Friday, September 01, 2006

Time for a Little Irrational Exuberance

The pre-season is over for the Bears, and it is time to get fired up for the regular season. Yesterday marked the arrival of Deadspin's Chicago Bears preview. When Deadspin first announced its plans for a series of NFL team previews, I was pretty excited. But as a I read a series of depressing, woe-is-me style previews, I began to dread the impending Chicago version. Still, I hoped for the best when the Bears article went up. It quickly became clear however, that this was another preview declaring that the writer's "favorite" team sucked, and that the team and its fans tortured the writer mercilessly.

What is that all about? This is the NFL. Previewers should be irrationally overselling their teams for more reasons than I can count. The NFL is that magical land of milk, honey and parity where any given team has a chance to win it all in any given season. The NFL and ESPN have been shoving that nonsense down our throats for years. But true or not, fans' acceptance of this axiom on faith is a big part of what drives the NFL. Also, football is America's most tribal activity. Once a week, a huge chunk of the community gathers -- at the stadium or in front of the plasma screen -- to watch our warriors in battle. I know war metaphors aren't really appropriate to sports, especially when American men and women are putting their lives on the line every day in real battles. But sociologists who study sports have found that the rituals and societal bonding involved in supporting a football team are similar to those involved in a community supporting its warriors on their way to battle. The universal belief in the power of our team, and the maniacal chanting, singing and cheering in support of that team, is what makes football so integral to our communities (a phenomenon that is duplicated via soccer and Australian Rules Football in other parts of the world, incidentally).

All of this is a long winded introduction to say: it's time for some irrational exuberance.

The Bears are the best team in football because we have the greatest founding father in football. Papa Bear Halas founded professional football. I'm not sure exactly what that means, but it says so right on the Bears' website, and no matter what your team's founding father accomplished, ours trumps it. He founded the whole f'ing show!

The Bears are the best team in football because of coaching. Again, it begins with Papa Bear. We'll never forget the way you thrilled the nation with your T formation, indeed. The guy invented the formation that dominated football strategy for half a century, sprung it on the Washington Redskins, and dropped 73 on them. Picture the Steelers pulling off something similar last year against the Seahawks. You can't. This feat will never be duplicated. More recently, Mike Ditka became the simultaneously most beloved and feared figure in all of professional football. Defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan reinvented defensive football, building a scheme around one especially versatile safety. Then, when that guy was no longer available, he kept the scheme, used the guys who were left, and created the greatest defensive force to ever take an NFL field. Now, we have the only coach on the planet cool enough and tough enough to succeed in life with the name Lovie.

The Bears are the best team in football because of defense. We invented the freaking middle linebacker position. Then we introduced the meanest (Butkas), smartest (Singletary) and fastest (Urlacher) men to ever play the position. Urlacher roams the field for the team today, and is the main reason why the Bears' D is once again the most feared in football.

The Bears are the best team in football because of offense. We introduced the star running back to the NFL landscape with Red Grange. Since then we've featured the greatest collection of running backs in the NFL. Grange, Nagurski, Sayres and Payton are merely the most recognizable names in a list that could run for pages. And I haven't even mentioned the greatest Jewish quarterback of all time, Sid Luckman, who piloted the Bears ship when they unleashed 73-0 on the Skins. This year, at running back the Bears can choose between Thomas Jones, a man who accomplished things last year that no one in a Bears uniform not named Payton has ever done, and Cedric Benson, a raw, second year player with talents not seen in Chicago for a decade. Rex Grossman and Brian Griese give the Bears depth and talent at the quarterback position, and a very good offensive line returns intact.

Yes, the Chicago Bears will kick your team's ass, make no mistake about it. Sports Illustrated says this team could go 14-2. That's not farfetched. Any less than 12 wins will be a disappointment. A division championship and homefield in the playoffs are the Bears' for the taking. The Super Bowl is once again within reach.


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