Sports News Without Access, Favor, Or Discretion

NFL Season Preview: Chicago Bears

The NFL season has officially started, so it's time to finish the impassioned season previews from various writers, bloggers, diehard fans, cooks, TV personalities, and numerous other walks of life whom consider football the only sport worth watching. Clearly, these previews will be running until, oh, the first round of the wild card playoffs based on how quickly they've been coming in. So, for the next few days, expect a lot of these. Actually, let's see how many we can get out in one day. Today: The Chicago Bears. Your author is Tommy Craggs. Tommy Craggs is an Illinoisan, Urbana-born, who now lives in New York and contributes to Slate and Play and other magazines.So it appears that the Bears are indeed serious about starting this Kyle Orton fellow, who every year looks less like a quarterback and more like a guy who wandered out of a dinner theater production of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. In any other city, he would've long since been laughed off the field and onto the Toronto Argonauts' two-deep. Not in Chicago. In Chicago, he is, in the words of poor Olin Kreutz (the center who's had more mediocrities on his ass than Lana Turner), "the guy." I don't mean to pick on Orton. It's just that the state of Chicago quarterbacking — from Dave Krieg on through Cade McNown and Shane Matthews and Henry Burris and Craig Krenzel and Kyle Orton 1.0 and many, many others — offers what I think is a perfect fractal of the city's great native pathology: pessimism. This is no mere pessimism, either. This is not like Boston's, pre-2004, which in retrospect was just a lot of flakey stuff dished up by Doris Kearns Goodwin and Dan Shaughnessy whenever they had a book to sell. Nor is it that generic Midwestern sort of pessimism, whose primary exponent can be heard on NPR and which therefore doesn't count. And it is most definitely not Philadelphia-style pessimism, which is just the aggrieved reaction of a city that thinks it deserves better after all it's done for the country. In Chicago, pessimism is a different beast entirely. It's the conviction that the fix is in, that fate is dealing from the bottom, that the formal structures of the world are inherently corrupt and that the stars are all aligned against you. And more than that, it's an eager acceptance of this sad lot, whether the subject is Aldermanic corruption, or the shuttering of the steel mills, or the guy throwing four picks against the Vikings. Chicago, wrote A.J. Liebling, "has the personality of a man brought up in the expectation of a legacy who has learned in middle age that it will never be his." It wasn't always like this. Once, Chicago was the city of Jane Addams and Hull House and the World's Columbian Exposition and a Tribune that styled itself the "World's Greatest Newspaper," which begat the radio station WGN and eventually the TV station, on which one could spend a great deal of one's childhood, three hours south of the city, watching Leon Durham botch a slow roller to first. But somewhere along the line, roughly 1930 if you believe Liebling, Chicago ran off its tracks. It became the city of that old windy misanthrope, Colonel McCormick, the Tribune publisher whose animating philosophy was that the world was going to the dogs. McCormick's pessimism extended beyond the pages of his newspaper. It was "a miasmic influence, discernible in the conviction of every Chicagoan that he is being done," wrote Liebling, who also saw it in Chicago women's fashion and even in the food (he had plenty of first-hand experience with the latter and I hope not too much with the former). This sort of cynicism went hand-in-hand with the old Chicago tendency to wildly exaggerate the mob influence thereabouts, turning it into a straw man for everything that was wrong with the city, though as often as not the true culprits could be found in boardrooms and City Hall (as Liebling noted in 1952 and as the Daley machine soon made plain). Later, the spirit of McCormick could be found in the vile Chicago open-housing protests, in which even the nuns went in for verbal abuse ("Whores!"), and maybe even in some of the sour fruits of Saul Alinsky (Save Our Neighborhoods/Save Our City, for example). In the 1980s, Wisconsin Steel shut down in a hail of torts, forever altering the fabric of the city. I'm too young to remember the closing in any detail, but the official version of the story seems to regard the event as an inevitability in the age of Reagan and de-industrialization — the fickle hand of bottom-dealing fate — rather than the deeply criminal act it really was. Which brings us back, in a weird, roundabout way, to Kyle Orton, whose elevation once again to the starting lineup, despite his demonstrable incompetence, has been greeted with a great citywide meh. This is just the nature of things in Chicago. It was inevitable that Orton would be "the guy," just as it was inevitable the Bears would draft a left tackle with the sort of back problems one finds in men who spent a half-century in the Brookside coal mine. The second season after their Super Bowl run, the Bears have 5-11 written all over them. No need for outrage. It's just how it is. That's the Chicago way. The City of Shrugged Shoulders.

Share This Story