pretty evenly matched teams. Story lines are great for color commentators, but I’m much more interested in the game itself. I’m pretty sure that, come Sunday, we’re going to be watching two good ones. Please come, Sunday, because I can’t concentrate on anything else. Josh, you feeling the anxiety?