September 23, 2014

Monday Monsters: Bears 27, Jets 19

September 22, 2014

Monsters of the Monday

The Chicago Bears defeated the New York Jets 27-19 at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey on Monday night, improving to 12-3 on Monday Night Football since 2006.

This was the Bears’ second straight primetime road win which means the Bears not only like the bright lights but are not bothered by Jet lag as their win tonight came one week after playing 3,000 miles west in their victory in San Francisco.

So, from coast to coast, the Monsters of the Midwest may have more moxie than just about anyone thought.

The Bears won this game for several reasons, including the fact that orange is more pleasant than green, but largely because, for the second straight week, they won the turnover battle, this time, 3-1, including picking off Jets quarterback Geno Smith on the second play from scrimmage.

That pick was made by Bears safety Ryan Mundy who wasn’t satisfied with just stealing the ball from his hosts but insisted on running it 45 yards for a touchdown. So, it was 7-0 Bears when half the crowd was still driving through Hoboken.

The Jets fumbled a punt return just a few series later then committed pass interference giving the Bears prime field position and Jay Cutler hit tight end Martellus Bennett with a rocket shot in the back of the endzone for a 7-yard score and the Bears led 14-0 and it looked like Falcons-Buccaneers all over again.

There was an odd moment after that second score as the official informed the crowd that those nasty Jets had roughed up Cutler and so there was an “automatic first down,” when the rest of the zebras informed their pal that there was a touchdown on the play so no, thank you though, a first down would not be necessary as the Bears had actually scored, buddy.

The Jets broke the rules a few times in this one, penalized six times for 78 yards but the Bears cheated and got caught even more, nine flags for 95 yards.

Give the Jets an “attaboy” though for hanging in there. They were down 14-0 before Tirico and Gruden had even grown annoying, yet New York hung in there, eventually clawing back to make it 17-13 at the break which meant this was indeed a game and anyone who wanted to catch up on Ken Burns’ The Roosevelts on their DVR would have to wait until Tuesday.

Early in the third, Cutler hit Bennett again for a 13-yard score capping off an 80-yard drive and it was 24-13, good guys. The Jets responded with, well, not much. It was three plays and a punt and then on their next possession they were driving for a score when Beas rookie defensive back Kyle Fuller, who had two sweet picks in last week’s win over the 49ers, proved he might just be pretty good at this thing and picked old Geno in the endzone.

This was crucial because not only does Fuller like the smell of leather but the Bears were in the midst of three straight drives that ended in punts as the Jets’ proud defense flexed its wings.

By now you get what we’re trying to tell you and I don’t have to pull you close and whisper into your collar with whiskey-breath. What we’re saying is, neither of those teams played masterfully but the Bears made the Jets make more mistakes and while that sounds like saying your girlfriend is not nearly as homely in person as she looks on Facebook, it really is a compliment.

Jay Cutler, for the second straight week, did not throw an interception. The Bears, despite drawing a few too many flags, played disciplined and within themselves as that whole out-of-body thing just doesn’t suit them. Chicago’s performance might not have beaten the Seahawks or the Mean Machine, but it was good enough to top a Jets team that hits hard but doesn’t dance well, sort of like Rocky against Spider Rico. (Shouldn’t all NFL teams have at least one guy named “Spider”?)

And, the Bears are also a popcorn pleaser, which Chicago is getting used to as all three of its games this season have gone down to the wire. This one was not decided until the final minute when the Bears defense – a battered but game bunch to be sure – stopped the Jets on downs at the 9 yard line, once again bending but not breaking in the redzone.

Hang on to the ball, make the other team settle for field goals, spit with the wind and you’ll probably be OK.

To say this was a huge win for the Bears might be an exaggeration but we sort of like hyperbole so let’s say this was a huge win for the Bears because it not only makes them 2-1, not only gives them confidence, not only showed a national audience for the second straight week that they can be grizzly tough when it counts but it’s also large because the Packers now come to Chicago and the Bears will probably lose.

Why did I have to write that? Not nice at all.  The thought here should be that the Bears are riding high and ready sink a 1-2 Packers team that couldn’t do diddly against the Lions. But we can’t look you in the eye and say the Bears will beat the Packers because, simply, they usually don’t and do we really expect Aaron Rodgers and his merry band of pass catchers to have two straight bad games?

If they do, splendid. The Bears will be 3-1; the Packers 1-3 and those numbers need no addendum.

But the Bears are still bleeding with injuries and their run game is stuck in Bourbonnais – they ran for just 60 yards against the Jets – and their special teams are more specious than special so far.

But it’s Packer Week and, for Chicagoans, beating Green Bay is more fun than licking frozen doorknobs. Therefore let’s be optimistic yet stoic. Let’s be like a large clown statue that can see from sea to shining sea. Let’s get a bit healthier and watch that tape of how the Lions beat the Packers and hopefully glean a few things.

Let’s scratch that Packer itch. Let’s be 3-1.

Bears Show Heart in San Francisco (Actually, it’s Santa Clara Now, Isn’t It?)

 

September 14, 2014

Bears 28, 49ers 20 – The Good Guys Beat the Bad Guys

The Chicago Bears defeated the San Francisco 49ers 28-20 in the inaugural regular season game at the Niners’ new Levi’s Stadium on Sunday night in a contest that was at times sloppy, ugly and weird but was, ultimately, shocking, significant and wonderful.

Just as no one thought the Bears would lose to the Buffalo Bills a week ago, few sober mortals gave the Bears much of a chance to win this one, especially since most Bears’ games by the Bay are uglier than a Kardashian in the morning.

This was the Bears’ first victory in San Francisco since 1985, the only season the Bears won the Super Bowl. And with the way the Bears looked against Buffalo and they way they started out in this game, it appeared that unfortunate drought would continue.

The Bears began with a three-and-out series, got their punt blocked and quickly give up a three-yard scoring pass from Colin Kaepernick to Michael Crabtree and just like that it was 7-0 San Francisco before most 49ers fans had even taken their first sip of Chardonnay.

This game was so messy and mistake-prone early on that it felt more like a Dane Cook movie than a football game.

By the end there would be a total of 26 penalties called, 16 for the Niners, 10 for the Bears, and that was only the infractions that were accepted. There were more flags flying in the wind on Sunday night than outside the United Nations on moving day. It seemed as if the officiating crew found something wrong on every play. This must be what it’s like to have a mother-in-law who drinks, farts and owns fish.

The Niners made fewer mistakes in the first half than the Bears, whose offense was slowed by numerous injuries including starting wideouts Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery who were moving slower than Jack Benny reaching for the check after an expensive meal.

So it was the Bears defense – yes that Bears defense – the one that has fewer friends than North Korean censors, which stepped up and played well, if not heroically, and kept the Bears alive and the fact that it was only 17-0 in the second quarter felt almost like a victory because believe me you pal for a few minutes there it looked like it was going to be 77-0.

To be fair, and honest though, the Bears also had very little good fortune on their side. San Fran’s first TD should not have counted as the play clock expired before the ball was snapped. A Charles Tillman interception was waved off after review which was probably the right call but still bad luck, and a terrific 22-yard catch by Martellus Bennett from Jay Cutler for a first down early in the second quarter would have put the Bears in prime redzone real estate but the catch was waved off after review which was like getting a red light camera ticket for going 55.2 in a 55 mph zone.

Yes, there were bad calls, bad breaks and blustery winds blowing all over the beloved Bears in this one but they did not give up. They also, I’m pretty sure, kept whispering to the Niners “We got the Star Wars Museum and you didn’t. Chumps!”

Then, finally, the Bears offense stepped on the clutch after getting hit in the chest. It was just before halftime and Cutler got rocked by 49ers defensive end Quinton Dial who lowered his helmet and planted his medulla oblongata right on Jay’s #6, leaving Mr. C. staggered and slobknockered. This was the type of hit that sends lesser men to the sidelines and sends many fellows to the morgue. But Jay Cutler – love him, hate him, or, like Santa Claus, just don’t believe in him – has guts and stayed in there and three plays later, connected with Marshall on a beautiful 17-yard scoring strike.

It was a precise throw by Cutler, a terrific catch by Marshall and it was suddenly 17-7 at halftime and the Great San Francisco Massacre of 2014 was officially on hold.

What happened in the second half was a full-on headfirst dive into the football rabbit hole.

The Niners got the kickoff and marched down the field taking their sweet 49er time but the Bears defense, which by the time this game was over was playing without starting cornerback Charles Tillman, starting safety Chris Conte, (who had a brilliant first half interception) defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff, cornerback Sherick McManus and probably a few other guys, again was stout, holding San Fran to a field goal after a drive that lasted more than nine minutes.

The Niners led 20-7 and would not score again and the Bears would not stop scoring.

Chicago responded with a gutsy, ballsy, Bearsy 13-play, 80-yard drive that ended with Cutler finding Marshall again, this time on a five-yard strike in traffic as he was pinballed by two defenders. It was 20-14 and Chicagoans put down their Old Styles and said “Holy Joe, we might be able to win this thing.”

And now, friends, this is the part of the story when we introduce you to a nice young fellow named Kyle Fuller.

Mr. Fuller is a defensive back and was the Bears’ first round draft pick this past spring. And on the Niners’ next possession he stole the ball from Crabtree for a brilliant pick deep in 49ers territory and Kaepernick, whose nickname is not Captain Cool, used a cuss word and drew a flag to move the Bears to the Niners’ three. Cutler hits Bennett in the corner and you bet your sweet Tony Bennett the Bears had a 21-20 lead.

And Kyle was just getting started.

San Fran gets the ball back (because those are the rules) and a few plays later Fuller made another daring jump on the ball, he read it perfectly, and the rookie from Virginia Tech suddenly had his Bears team in position to put this thing away. And that they did. This Cutler-Marshall thing seems to work well for Chicago, and this time it was a three-yard connection on a pass to Marshall’s outside shoulder that was timed and placed precisely so only he could catch it. I guess they practice these things.

Bears 28, 49ers 20.

The only bad part at this point was the 49ers had plenty of time, more than six minutes. They marched down the field, but the Bears held, finally breaking up a fourth down pass in the endzone.

And there it is, the Bears are 1-1 and Chicagoans are still looking forward to hockey season but aren’t getting silly about it.

The Bears won this game despite rushing for 46 yards. Total.

The Bears won this game despite playing without two offensive starters, two others who were hobbled and losing four defensive players throughout the course of the game.

The Bears won this game on the West Coast while on the East Coast Kira Kazantsev of New York was being crowned Miss America which was fitting because this Bears-Niners game was no beauty.

Except it was.

Sure, Niners supporters and other oddballs will say Jim Harbaugh’s kids gave this one away with all their penalties, turnovers and unsightly tattoos. But all three of Kaepernick’s interceptions came on great plays by the Bears. The Niners didn’t cough up the ball so much as the Bears, just like they used to, took it from them.

The Niners were sloppy but the Bears got screwed on several calls which, had they been called properly, could have changed the whole course of the game early on. Imagine if Luke Skywalker hadn’t been knocked out by the Sand People. He could have gotten home to save Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. Or maybe, like Obi-Wan said, the storm troopers would have just killed him, too.

The Bears won because they stuck to the run even when they weren’t gaining ground. It’s often said that it doesn’t matter how many yards you rush for just so long as you keep running. The Bears beat the Niners because Cutler had good protection and when guys were covered he threw it away. The Bears won because Brandon Marshall made some sick catches. The Bears won because Kyle Fuller made two brilliant interceptions and the defense, overall, played with pride, discipline and urgency.

This was a fun football game. This was what Sunday nights in America should be. This was two storied franchises with playoff expectations punching each other to the end.

It wasn’t always pretty. It was far from heaven but it was also far from last week, which, for the Bears, was hell.

Bears 28, Evil Niners Empire 20. A great flight home. A promising week ahead?

Buffaloed: Bills 23, Bears 20 (OT)

September 7, 2014

 Buffaloed

The Chicago Bears dropped their season opener to the Buffalo Bills 23-20 in overtime at Soldier Field on Sunday, a result that, for Chicagoans, was as shocking as it was vexing.

No one expected this, no one wanted this and we’re all trying to forget it.  About the only thing Bears fans can salve themselves with is the knowledge that one game cannot sink a season unless you let it.

How does a team that has playoff aspirations and Super Bowl dreams fall to a squad that plays occasional home games in Canada?  

This isn’t just un-American, it’s unholy.

Give credit to the Buffalo Bills.  They opened a new season forgetting they’re supposed to be bad.  And wag your finger at the Bears maybe not for taking the Bills lightly but for simply not executing when it counted.

Things started well enough.  It was a gorgeous, warm, sunny day in Chicago, the type that will soon become an endangered species now that September is here and the Bears, after an inspirational rendition of the national anthem by Blackhawks’ tenor Jim Cornelison and a flyover of vintage military planes left over, it appeared, from the 1893 World’s Fair, took the opening drive and matriculated down the Soldier Field turf with urgency, ending with a 12-yard touchdown pass from Jay Cutler to Martellus Bennett for a 7-0 lead and much merriment.

After that, it got unfortunate.

The Bills, who are truth be told a bit of a rough and crude bunch, scored the game’s next 17 points, causing 60,000 at Soldier Field to think that if this were a movie the screenwriter should have his WGA card revoked. Maybe not everyone felt this way as there were a few Bills fans in town.  We saw one several hours after the game relaxing in a car near the lakefront looking satisfied.  If he had asked us for directions we would have charged him a quarter and then lied.

The Bills’ sudden return to the early 90s was aided in large part by three Bears turnovers: two interceptions by Cutler and a fumble by Brandon Marshall, resulting directly to 13 points on the day. 

The Bears did put up good offensive numbers, though.  Cutler threw for 349 yards, Matt Forte ran for 82 and received for 87 but this is a Bears offense that is supposed to carry the team, not pace it.

The Bears defense wasn’t that bad, really, as head coach Marc Trestman said afterwards if they give up 17 points or so that’s in the ballpark.

But overall it was just a “Buffalo is cold and lonely but better than Chicago” kind of afternoon.

This was supposed to be the “gimme” on the Bears early schedule.  Next up is a trip to San Francisco.  After that, it’s onto New York to play the Jets then home to host the Packers then two more road games.

What will these Bears be?  Was opening day an aberration and an anomaly or an omen on top of an eye gouge?

 

 

Superstars Leave, Children Believe

March 12, 2014

Superstars Leave, Children Believe

Only God, and probably Ditka, know if the Chicago Bears will be better in 2014 than they were in 2013 but we all have knowledge that the Monsters of Merriment will be a bit younger and, at least to start, a tad less conspicuous.

The Bears have said goodbye to Devin Hester, the perennial All-Pro kick returner, future Hall of Famer and the closest thing to Bruce Lee the NFL has ever seen.  Hester is the greatest return man ever but he’s 31 which is like Abe Vigoda in special teams years and it long ago became apparent that when it comes to doing anything besides returning kicks Hester is really, really good at returning kicks.  So, the Bears thanked him for his broken records and Hester, in a very classy way, thanked Chicagoans for all their money and support and he is now standing at the goal line of free agency waiting for some new team to form a wedge and bring him in.

A couple of days ago, after being told by the Bears to pack up and hand in his key card, Hester referred to himself as the best all-around player in the NFL.  Hester also considers Keanu Reeves to be Hollywood’s most versatile actor.

It cannot be denied that Hester has been one of the most fun players to watch in the NFL over the last seven years and is one of the most exciting players in league history.  Bears fans of a certain age and alcohol dependency will likely rank Walter Payton as the greatest Bear of them all but Hester is neck-and-neck with Gale Sayers as the most entertaining guy to ever wear the orange, blue and blood.

When boys grow up they want to be Devin Hester.  There is nothing more electrifying than watching a kickoff or punt return for a touchdown.  Seeing the blocking form in front of a returner, watching him dart back and forth before finding a crack of daylight and accelerating toward green is a thrill matched only by donuts and Schlitz with the woman you love.

You will be missed, Devin.

Hester is leaving Chicago and he might be hitching a ride with Julius Peppers.  The Bears are not bringing back the Pro Bowl defensive end, a move that will save them $9.8 million against this year’s salary cap and at least that much money in Q-tips.

Just as important as Peppers’ salary is his age, 34, which is the age most pass rush specialists consider switching to a different position called “guy who doesn’t play in the NFL anymore.”

Some other germane numbers in the Peppers discussion are 7.5, the relatively low number of sacks he registered last season, and 30, which was what the Bears ranked on defense in 2013.  Peppers is a good guy, a legendary player, and probably still has gas in the tank but he’s expensive, he’s elderly and the Bears’ defense was as solid as the U.S. speedskating team in Sochi so things probably can’t get worse without him.

Everyone in Chicago, in between cursing the latest snowstorm and sucking down a French fry, believes Hester, Peppers and other ex-Bears or soon to be ex-Bears will end up with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a reunion with former Bears coach Lovie Smith.  If so they’ll be following the lead of a defecting Bear whose departure could end up being the one that truly stings: Josh McCown.

McCown had the best job in the world last year.  He was a backup quarterback who played great and when you do that everyone loves you, except for the starting quarterback.  McCown was terrific in place of Jay Cutler in 2013 throwing 13 touchdowns against just one interception and throwing for 1,829 yards while seeing action in eight games.

But almost immediately after the Bears’ season ended the team announced a long term deal with Cutler, committing to a younger guy with a better arm and, from almost all perspectives, a brighter future.  Still, McCown said he wanted to come back but at age 34, he’ll be 35 in July, he knows that this is likely his last chance to cash in so he took more money, two years $10 million, from Tampa and also received a promise that he is now the starter.

More money, a better job, a warmer city.  Well done, Josh.

If Cutler is healthy and the Bears’ offense plays as well as it did in 2013 and there’s every reason to believe it could actually be better with one more year of studying Marc Trestman’s playbook, no one in Cook County will even remember Josh McCown.  But Cutler has only played all 16 games one time in his five seasons in Chicago (OK, OK, he’s played 15 games twice) but he played just 11 games last season and 10 in 2011.  There were those who believed, and still profess, that the Bears should have let Cutler go and saved on his new $18 million a year salary.  They could have given McCown about $5 million a year, what he’s getting in Tampa, and the Bears would have had that much more money to rebuild the defense.

It makes sense.  We’ll find out if the Bears made the right move or not this coming season.  Or it could all become apparent on one afternoon when the Bucs visit Chicago.

The Bears are not just saying goodbye (they are also not bringing back punter Adam Podlesh, running back Michael Bush and a few others) but are also bringing in some new guys, now that they have the locker space.  They have signed defensive end Lamarr Houston from the Raiders, safety Ryan Mundy who was with the Giants, linebacker-special teamer Jordan Senn of the Panthers and safety M.D. Jennings, formerly of the Packers.

Take two puffs of your cigarette if you’ve heard of any of these guys.

Just kidding. These gentlemen are not All-Pros but are all solid players who are getting a lot of good press and there’s no doubt the Bears need help in all the areas they specialize in.  The Bears seem determined not to break the bank in free agency but to be sensible by bringing in solid players while looking to build primarily through the draft, which is how they should be doing it.

But wouldn’t Darrelle Revis have been nice?

Mr. Revis was let go by the Buccaneers because he’s making more money than Sandra Bullock and he was not available for long, quickly signing with the New England Patriots who needed him after losing their top cornerback, Aqib Talib (who also used to play for Tampa), to the Broncos who have also added former Cowboys Pro Bowl defensive end DeMarcus Ware. (Though Denver has lost receiver Eric Decker to the Jets.)

This is why the Broncos and Patriots are always good: they have great quarterbacks and they do not mess around.  When they want a guy they either go get him or say mean things about him.  –TK

Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer

March 13, 2014

Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer

The University of Alabama wins all the time now.   On any given fall Saturday predicting the Crimson Tide will win a football game is about the safest bet in all of sports.  This past season, Alabama actually lost twice and did not play for the national championship but it took one of the craziest plays in college football history, in a loss to Auburn, to stop them and Florida State’s eventual national title almost doesn’t feel whole because the Seminoles didn’t have to fight through Nick Saban’s bunch to get it.

That’s not fair but for many of that’s just how it feels.

But there was a blip in time not so very long ago when Alabama was not a juggernaut.  A decade ago Alabama had fallen far from its Bear Bryant-Gene Stallings’ perch and had not yet brought in the southern St. Nick and was actually just another college football team that won some, lost some, and did not attract much attention outside of Dixie.

Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer is a reminder of those days and a study of the obsession that many sports fans have, the good and the bad and the bad of it.  The book is written by ‘Bama fan Warren St. John who spent the 1999 season diving deeper into his lifelong love than ever before.

During the ‘99 season Alabama actually had, by most metrics, a quality season but as we quickly learn in Rammer Jammer, if we were not aware already, winning for Alabama fans is not winning unless they win it all.  Everything.  In convincing fashion, loudly and unapologetically.

St. John already knew this from the time he got his photo taken with Bear Bryant as a kid in 1982 until he was a grown man living in New York in the 1990s, still living and dying with every ‘Bama game even while 1,100 miles away.  But even he did not realize how engrossed in, how defined by, some people allow themselves to be by the outcome of a football game until he spent the better part of four months driving from game to game throughout the Southeast, tailgating with ‘Bama diehards, jousting with fans other schools and generally marveling at the relentless spectacle of college football Saturdays.

In short, think of spending a very hot and sunny day next to a very loud person.  If you have enough sunscreen and fluids and that person is interesting, that day is just great.  If you’re getting sunburned and that loudmouth has no idea what they’re speaking of, it’s a sentence in misery.  When Alabama wins, St. John’s days are the former.  When they lose, or don’t win in the most convincing fashion, they’re the latter not solely because of his feelings for Alabama – the very point of his book is to study his own behavior and that of others – but because so many Crimson Tide fans are inconsolable and, worse, unbearable if you even so much as suggest that losing a football game is not so bad. There really, really are worse things in the world.  No, traitor, there aren’t.  This is what St. John encounters time and time again.

How do you explain obsession?  Why is it that the result of young men playing a game defines so much else?  Why do we let this happen?  Why do we this to ourselves?

St. John asks these questions over and over again and his smartly researched effort, not just examined by his own empirical efforts but by citing numerous studies on sports fans throughout the world, spends 275 lively and entertaining pages searching for the answer just as Alabama spends the 1999 season battling for victories while head coach Mike DuBose struggles to keep his job.

Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer causes us to cringe at times when considering the behavior of fans, especially how they so quickly turn on those they once supported.  And at some junctures, Rammer Jammer makes us very ashamed of ourselves when we realize it isn’t just Alabama fans who are, at times, boorish, unfair, prejudiced and makers of mountains out of molehills, but all of us who have ever spent three hours screaming at the TV or in the bleachers because God and the guys wearing the uniforms we like better are not giving us the results we desire.

Unsurprisingly, the opinion here is that books about football are best enjoyed by those who love football.  But just as obvious is the conviction that nearly every one appreciates good writing.   Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer is a smart, passionate and a very honest book that’s very well written and refreshingly sincere.  If you love sports and have a particular unwavering affection for a team then Rammer Jammer is a long, candid, humorous look into the mirror.  Sometimes it’s a funhouse mirror, but it’s still your own reflection.

If you don’t like sports, Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer serves as a glimpse into the inner workings of those goofy people you know who shout at the TV, wear faded t-shirts and never stop hoping that the next Saturday just might be the best one yet.  And it may make you decide to spend more time sitting next to them. — TK

Bob Dylan and Bernie Taupin Walk Into A Bar

 

Times Are Changin’… Give a little thought to this conjured scenario. Bob Dylan and Bernie Taupin are both private, reclusive types who have managed to share many of their thoughts, visions and talents with the world. Such endeavors require the proper introspection. Therefore a logical spot to take in and digress on the world is the window booth at Manuel’s Tavern, located at the corner of North and North Highland Avenues in Atlanta, Georgia. Dylan, having played Atlanta the first time some fifty years ago at near-by Emory University, may recall the legendary watering hole which has long attracted journalists, politicians, poets, cops and other thirsty types. Taupin, whose songwriting partner, Elton John, has a penthouse apartment in the Buckhead community, a half dozen miles north of the tavern, would enjoy the earthy charm of Manuel’s. The place is genuine and time-tested, unlike the spacious shopping palaces and pricey restaurants found in Elton’s corner of town. The tavern’s window booth, where Manuel Maloof himself used to host friends while pontificating, complaining and looking after customers is the ideal place to consider all things global and local. It’s quite easy to visualize Messrs Dylan and Taupin there.

Near the window booth is a large photo of the revered Atlanta Constitution Editor Ralph McGill, whose courageous opinions implored the South and the nation as a whole to fully embrace its ideas of liberty and justice for all. McGill, Dylan would inform Taupin, was a close friend of the poet and historian Carl Sandberg. Visits to Sandberg’s home in Flat Rock, North Carolina provided McGill with great reassurance. According to Leonard Ray Teel, in his book, Ralph Emerson McGill, Voice Of The Southern Conscience, McGill “felt a healing power in the ancient poet.” Teel also noted that In McGill, Sandberg “recognized a kindred spirit trying to lead a later generation into social change.” McGill and Sandberg, admired and heralded the world over, stood in awe of one another. Dylan could understand that. On the same concert tour that brought him to Atlanta in 1964, he stopped by Flat Rock to talk with Sandberg and present him with a copy of his new album, The Times They Are A-Changin’.

Taupin, a native of Sleaford, Lincolnshire, England, but now a full-time resident of Santa Ynez, California, has a deep devotion to the stories of America, be they documented or apocryphal. The novels and the films on the silver screen vie with the history books when telling a great nation’s story and Taupin is hip to the legends, the lies and what’s fact. In a recent entry on his blog, rather than hawking The Diving Board, his latest collaboration with Elton John, he takes politicos from both sides of the aisle to task, feeling sad and disgusted with the lying that goes with leadership. Taupin is a keen observer with an admitted “curmudgeonly nature,” which has to make him feel at home in Manuel’s booth.

Separate The Good From The Bad… Manuel Maloof was on the right side of history as the change that McGill, Sandberg and Dylan championed began to take place. Not only was he a bartender-philosopher personified, he was also among the most influential Democrats in the state of Georgia. His tavern has photographs of those who stopped by while seeking the Presidency of the United States: McGovern, Carter, Clinton and Gore. Maloof died in 2004, four years before Barack Obama signaled another change. It would’ve been fascinating to hear him speak on the election and performance of President Obama. He’d offer praise, but he wouldn’t mince his words if the president disappointed him either. One afternoon in the late ’80s, he and I were discussing civil rights leader and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young. Nearing the end of his second term as Mayor, Young was a visionary but often negligent with his mayoral duties. “I love Andy Young,” Maloof said one afternoon, “but it would be great if he’d could just travel around the world as Mayor and let me run the city.” Maloof was angry over the pervasive crime in Atlanta. He talked of how one young man tried to steal the ring off his finger at a downtown transit (MARTA) station. Maloof, nearing 60 at the time, stood his ground and walked away with his ring, but that didn’t make him any happier with what was happening in his hometown.

A regular walking by Dylan and Taupin’s booth could stop and explain a little about Manuel’s Tavern and the role it played in the city’s history. Dylan and Taupin, both quick studies, wouldn’t need too much briefing, but they might ask about the Atlanta sports scene. They’d likely find it puzzling that Atlanta for so long has paid more attention to the professional and collegiate football teams, even in mediocre years, than to the Atlanta Braves, who since 1991 have won 600 more games than they’ve lost, accumulating 15 division titles and sending new members to Baseball’s Hall of Fame. Maloof was sure proud of the Braves and he might have made Braves fans of Dylan and Taupin too.

It would be a tougher sell with the Atlanta Falcons, the National Football League team that began play in 1966. Much of their history has been similar to tragic car wrecks people recall when passing dangerous intersections. In the same 23 year period of the Braves’ excellence, the Falcons are three games under .500 (182-185) with 36 of those wins coming between 2010 and 2012. In the season just completed, the Falcons went 4-12, a record that ranks among the worst in their tragicomic history.

Twenty Pounds Of Headlines… Give the Falcons credit: they’ve provided Atlanta sportswriters with reams of fascinating copy. Local playwrights wish they had such material to work with. While compiling a 134-229 record in their first quarter century of play, the Falcons, naturally, filled its rosters with, ahem, colorful players. In ’88, they lost their Special Teams Captain, David Croudip, when a “cocaine cocktail” killed him. That was tragic but somewhat predictable, given the lack of control management had over the team. Two years later, Aundray Bruce, the NFL’s top draft choice* from ’88, pulled a pellet gun on a pizza delivery guy. Neither Bruce nor teammate Marcus Cotton had money to pay for the pizza, so what can poor NFL players who’ve squandered their riches do? It’s simple: scare the hell out of the guy delivering the pizza. Charges were filed. Bruce was arrested on misdemeanor charges and released on a $1,050.00 bond. The delivery guy said Bruce “seemed to think it was pretty funny… pretty much laughing all through it.” Bruce may have thought it was funny like the two paternity suits pending against him or his failure to make payments on two mortgages totaling $912,000. When your life is such a mess, you laugh at all the wrong things.

Nearly a decade later, on January 17, 1999, the Falcons defeated the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game and found themselves Super Bowl-bound for the first time in their 33 seasons. This was a very well-balanced and exciting Atlanta Falcons team. It appeared they had a good chance of beating the Denver Broncos in Miami to become NFL Champions. Things began happily enough on the morning of January 30, 1999, the day before the Super Bowl. Falcons safety Eugene Robinson was honored by Athletes in Action, the sports ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. Robinson was presented with the Bart Starr Award for “high moral character.” For one who takes his football and faith seriously, what else could go wrong? Plenty. Less than twelve hours later, Robinson was arrested on Biscayne Boulevard in downtown Miami. The charge: soliciting an undercover police officer for oral sex. Robinson’s to-do list for the day had to be a hoot: Go to Christian group meeting. Win award for high moral character. Have lunch. Spend time with the missus by the pool. Have dinner. Go to Biscayne Boulevard for some pregame fellatio.

By the way, the Falcons lost 34-19. Robinson played as if he had been serviced multiple times on Biscayne Boulevard, getting beat by Rod Smith on an 80-yard touchdown reception.

Now I’ve Seen This Chain Gang… The NFL is often referred to as the National Felons League. Some believe the appellation is unfair; others believe it’s acknowledgement of reality. Between the 2012 and 2013 seasons, at least 31 NFL players were arrested. Some of the charges were the standard DUIs, “criminal mischief,” and assault, with the two worst offenses being “attempted murder” and “first degree murder.” No Atlanta Falcon in memory has been charged with murder, at least not murdering a human being, but Michael Vick, the team’s star quarterback did serve most of two years (’07-’09) in Federal Prison for promoting and financing an interstate dog-fighting operation. Canine executions were part of the event.

Not long before the dog stories broke, Vick’s behavior was viewed as erratic and offensive. Struggling through a tough season, Vick gave fans the “bird,” in fact a “double-bird,” as he walked off the field (Two middle fingers up…. way up).

Bob Dylan wrote of dogs running free. Robert Louis Stevenson once observed that dogs “will be in heaven long before any of us.” All this was lost on Michael Vick. In The New York Times, Juliet Macur reported on Jim Gorant’s book, The Lost Dogs, a collection of sordid and true stories of Vick and his “Bad Newz Kennels.”

Once he (Vick) and a friend grabbed the paws of a little red dog and held it over their heads, like a jump rope, slamming the animal on the ground again and again until it was lifeless.

The most disappointed of Vick’s supporters was Falcons owner Arthur Blank. He had gleaned an entirely different impression of his star quarterback. Vick had even come to the owner’s home for dinner and played video games with Blank’s children. One could feel bad for Blank, a nice man dealing with an embarrassing story. One felt worse for the dogs, but there was still support in Atlanta for Michael Vick. After all, he was an exciting quarterback capable of engineering the most spectacular plays. He didn’t play the game by the book; on the field, he wrote his own book. Thus, once a free man, he’d write additional chapters. Many NFL teams with no shame would hustle to sign him up.

During the 2009 season, Vick was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles, but they used him sparingly as a back-up to Donovan McNabb, a great player and a fine gentleman. Yet McNabb was past his prime and by the next season, Vick was named the Eagles’ starting quarterback. And there were others besides PETA members unhappy with Vick’s return to glory. Bernie Taupin, in his blog, questioned how Vick, “a guy who has racked up some of the most heinous cruelties you could possibly inflict on an innocent creature be idolized, lionized and treated like the second coming of Christ?” Taupin, an avowed football fan, had difficulty fathoming the lack of values in the NFL, noting, “When it comes to football, the agonizing deaths and stifled whimpers of the dogs he tortured, electrocuted, hung and drowned are swept conveniently under the rug.”

When Vick and the Eagles came to play the Falcons in the Georgia Dome on December 7, 2009, the response of Vick supporters would have disgusted Taupin all the more. Of course, Vick was relishing the moment, according to the Associated Press:

“It was as loud as it gets in the Dome,” said Vick, who teared up on the bus ride over to the stadium. “I heard the chants all through the stadium and it sent chills down my spine. They were just letting me know that people still appreciate what I’ve done.”

OK, whatever, but Vick was right in assuming thousands of Atlanta fans had his back. A couple of years before, a local minister used his pulpit to reprove an Atlanta sportswriter, a member of the church, for being critical of Vick in his columns. He saw no good in a black sportswriter bringing down an accomplished black athlete, a hero to many in our town. Making this more amazing is that the sportswriter was the one often condemned by hothead whites on the sports talk shows whenever the subject of race was raised. It’s little wonder some topics go wanting for civil discussion in this town.

The Band Is Playing “Dixie,” A Man Got His Hand Outstretched… But football trumps all down South. Consider the ongoing matter with the Atlanta Falcons and their owner, Arthur Blank. The poor Falcons have had to play in the Georgia Dome, opened in ’92 and built by Georgia taxpayers at a cost of $214 million. The Georgia Dome is hardly a classic structure, but 70,000 fans often pack the place for NFL games. Concerts by Paul McCartney, U2 and the Rolling Stones were held there in the ’90s, and major college football games are also played in the Dome, with few expressing irritation over the ambiance. Still, Blank has been talking for years about needing a new stadium so his Falcons could be more competitive — a word in this caffeinated society that’s used to make taxpayers man-up. In doing so, more plush suites will be available to the swells attending the game, likely at a cost to taxpayers somewhere. Given all that, in the way Atlanta’s power elite view things, the Georgia Dome, just 21 years old, is worthy of the wrecking ball. Arthur Blank, Falcons owner and respected philanthropist, will get his way.

Give Arthur Blank credit. He, with some help from the NFL, agreed to pay for most of the new Falcons’ nest, which will go up in the same vicinity as the Georgia Dome. It will be part of the Georgia World Congress Center and host the same annual events — and more — as held at the Dome. So what’s not to like? For one, Blank’s plea for funds — some $200 million — from the tax collected by Atlanta hotels and motels, kept clean and comfy by employees eking out a living in a metro area that has been slow to rebound from the Great Recession. Yet new Falcons stadium boosters point out, as Blank did in the December 22 AJC, that “84% of the tax is being paid by people who don’t live in this state.” Talk about Southern hospitality; Welcome to Atlanta, now bend over.

By state law, revenues from the hotel-motel tax cannot be used by the City of Atlanta for basic infrastructure, public safety, libraries, schools, etc.; you know, frou-frou stuff. The revenues can only be “used for a variety of projects that will help promote the city as a tourist destination for meetings or conventions, historic and cultural travel and other types of attractions,” according to an Atlanta Falcons website. While it is fair to say that such tax allocations can help create jobs and enhance the city’s quality of life, the claim falls on deaf ears among tens of thousands of city taxpayers. Here we go again, they think, another subsidy for a professional sports team owner – in this case, Blank, who’s listed by Forbes  as being worth $1.7 billion. Forbes also reported that the expected revenues at the Falcons’ new nest raised the team valuation to $933 million, not bad for a team that has for most of its history been an embarrassment to its hometown. In addition to that, Forbes noted Blank’s own net worth climbed by half a billion dollars from September 2010 to September 2013.

He’s A Great Humanitarian, He’s A Great Philanthropist… There’s little sense in begrudging the wealth Blank has attained through his co-founding of Home Depot and the investments he’s made. It isn’t a day at the beach to visit Home Depot, but the stores have served a need in the marketplace. Blank worked hard and worked smart in developing that big box chain. In his field, he did a lot of things better than others, so more power to him. Blank has also contributed money — and his own time — to charities and good causes. When you meet him, he comes across as a good guy. He has concerns on the humanitarian side that compels the philanthropist in him to sign the “Giving Pledge.” According to the “Giving Pledge” rules, a signatory promises to donate at least half of his wealth to charitable concerns, either during his lifetime or afterward.

Already Blank has made sizeable donations to education, environmental and arts organizations. He’s shown his heart to be in the right place — and his wallet tags along. That makes his determination in getting taxpayers to kick in for the new Falcons stadium more disturbing. NFL teams, with their tax exemptions, tax abatements, television contracts and revenue sharing plans, are immensely profitable. Any owner claiming to be in the red is lying or is among the world’s worst business people. But we know Blank to be a very savvy businessman — and he’s smooth. In the December 22 interview with the AJC, he was asked why he needed a hotel-motel tax to help build his new stadium. The savvy and smooth answer follows:

“The success of the franchise shouldn’t be dependent on one individual or their estate, but it should be a sustainable organization. A public-private partnership is very important. In this case, 84% of the tax is being paid by people who don’t live in the state. The stadium will impact tourism in a positive way. We think the tax is a fair level of public support.”

Oh, that explains it. Blank assumes and commands “a fair level of public support.” Never mind that said support wasn’t approved via referendum by the impacted public which has little interest in subsidizing a billionaire whose shiniest toy is a team of millionaires. But in Atlanta and the state of Georgia, that hardly matters. The political mix here is a strange hybrid that hardly serves the citizenry, so of course the Falcons get their stadium –partially paid for with the $200 million from the hotel-motel tax, which, according to the billionaire, is mostly collected from people who don’t live in Atlanta. But could the people who live here use revenue from such a tax to fund programs that would help them and their children have a cleaner, safer and more informed community? The answer is absolutely not, because we’re dealt the short hand by community leaders similar to individuals at the marketplace in Bob Dylan’s “Changing of the Guard”: Merchants and thieves, hungry for power.

Entertain By Picking Brains… Both the famous and the average Joe are rewarded by walking through the rooms of Manuel’s Tavern. Old black and white photographs, most of them taken before 1980, adorn the walls. The pictures capture a time in Atlanta when progress was measured by ways other than how much richer millionaires become. Not far from Manuel’s old window booth hangs a large picture of Falcons running back Jim “Cannonball” Butler evading defenders in a ’68 game versus the Detroit Lions. Despite Cannonball’s 60-yard touchdown run, the Falcons lost that day, looking bad against a mediocre team. Ailing NFL clubs loved to see the Falcons on the schedule.

What the folks who gathered at Manuel’s in those days wanted was a competitive team. Winning more than three games a year would be a good start. And there was little concern for the owner’s definition of “competitive,” especially if that meant leather chairs in suites where the well-healed could watch the owner’s team. An owner of a professional football club had already competed rather well in the marketplace, thank you, and wouldn’t seek tax dollars as defined in a “public and private partnership,” or so we thought. Another guy, gifted at turning a phrase, could join Dylan and Taupin, and enjoy the company at Manuel’s Tavern. Taking in the view from Manuel’s window booth and knowing how it’s been all the way back to the days of Genesis, when Cain slew Abel, he’d note what’s always driven the good and the bad. He’d sum it up like this:

Poor man wanna be rich,
Rich man wanna be king,
And a king ain’t satisfied,
Till he rules everything.

*Bruce was named by Sports Illustrated as the second biggest draft bust in modern NFL history.

From the forthcoming book, Drop Me Off on Peachtree, A History of Atlanta

 

Packers 33, Bears 28 – Agony and Epitaph

January 3, 2014

Packers 33, Bears 28 – Agony and Epitaph

Any good will Chicagoans enjoyed on Christmas was quickly destroyed when the Bears lost to the Green Bay Packers, 33-28, in the season-ender at Soldier Field, a defeat which kept the Bears out of the playoffs, put the Packers in, and made Aaron Rodgers laugh harder than Kim Jong Un watching The Killing.

We know how it happened and really don’t want to talk about it but maybe doing so will be somehow therapeutic, like hitting oneself in the face with a chunk of yellow ice.

The Bears led, 28-27, with 46 seconds to play.  The Packers had the ball on Chicago’s 48-yard line.  It was 4th-and-8.  The Packers had already converted twice on fourth down on that drive.  Rodgers goes back to pass, the Bears blitz, the season and the good grace of God are on the line and then how the hell did Randall Cobb get so wide open?

Packers 33, Bears 28.

Once again the Bears’ defense found a way to not find a way and the result was the saddest Sunday night in Chicago history.

The Bears had an 8-6 record and were in the NFC North driver’s seat.  All they had to do was win of their final two games and they were in.  Instead, they drove Mom’s Pinto straight through the doors at 7-11 and asked for a rancid Slurpee.

The defeat to the Packers came 50 years to the day after the Bears won the 1963 NFL title by defeating the New York Giants at Wrigley Field and two days before the 25th anniversary of the “Fog Bowl” playoff win over the Eagles at Soldier Field.

This means there were Bear ghosts all over the place but, painfully, none of them could play safety.

A season that had such promise ended with a kick in the crotch, a pinch on the nose and a promise to aim better in the bathroom the next time.

One year after going 10-6 with a good defense and a suspect offense the Bears, in their first year under head coach Marc Trestman, slid to 8-8 with a good offense and a defense with slower reactions than a drunken gang of sloths.

The Bears finished with 445 points this year, second most in the NFL.  They surrendered 478 points, tied for second worst in the league.  They are schizophrenic, bipolar and odd.

So, what do the Bears do?  The very thing they should have done.  They re-signed quarterback Jay Cutler.

Some Bears fans love Jay Cutler, some hate him, and all would like to borrow some money from him.  The Bears gave Cutler a new seven-year deal worth at least $50 million and are counting on him to continue to learn Trestman’s offense and become the Pro Bowl championship quarterback we have been waiting for for nearly 30 years.

Cutler is not as good as Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers or Amy Adams but he’s good enough.  The Bears have a dynamic offense and, in Cutler and Josh McCown, two good quarterbacks.  The Bears did the right thing.  They did not waste time.  They are going head-on into their offseason with no uncertainty on offense and a determination and focus on using the draft and free agency to make the defense, seriously now, mediocre.

If Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Matt Forte, Martellus Bennett and the offensive line perform as well in 2014 as they did in 2013 and, seeing as it will be their second season in this offense there’s every reason to think they might get even better, then all Chicago’s defense will need to do is be OK.

Cutler is coming back, so are guard Matt Slauson and cornerback Tim Jennings but many others will likely go, especially on defense and especially because Lovie Smith now coaches the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and will likely bring in some of his old pals.

Bears defenders Chris Conte, Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman are likely gone, but Brian Urlacher is coming back.  Just kidding.

The Bears will look a lot different the next time they take the field.  They are heading into a brave new world of offensive football but cannot, like they did this year, completely leave their defensive roots behind.  They must think back to that ’63 team that won by hitting hard.  They must remember that ’88 team that won in a fog.   The Chicago Bears must push on through the cloud of the future and the hiss of the past.

They must win 12 regular season games.

They must win the Super Bowl.

They have two more seasons of reasonably expecting this offense to be dominant.  Two more seasons to fix the defense.

After that, the fog gets thicker.  The past grows less forgiving.  The future becomes stuck in fear.

 

 

Eagles 54, Bears 11: The Christmas Crapathon

December 22, 2013

The Chicago Bears were given an early Christmas gift by the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers on Sunday when both teams lost, opening the way for the Bears to clinch the NFC North.

All the Bears had to do was beat the Philadelphia Eagles.

Final score: Eagles 54, Bears 11.

Repeat: Eagles 54, Bears 11.

What went wrong on this unseasonably warm night in Philadelphia?

Everything.

Breaking down this defeat is like contemplating your navel lint in a dark room while getting hit over the head with a pillowcase full of nickels by Santa’s elves.

No, it’s more difficult than that.

This was a farce, a fart and not at all funny.

This was…aw hell fellas, how did this happen?

The Bears were dominated from start to finish.  This was like watching a clown lick a kitten.  This was the worst primetime offering on NBC since “The Jay Leno Show.”

Everyone can have a bad day.  Tell that to the captain of the Hindenburg.

Oh, let’s stop.  Here’s what happened: the Bears have the worst run defense in the NFL and the Eagles have the best running game in the league.  The result was Philadelphia disemboweled the Bears for 289 yards on 36 carries.  The Eagles did what you’re supposed to do against the Bears, which is run, run, run, take a sip of eggnog and run again.

Giving up 8.2 yards per carry isn’t the only reason the Bears lost – Jay Cutler wasn’t good, Matt Forte was so-so and they were outcoached – but the defense was the biggest reason.

But, disturbingly, the only thing more absent than good tackling was passion.  From the outset, the Eagles were determined to punch the Bears in the mouth and the Bears appeared dead set on lifting their jaws.

This was the second worst defeat in Bears history but might be the single most confounding.

It’s just one game, though.  All is not lost, though it certainly feels like it.

The Bears, because they have played well at stretches this season and because the NFC North is weak, can still win the division.  They can still make the playoffs.  It’s all still there for them like the last spoonful of Christmas pudding screaming, “Eat me, Tootsie-Ray!”

Sorry, that was inappropriate.

But it is all still there.  All the Bears have to do is beat the Green Bay Packers in Chicago on Sunday.  That’s it.  Beat an ordinary Packers team they’ve already beaten once.  Beat your oldest and most hated rival.  Line up and hit, feel the cold and hear the roar and a disastrous night in Philadelphia will suddenly be forgotten.

Just do it.

What’s that?  Aaron Rodgers might play?

Good.  Bring ‘em all on.  Just dig deep.

And watch the tape.  Don’t burn it.  Watch it over and over and over and over again.  Learn from your mistakes and punch those Packers in the jingle bells.

Please.

Bears 38, Browns: 31: Suddenly the Cool Winds Blow Victory

December 16, 2013

The Chicago Bears went to Cleveland on Sunday, which is something no self-respecting person should do without getting paid for it, and came away with something no self-respecting football team should deny themselves: a victory over the Browns.

With the 38-31 triumph in the cold, the Bears proved they’re the best team in the AFC North having now gone 4-0 against the Browns, Ravens, Steelers and Bengals.  The problem is the Bears play in the NFC North but the Monsters of the Maybe are also now the top team in their own division thanks to the Ravens and the Lions.

Baltimore’s 18-16 victory over the Silver-Blue Kittens in Detroit on Monday night dropped Detroit to 7-7 and so the 8-6 Bears are now alone in first place with the 7-6-1 Green Bay Packers sandwiched between Chicago and Detroit like a pickpocket on a crowded subway car.

So this is what it is: if the Bears win their final two games of the season they’re division champs and are in the playoffs for the first time in three years.

And there will be much rejoicing.

Maybe the Bears don’t deserve to be in such a fortuitous position but then again I have hairs on parts of my body that are so obstinate they might actually be self-aware and I don’t deserve that so piss on who did that and who deserves what and just appreciate the fact that in northern Illinois it suddenly looks like there’s plenty of Figgy pudding for believers and heathens all.

The Bears’ triumph over the Browns featured the return of Jay Cutler at quarterback after missing four straight games and five of the last six with various injuries and visions of Josh McCown dancing in his head.  Cutler was not great on Sunday against the Browns but he was good enough, overcoming two first half interceptions (one of which was returned for a touchdown) which weren’t entirely his fault but mostly were, to finish 22-of-31 for 265 yards and three touchdowns.

Two of those TD strikes came in the fourth quarter when the Bears outscored a scrappy Cleveland squad, 21-7, to erase a seven-point deficit and make Barkevious Mingo feel as dejected as his name is silly.  It’s far too early to say Bears coach Marc Trestman made the right move by putting Cutler back under center in place of McCown who wasn’t just capable but great during his stint as starter, but at least we can say Trestman’s move hasn’t backfired yet.

But didn’t we see McCown warming up at one point on Sunday?  Perhaps he was just trying to stay warm on a day when the wind off Lake Erie was colder than Martha Stewart’s laugh.

The Bears beat the Browns despite another kinda crappy but at least not abysmal effort by the defense which broke a streak of allowing a 100-yard rusher for six straight games.  In fact, the Bears actually for a bit, looked a little bit like those Bears D’s of the good old Lovie Smith days, or even earlier this season, as cornerback Zack Bowman notched a 43-yard interception for a score off of Jason Campbell in the third.  Bowman is a decent player but is only playing because All-Pro Charles Tillman is injured and word came down Monday that Tillman will not return this season even if the Bears go deep into the playoffs.

And probably the only way the Bears can go deep in the playoffs is if they have Tillman and injured linebacker Lance Briggs who might return for Sunday night’s game in Philadelphia.  As the Bears are presently composed it’s difficult to imagine them knocking out more than one win against some combination of the 49ers, Panthers, Seahawks, Saints and Eagles in the postseason.  With Briggs and Tillman it’s remotely conceivable, without them, call Wallace Shawn.

But let’s dwell on the positive.  The Bears got a third straight 100-yard game from running back Matt Forte and continue to get solid protection from their offensive line and outstanding contributions from wideouts Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery (who made a 45-yard TD catch that only could have been caught by two people: Alshon and Jeffery) and Earl Bennett who each caught a TD pass and tight end Martellus Bennett.  Martellus did cough up a fumble in the third quarter that the Browns returned for a TD but that’s one of the few mistakes he’s made all season.  Plus, he’s funny.

Jean-Paul Sartre said, “Man is condemned to be free.”  Sartre, it’s little known, said this to a skinny lady in a bakery and never meant for anyone else to know about it but his words apply perfectly to our Bears.  They win, they’re in.  They win, they’re in.  That’s it.  No excuses, no dawdling, no Lion-watching.  Beat the Eagles, beat the Packers and you’ll host a playoff game.

And maybe a miracle can happen.

Here’s what we hope for this coming weekend: the Bears beat the Eagles, the Packers top the Steelers and the Lions lose to the Giants.  If so, the NFC North will go to the winner of the Bears-Packers game in Chicago on the final Sunday of the season.  It would be a lot easier if the Bears had 11 or 12 wins by now and had things sewn up but it wouldn’t be nearly as fun.  This is what we want it to be, Bears V. Packers in the cold, snow and fury.  And we really, really hope Aaron Rodgers is back.  Seriously.  Be careful what we wish for, right?  We’re also hoping for a free back wax coupon for Christmas.  We want Rodgers.  We want the best.  We want to beat his ass.

But first, the Eagles.  They’re 8-6.  They’re good.  But they just lost to the Vikings, just like the Bears did a couple of weeks ago.

All eyes on Philadelphia on Sunday night.  Thank you, NFL and NBC for flexing your broadcast and marketing muscles and making this a primetime event.  Let all the world see the Chicago Bears go for their third straight win in the snow.  Let the world see what these two old rivals might or might not be made of.  Let a kid named Alshon run far and fast, arms spread wide, searching for a football in the Christmas sky.  — TK

Bears 45, Cowboys 28: A Night of Flakes, Stars and Legends

December 10, 2013

The Chicago Bears defeated the Dallas Cowboys, 45-28, at Soldier Field on Monday night proving that the only thing more fun than playing in snow is winning in snow.

The Bears dominated this battle between two contending teams with good offenses and bad defenses with the Bears scoring on their first eight possessions and it would have been nine if the clock hadn’t finally decided to hit zero and run indoors for a cup of cocoa and a snuggle with the closest fat person it could find.

The Bears won because their offense was efficient, effective and relentless, racking up 490 yards, 33 first downs, five touchdowns and relegating punter Adam Podlesh strictly to the role of holder on extra points and field goals.  Adam’s a good guy.

The reasons the Bears’ offense was more breathtaking than Scarlett Johansson in an elf costume are numerous.  One, Chicago, believe it or smoke it, has the best tandem of wide receivers in the NFL.  Read that sentence again and then look out the window to make sure pigs aren’t eating the sun.

Alshon Jeffery caught five passes for 84 yards including another amazing touchdown catch, something he does more routinely than Gene Wilder bakes cupcakes.  Jeffery is emerging not only as the Bears’ best receiver but one of the best playmakers in football.  He has big hands, big dreams, speed, and a certain adhesiveness you just can’t teach, coach or buy legally outside Utah.

On the other side there’s the old pro, Brandon Marshall, who hauled in six Josh McCown passes for 100 yards and threw a block on Sean Lee that left the Cowboys linebacker wishing he had stayed in dental school.

McCown also continues to excel in place of the injured Jay Cutler and anyone who thinks there isn’t a quarterback controversy in Chicago is also in the camp that believes Jerry Jones still has his original nose.

Cutler is due to return this Sunday against the Cleveland Browns but everyone in Chicago, Halas Hall and certain trailer parks in Texas know that the Bears would probably fare better by sticking with McCown who gutted Dallas for 348 yards, four TDs, no interceptions (though in fairness to Dallas, the Cowboys should have had two picks, one was dropped, another nullified by a penalty.  Even when the Cowboys’ D does good it does bad.) and a passer rating of 141.9.  That QB rating by McCown for Week 14 was second only to Ace Sanders, a guy who either plays receiver for the Jacksonville Jaguars and threw one pass for one TD against Houston or is the star of a new action movie franchise.  Let’s hope he’s both.

Here’s the scoop, and we reserve the right to change our mind before the season ends and maybe even before this paragraph ends, the Bears are contending for a playoff spot and their quarterback is playing great and the guy who is supposed to be the starter was having a good season but he’s always been injury prone and so, dang it, stick with the hot guy and see where he takes you and if he takes you far give him the big bucks and let Cutler go.

And if he falls on his face you’re only stuck with a 34-year-old cheap QB and you’ve let a major talent get away and OK maybe it’s time to change our mind.  Put Cutler back in.

It’s not easy.  Perhaps you need to do both things.  Give Cutler the start but if he stinks it up and the game, and thus the season, is slipping away, bring in McCown because if you do it the other way Jay is not going to want to come back no matter what.

But where else would he want to go?  The Bears, and I still can’t believe these words are being typed, have just about the most promising offensive future in the league.  Great receivers, a great line, a versatile running back, a monster tight end and a coach who knows offense, understands QBs and is, perhaps, learning to never let up on the gas.

Of course it’s easier to keep the pedal to the medal when you have nothing in front of you but road kill with starry helmets.

Enough about cloudy futures, though.  Monday night was magical in Chicago. There was snow on the ground and the temperature was hovering around zero.  You could not only see your breath you could set your beer on it.  It was Bears-Cowboys outdoors in the elements on national TV.  And, at halftime, the most Beary Bear of them all was honored as Chicago finally retired Mike Ditka’s #89 jersey.  Ditka was emotional, he was sincere and he was appreciative. And it was all so perfect.

Unless you’re Tony Romo.

The Bears are now 7-6 and tied with the Detroit Lions atop the NFC North.  The Lions swept the Bears and thus own the tiebreaker but we have about as much trust in the Lions as Kim Jong-un has in unmarked aircraft.

We need to think cold thoughts, run tight routes and keep the bus rolling.  Let’s fight to Christmas.  Let’s go down swinging in the cold.  And laughing in the night.