I’ll be honest with you folks, I don’t usually pay much attention to the NFL Draft. I barely watch any college football, so mostly it’s just names being tossed at me in the same vein as names of K-pop bands. It just doesn’t involve me. My general policy is to check in on Twitter just long enough to see who the Bears draft, try and read up on some scouting reports, and then put the whole thing back in the box until late August at the earliest.
In some ways, it mirrors my interest in the NFL as a whole, which generally ends as soon as I work through the last piece of Popeye’s during a Bears game. It’s somewhere around the third quarter, and once all I’ve got is bones I know what happens. The Bears will be down 10, the defense will miraculously keep them in it for another quarter before dying of exhaustion, they may goof a touchdown when the entire opposing secondary comes down with temporary vertigo, but they’ll lose by 7-14 points without it ever feeling nearly that close.
And the draft experience isn’t much different. News of the pick comes in, the scouting reports suggest it wasn’t a terrible pick but not a franchise turner, and certainly won’t be enough to stand against the tide working against him from within the organization (poor coaching, rudderless management, helpless ownership). So the cycle goes.
So yeah. Thursday and Friday were... different.
This year I knew a little more than usual thanks to the bantering in our Slack channel (though I still think all those guys are weirdos, and now they know it, and I’m fine with that). But I wasn’t going to be any more plugged in, at least that’s what I told myself. The added desperation of the Bears front office, or at least what we think should be added desperation but hasn’t been made clear thanks to the aforementioned helpless ownership, meant to most of us in the Blue and Orange Nation that Ryan Pace would do something even stupider than normal. And not only would it handcuff the 2021 team to being unable to be any good, but would salt the Earth for whatever unfortunate soul had the displeasure of taking the job after him. This wasn’t just the thought. It was known.
Being a Bears fan of late has been talking yourself into settling for “maybe.” As in, the general buzz as the Bears would miss out on the top tier of quarterbacks, take a tackle at 20, and then find some QB lottery ticket on Day 3. And we’d tell ourselves, “Well, maybe he can turn into something useful. Just something that doesn’t leave a forehead-shaped dent in our coffee tables and I can be happy.” We’ve been doing that for most of our lives. “Well, maybe this won’t go as bad as it looks.” Hint: it usually does go that badly.
You can find some report or tweet to support anything you want to believe these days (something that isn’t tearing our society apart down to the studs at all). So any random bolt of “Keep an eye on the Bears” or “Pace is making calls,” I dismissed out of hand. Everyone’s making calls. Everybody is trying to make everyone else think about every possibility, if only to demonstrate how smart they are. None of it is real. It’s either all a joke or none of it is. Whatever.
And yet, you couldn’t help but notice all the bullshit starting to surround Justin Fields, even my own about OSU QBs, and keep yourself from dreaming if only for an instant. He’s going to be the guy who drops. Football media is going to make sure of it. It’s already feeding on itself. This was the guy who some thought could actually rival Trevor Lawrence for the #1 pick last summer. And he’d done nothing wrong during the season. And yet there it was.
But surely not to 20. And surely not low enough that Pace could work up the courage to go big again. After all, going big is what has him on the brink of printing up resumes (at least we think?).
So the draft was at arm’s length for me again. An occasional check of the phone or laptop, and that’s it. And Fields was slipping. If you were the hopeful type, you would tell yourself that it was lining up. The pieces were starting to fit. Past five. Past seven.
And then it was over in an instant, so it felt like. The texts from friends, the tweets fearing the trade up and what that would mean the Bears were going to do to the news that the Bears had taken Fields, they just crammed together. I found out about all of it at once.
The NFL Draft has become such a factory of galaxy-brain thinking that you get overjoyed when the simple thing is done. Because it was so simple. Justin Fields should have been a top-3 pick. Certainly no lower than five. NFL teams had talked themselves out of it simply to do it. To seem like they had been doing more work than their competitors. They knew something, but they didn’t, they just wanted everyone to think they did.
So of course you move up to 11 to get Fields. At some point Pace just said, “What the fuck are we doing here? It’s right there.” Sometimes you just bet the favorite because it’s a favorite for a reason.
He never did simple before. And then the next night, the tackle everyone had him taking at 20 was still there at 39. Of course you do the simple thing and get the guy you need and want. What the fuck does the rest of it matter?
And today we wake up seeing “A+” and “A” grades in a lot of places. I’m not here to tell you that it will go all wrong because it’s the Bears, because that’s loser turd thinking. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t, but anyone who spends their days shitting on hope is someone that needs to be hit with an angry wolverine. Why invest the time in something as patently silly as the draft if you’re not going to allow yourself to feel excited about it?
Anything this new, this different, feels suspicious. That’s where all that springs from. It’s the new city, the new house. We’ve all been drilled to believe if something looks too good to be true, it’s gotta be. But sports is supposed to be where something too good to be true can actually be true. That’s why we fucking bother in the first place. Sometimes it is that simple. Sometimes you just take Aaron Rodgers at 24 even though you have an entrenched starter because it makes too much sense not to.
Of course, they could fuck this up in any number of ways. You know who fucks things up in any number of ways? Every goddamn team that doesn’t have Tom Brady, apparently. Fields at this very moment might be the most talented QB they’ve ever had. The only other contender is Jay Cutler. This isn’t some project we have to talk ourselves into. Last time it was, “Well, if everything goes right with Mitch maybe…” This is the opposite. So much would have to go wrong. All the Bears have to do is get out of the way. The simple thing. Which they just did to get him here. It was setting up to be a pointless season, not just a bad one. Now we might not have another of either of those for a decade, and certainly never the two together.
For once the simple thing was right in front of their face, and the Bears didn’t out-think themselves away from it. They didn’t think there was some trap, or a prank about to be played, or something they missed. It’s dizzying.