I will admit to there being an element, and not a light one, of loser-dom watching video of Bears fans at Soldier Field cheering wildly watching as the Indianapolis Colts’ final pass was knocked down, locking in the No. 1 pick for the Bears. It’s not meant as a criticism, or not an outward one, as I was doing the same thing with my football-watching buddy on my couch. But when cheering for today isn’t available, cheering for tomorrow will have to do.
I’ve wrestled with fans cheering losses here in town for a while, seeing as how there are two current residents either having just done the dive to the bottom or are in the midst of it (Bears and Blackhawks). The idea of tanking is so cynical, a gaming of a system that really shouldn’t exist, and when fans jump on board and are actively cheering losses or fretting about things that are genuinely enjoyable to watch, it only adds to the cynicism. It can feel like you’ve gone through the looking glass. It’s just now how we’re supposed to be wired. And it goes against decades of instinct.
But, as the Texans took the lead yesterday early, and gave it back, and took it again, and seesawed back and forth, I saw something different. (Insert the last shot of “Rogue One”). Hope. When you’ve swallowed all the terrible football that Bears fans have this year (or our entire lives, really), and there’s been a heaping helping of it, and after all the guys you’ve watched in the trail technique on yet another 40-yard gain for the opponent where you’ve asked, “Who the hell is that?” you have to cling to something. It’s buried underneath all the noise and all that’s distasteful about the idea of tanking and then the debate it generates on all sides. But the foundation of it is the promise of something more. There isn’t a bigger promise than the #1 pick after all. It’s why the system, as bullshit as it may be, is designed that way.
Of course, for the Bears, that hope is something different. For the first time in my life, even though it’s not where you want to be ideally, the Bears are the epicenter of the draft. Of the entire offseason, honestly. Not just because they hold the top pick, but because they don’t need it to draft a QB. But so many other teams do need to draft a QB. It’s not just that they can take any franchise-altering player they desire, which they can (and that’s still more than fine), but they could make an even bigger franchise-altering move that lands them a couple, or a few, plus players at multiple positions. And they need everything.
Teams have had the No. 1 pick with a quarterback already in tow before, or so they thought. But have teams had those two things as well as the most amount of cap space in the league? There probably wouldn’t be much difference in reality between the No. 1 or No. 2 pick, and what options would be at both. But there is a difference, and the Bears getting some fortune in landing the No. 1 yesterday means there’s the most amount of intrigue and hope and possibility. Is it five percent more than having the No. 2? 10 percent? 20 percent? Whatever it is factually, it’s the amount that gets it over the hump from exciting to salivating.
That’s not something we get a lot of around here. Oh, we may have pretended in the past. Maybe it was even genuine at times. But never have the Bears gotten to build from a flat ground. Always in the past the defense has been playoff-worthy or better and it was about patching together the offense on the fly just enough to not let the other side down. It never worked, not fully. Occasionally it was the other way around, but records from those times are sketchy at best and my memory is hazy on a good day. One side of the ball being ready and the other not never left enough cap space or the draft picks already sacrificed either in picking the parts of that defense or trading for them always left a half-constructed being at best.
Yeah, the Bears need everything. You can’t find a position group that doesn’t need more, and there are some around town high on paint fumes that would tell you that includes starting QB. But given the perfect confluence yesterday of that pick and that cap space, the Bears can address so much of it this offseason (not all of it though, that would be impossible). They’re still a rebuilding team. But rarely if ever has a rebuilding team been loaded with so much material to do that rebuilding, and quickly.
So yes, that cheering yesterday is still…awkward. It’s against the spirit of the whole thing. And yet it’s right in the spirit of the thing. But going from No. 2 to No. 1 is just slightly more pressure on the gas pedal. It’s the promise of something new and better. That doesn’t mean it’ll work out. No organization could fuck this up like the Bears could. It’s what they do. Other teams have borked similar spots. But if you can’t get excited about possibility, about hope, about potential when there isn’t much else, then what’s the point? If a fan just assumes everything will go bad all the time, then they’re missing the point.
That doesn’t mean that tanking is a good thing now or that I’ve reversed positions. It isn’t. And every draft should be abolished. But fans didn’t invent tanking. Fans don’t enforce these rules. They’re just making the best of what they’ve been handed.
And if it all works? Get ready: