I’m not ready to talk about Vic Fangio.
I’m not ready to talk about Ed Donatell or Steve Wilks or Gregg Williams or Dick LeBeau.
I’m not ready to talk about the draft or free agency.
Four days ago our beloved Bears went home way too soon. The conversation has moved on to next year. But not for me. I’m not ready. Because it’s this year still and this year still stings.
It didn’t occur to me until now, but the loss to Philly was a first for me. As it turns out, it was a first in Bears history.
The loss to Philly was the first time that we won the division, were favored in the Wild Card round, and lost.
Perhaps that seems a frivolous distinction. I assure you it’s not. What it signifies — assuming your expectations were close to mine — is the largest gap we’ve ever faced between the amount of time we expected to spend watching the Bears in the playoffs and the amount of time we’ll instead spend watching a Bears-less playoffs.
Look at this. Here is our Wild Card history, along with our record and division finish:
- 1979: +6.5 at Eagles, lost 27-17 — 10-6, 2nd in Central
- 1990: -6.5 vs. Saints, won 16-6 — 11-5, Central champs
- 1991: -3 vs. Cowboys, lost 17-13 — 11-5, 2nd in Central
- 1994: +6 at Vikings, won 35-18 — 9-7, 4th in Central
- 2018: -6.5 vs. Eagles, lost 16-15 — 12-4, North champs
Setting aside the fact that I wasn’t alive in 1979, and the probability that an eternally positive Bears fan such as myself would have likely been surefire convinced that we were going to beat the Eagles in Philadelphia, the ‘79 Bears never led the division. We had a win-and-get-help scenario in Week 17 that would have given us the division over the Bucs, but they won too, and we settled for the Wild Card at 10-6.
In 1990, we won the division and won the Wild Card game.
In 1991, we lost the Wild Card game at home to the Cowboys. That was a game I expected to win — again, I am the preeminent positive Bears fans — but we’d closed the season the week before with a 52-14 loss to the Niners on Monday Night Football, and I remember thinking that no team was a powerhouse that could lose by nearly 40 points.
And in 1994, we finished fourth in the Central and upset the division-champion Vikings in Minnesota.
Those were our Wild Card games. In the years we lost, I wasn’t expecting us to play beyond the divisional round. In the years we won, I either thought the ride would end before the Super Bowl (1990) or I was thrilled just to get the Wild Card victory (1994).
We’ve also had four home losses in my life in the divisional round, each one painful in its own way. In ‘86 and ‘87, I expected a championship. In 2001, I thought we would have a tough time with the Rams. In 2005, I harbored all year this weird notion of winning a title “too soon” and didn’t quite know what I wanted.
The point here, though, is that when you lose in the divisional round, you only have the conference championship and the Super Bowl remaining.
When you lose in the conference championship — as we did in ‘84, ‘88 and 2010 — you watch the Super Bowl with the weight of absolute gloom, but at least the whole thing is over after the Super Bowl.
And of course losing the Super Bowl is the worst feeling I’ve ever had as a fan, but at least when that game was over, the entire NFL season was too.
That’s the gap I’m talking about. That’s what I’m staring down right now for the first time in my life. We have three rounds of football left. As a baseline, I expected the Bears to be around for one if not two of them. I thought a Super Bowl appearance was legitimate, and in fact my confidence was so strong that my outward attitude even at the start of the playoffs was a championship.
After all, the 2018 Chicago Bears gave me one of my favorite regular season fan experiences of my life. This was the first surprise Bears team of my life that was not only superlative on defense but capable of ass-kicking on offense. The Prophecy may have seemed silly to some but it embodied a truth that I felt to my core.
This team felt both historic and playful. Powerful and loose. Mitch’s six TDs and Fast Eddie’s runbacks. That goofy Giants near-comeback and the soul-snatching Rams game. The arrival of the Mack. The domination of the North. The promise fulfilled of Kyle Fuller. The Dream. The Grind. The Missile. Prince Six.
The way the Bulldozer remained relevant. The way the receivers danced for days.
“I don’t care what anyone says anymore,” I wrote. “They’re winning this whole damn thing.”
I started to get nervous in the 3rd quarter, yet I still never thought we would lose. Even when Parkey hit the iced field goal and lined up for the second, I never thought we would lose. Even after the second doink, before I could see which way the ball was bouncing, I never thought we would lose.
No joke, as the ball hit the crossbar, my brain said, “Wow what a cool story: Parkey hits the upright and the crossbar and it bounces in for the win. That’s awesome! On to L.A.”
Now I sit here four days later amidst defensive coordinator trackers and an impending placekicker hot stove and our reserve/future signings and debates on players we’ll add for next year and I’m over here like WAIT A SECOND I’M NOT IN NEXT YEAR YET.
Bears fans are turning the page to the 2019 season, and I get it — fans always look ahead. The days march on. That’s true. But that’s a lie. We’re not turning the page to the 2019 season because we’re burning with interest in OTAs. We’re turning the page to the 2019 season as a defense mechanism. We’re turning the page to the 2019 season to avoid the unbearable truth.
And the truth is this:
It’s still the 2018 season. We’re just not part of it anymore.
Jack M Silverstein is Windy City Gridiron’s Bears historian, and author of “How The GOAT Was Built: 6 Life Lessons From the 1996 Chicago Bulls.” He is the proprietor of Chicago sports history Instagram “A Shot on Ehlo.” Say hey at @readjack.