Tuesday, January 16, 2007

That's The Chicago Way, And That's How You Get Capone!

I'm not sure what's happening to my hometown. Once the rafters shook at Chicago Stadium when Jordan was introduced, or Wayne Mesmer sand the national anthem. Once Bears fans believed bad weather and Soldier Field posed too great an obstacle for even the mightiest foes. Today? Feh.

At the United Center on Saturday, as the Bulls laid waste to the Memphis Grizzlies, I watched in horror as the fans did the wave. THE WAVE!!! Come on, people. Have some dignity. The thing actually made three circuits of the building before 18,000 people noticed that a basketball game was taking place. Then, on Monday, as the Bulls ran the mighty San Antonio Spurs into submission, the fans reserved their loudest cheers for the water truck and donut races. As the buzzer sounded on a 99-87 win, fans booed because Ben Gordon's final bucket was a two, not a three, and thus failed to procure a free hamburger for the apparently starving masses in attendance. Most egregiously, 6,000 paying Bears fans failed to show up at Soldier Field Sunday for the Bears play-off game with the Seahawks.

I think the faltering enthusiasm, optimism, and sports IQ of Chicago sports fans is directly attributable to a toxic soup of sports columnists and sports talk radio. Chicago fans have always been irrationally upbeat about their sports fans. "Wait 'til next year," wasn't a cynical catch phrase for Cubs fans, it was an honest belief. In 1988, we were shocked when the 49ers, and the greatest pass-catch duo ever, actually managed to put points on the board despite the combined presence of the Monsters of the Midway and some genuine Bear weather.

In the last two days, I've listened to every voice on the radio tell me that: (A) the Bears aren't that good; (B) the Bears were lucky to win Sunday against an inferior opponent; (C) the Saints are an unstoppable force; and (D) the Bears are going to get rolled this coming weekend absent a miracle. One pundit declared that the Bears will be at a disadvantage at every single position on the field this weekend. Another said that he would take the Saints' defense over the Bears' defense at this point. If I'm contemplating spending money on tickets, or time in the elements, to support this team, why would I when all I'm hearing is that the Bears will leave me disappointed and heartbroken. For that I can sit at home, or better yet, head to a sports bar where I can have a few beers with my buddies while the game plays in the background.

The worst thing about it is that it's garbage. For once some honest optimism is warranted. The Bears now stand with the door to the Super Bowl, and even a Super Bowl win, thrown wide open. The Ravens, Chargers and Eagles -- three teams who had clear advantages against the Bears -- are all gone. Remaining are deeply flawed Saints and Colts teams, and Patriots team that the Bears played tough in Foxboro despite an appearance by Evil Rex. Even more importantly, this Bears team is actually really good.

There will be plenty of time to analyze this game between now and Sunday, but let's dispel a couple of myths. First, the Bears will have match-ups they can take advantage of. The Bears led the NFL in adjusted line yards on runs between the guards at 4.8 yards a run. That's 4.8 yards on every run up the middle, discounting any long runs that are more attributable to the running back's break away ability. The Bears are the league's best inside running team. The Saints were only middle of the pack stopping inside runs. This is just one match up the Bears can take advantage of.

In fact, the Saints D is pretty mediocre all around. It's certainly not on a par with the Bears' D, which is the second myth I've heard on the radio this week. Even weighted for late season performances to the point where the first four weeks of the season are basically ignored, the Bears were the second best defense in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders' DVOA metric. They were 2nd against the pass and 5th against the runs. The Saints, on the other hand rank 17th in weighted defensive DVOA. Their 22nd against the pass and 20th against the run. For all the talk about their defense coming on towards the end of the year, weighting for late season performance, the Saints are an average defense.

Which brings us to the biggest myth of all. The talking heads in town are building the Saints up into an unstoppable steam roller. They were 10-6, people. Win-loss is not the best predictor of future performance, but weighted DVOA is an excellent predictor. The Saints finished the regular season 8th in weighted DVOA. That would be four spots behind the Bears. The Saints' offense was 5th, their defense 19th, and their special teams 14th. Some juggernaut.

I'm not saying the Bears will beat the Saints. But they certainly can. I'll analyze the match-ups more later in the week, but my first reaction is that the Bears should be slightly favored. And yet the local media is covering this as if the mongol hordes are descending to destroy our hapless band of plucky villagers. With such pessimism, and lunacy, on the airwaves, is it any wonder that Chicagoans have become more cynical, less interested, and less intelligent about our teams?


Anonymous Hideki Matt Suey said...

As I believe Criminal Appeal remarked this weekend, the Bears are suffering now for the inflated expectations created by a certain team 21 years ago. It's not that the '85 Bears were actually an unstoppable force of nature - they had flaws. But somehow in memory they live on as the team that could have beaten the Packers 42-7 by playing only a squad of three, 15-inch high mini-Ditkas. I'm choking on an unchewed pork chap and haaaving annuder heart attaaak.

So winning isn't good enough anymore. The current Bears aren't what we want them to be unless they live up to an impossible fantasy. They have to blow every opponent out while displaying impossible swagger, rapping and dancing about it and dropping in some "mother" jokes regarding the opposing players.

These Bears have flaws, maybe more than in '85. But they are in general a very good football team. We've seen what they can do when all pistons are firing, and they should be favored to beat a more flawed Saints team. In the meantime, the radio goons will have to think of some discussion topics should the Bears squeak out a victory in a Super Bowl where Grossman throws a pick but two touchdowns, or the "D" allows 24 points.

2:50 PM  
Blogger jamesmnordbergjr said...

Just another day in the life of jaded Chicago fans. Six championships and one super Super Bowl team later, and the most fun you can have at a sporting event in Chicago is at US Cellular field? Even the diehard Sox fan in me has a hard time swallowing that little nugget. But alas, it's true. Home Bulls games are a shallow representation of what they once were (and I've been to enough both at the Stadium and at the UC to know.) And maybe the monstrosity that is now Soldier Field has sullied the at-the-game experience that a Bears game once was.

And maybe there is some merit to your thought that the negative (air)waves are affecting the general sporting public, but I'm more inclined to think its the economics of attending a game that are fostering the decline of enthusiasm.

3:12 PM  
Anonymous Scalia's Gavel said...

I think the fans and the sports media are suffering from some subconscious embarrassment. I would be interested in a comparison between the current Bears' coverage and the Ravens' coverage in 2000-2001. When your team has Trent Dilfer or Rex Grossman at QB, do you really deserve a Super Bowl ring? Flawed teams win, and deserve, championships. But when the biggest flaw is the QB, something just doesn't feel right about winning. How many Ravens fans sport Dilfer jerseys? I spotted exactly zero Grossman jerseys at the game on Sunday.

3:12 PM  
Anonymous Hidecki Matt Suey said...

Grossman has actually played well this season at times. Very well, in fact, in case anybody forgot. If he blows out a knee in week seven, he's the Joe Montana we never got to enjoy. Instead he's simply the most promising young QB the Bears have had since...Steve Fuller?

When he bombs he bombs spectacularly - the difference between his peaks and valleys is mighty big. Still, had he turned in a decent, turnover-free game in week 17 vs. Green Bay, I don't even think he's a talking point. He'd be a young QB with the best arm we've seen since a corpse named Jim Miller roamed the tundra. He'd be a young QB in his first full injury-free year who played great early, hit the skids, then steadied as the season drew to a close. ESPN columnists who read three AP game recaps and started paying attention 10 days ago would have to think of new fodder for their columns, and Joe Buck would be rendered mute.

At this point, though, even steady and decent isn't good enough for Rex. When his play didn't meet the low expectations people had already written into their leads, the story was "Rex could have easily thrown more picks than he did," etc. Um, I think he threw one actual pick, and I believe it was actually the fault of a certain receiver who shares a nickname with a large, antlered member of the deer family. Was I watching a different game?

No matter what happens next week, I hope Rex has another steady-to-good game. Maybe 2 TDs, one turnover, 270 yards or so, so big throws when they count and a few close calls. A "gutsy" performance for a Tom Brady, for example. Let's see how he's roasted.

5:25 PM  
Blogger Jeeves said...

It's amazing how far reputation will carry you

Manning and Brady get a free pass, granted they were playing tougher defenses, while Rex gets blamed for picks he didn't throw.

A lot of people seem to be forgetting that this game is being played in Chicago. I can't imagine the Saints being nearly as effective playing on grass rather than turf. Plus you can't overlook the home crowd advantage and all.

The one guy that scared me though is Deuce. As amped up as TJ looked after each of his TD's, Deuce looked even more alive. I'm still shocked he moved that pile five yards for the TD.

10:27 PM  
Blogger Criminal Appeal said...

The transformation of Deuce from a boom or bust, overrated running back, into a consistent and dangerous weapon, after major knee surgery, is one of the most overlooked stories of the year.

9:39 AM  
Blogger Phil said...

It is this canstant negative attitude from radio and t.v. that drove me to the blogesphere. I'm done with it. Salisbury, Rosenbloom all of them can go to hell.

6:37 PM  
Blogger Mr.Man said...

Face reality. Propositions (A) and (B) are true. The Bears aren't very good and they were lucky to win against an inferior and more gimpy opponent whose best players (Hasselbeck, Jones, and Alexander) weren't themselves. The NFC is historically terrible this year, which is why the Bears are in the NFC Championship game. Last year's Carolina team would have beat this year's Bears team senseless.

That said, I agree that any talk about them getting beat up by the Saints or the Saints being far superior is silly. The Saints have a talented but inexperienced offense, and their secondary is a far more glaring weakness than any part of the Bears. If you can give Grossman time to throw, you should win.

As for Chicago fans, they're turning into fans like those from any other big city--short attention spans, quickly hopping on and off the bandwagon. The playoff ticket thing is mind-boggling, still.

1:42 PM  

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