The 2008 Chicago Bears struggled to defend throughout the preseason and on opening night – against the Indianapolis Colts – put on a road clinic and won 29-13. (Adewale Ogunleye looked like he was headed for Defensive Player of the Year honors.) The team finished 9-7 and out of the money. (Ogunleye did NOT win Defensive POY.)
The 2009 Chicago Bears lost to the Green Bay Packers on opening day. Doomsday! Season over! Raining frogs! The Bears subsequently won the next three games and it was hope! Love! Charity! All it took was a bye week for the season to fall apart. 7-9. Well out of the money.
The 2010 Chicago Bears opening day victory over the “lowly” Detroit Lions was overshadowed by a still-popular discussion of officiating. Calvin Johnson ridiculously laid the football to the turf after scoring the “game-winning touchdown” and the local media let us all know the Bears were opening their campaign with an asterisk. The Bears took it to heart. They went to the NFC Championship game.
2011 is fresh in all our minds but do you remember how it started? With an absolute Shermanesque shelling of Atlanta. The Bears dominated the Falcons at Soldier Field 30-12 and all was right with the world. It only took losing three of the next four games – often in glorious fashion – for the entirety of the Bears universe to forget the ecstasy of the opener.
Because we love the NFL. Because we love the Chicago Bears. Because we have all waited nine months to see the Bears play an official NFL game again we are all prone to analyze and over-analyze every snap of this week’s opener against the Indianapolis Colts. We will place way-too-much emphasis on Shea McClellin’s debut, Brian Urlacher’s knee, Cutler’s chemistry with the wide receivers and Evan Rodriguez’ ability to fill the void at fullback. And the truth of the opener is this: the performance has almost no historical connection to the season’s outcome.
The result absolutely does – especially in today’s NFL. The Bears are playing at home. They are almost a double-digit favorite. They are facing a rookie quarterback. That rookie, while much ballyhooed, is leading the worst team in football a year ago. The Bears must win this game because they are the superior team but also because this is the deepest NFC in almost a decade.
And that is a point not to be understated. Eagles, Giants, Cowboys, Packers, Lions, Panthers, Niners, Panthers…etc. Not only can 9 or 10 of the sixteen conference sides make the postseason but 6 or 7 can actually make the Super Bowl. 10 wins may not be enough to earn the final wild card position, nevertheless top the league’s best team (Green Bay) for the division title. I’ve always believed that the first half of the season is about accumulating victories. The second half of the season is about rounding into playoff form. Due to the talented rosters competing for those six tournament positions I would argue it is as true in 2012 as it ever has been.
The Bears must win Sunday. 3-0. 6-3. 31-0. 43-42 in OT. It does not matter. Style points in week one are the equivalent of good looks in high school. They’re fun to have but when you’re going through a second stint in AA after losing your third wife, the visible jaw bones in that yearbook photo become nothing more than a haunting reminder of what life could have been.
I can’t top that sentence.