I was sitting on a bench in front of a coffee shop in the beautiful beach town of Spring Lake, New Jersey, waiting for the NJ Transit Coast Line train back to Manhattan last summer. A slick-haired douche pulled up in some way-too-big car and, after getting his coffee inside, started chatting me up as if my wearing jeans in the summertime was a means to conceal a .45 in the waistband. He asked where I was from and I answered politely, “Kearny.”
He seemed impressed. “Tough town,” he responded. That sort of sums up where I come from. A tough town sorta halfway between Newark and Jersey City. That is where I became a Bears fan between the ages of 3 and 4. In the shadow of New York City, and with the Meadowlands visible out my bedroom window, I chose the Chicago Bears because they made a music video. A video I make my friends watch every Super Bowl Sunday for a song whose record I have framed on my bookshelf. If I hadn’t made that choice I would currently be celebrating the fourth Super Bowl title of my lifetime with the New York Giants. But I made that choice and have not regretted for one minute since. It has not only given me my purest sports passion but it has also given me my second geographical home: the great city of Chicago.
Following the Bears in New Jersey in the pre-internet, pre-Sunday Ticket era was an occupation. The Jersey Sports Cafe in Rutherford had a few of those big satellites on the roof and they had a small contingent of Bears fans there each Sunday (including a buddy’s Dad) but convincing my own father to take his eight year-old son to a bar on Sunday proved futile week-in and week-out.
I followed the Bears in three ways when they were not on national television. (1) Since my family had Jets season tickets, I would often attend the games in my Jim McMahon or Tom Waddle jersey and watch the Bears scores update on the big board. Other folks in Section 324 enjoyed it so much it became the Soldier Field Annex. (2) I would be in the living room while my Dad watched the Giants or my brother watched the Jets and once I heard the little jingle that announced scores would scroll at the bottom of the screen I would jump to my feet. Bears 14, Niner 10. Yes! (3) I would sit eagerly in anticipation of ESPN’s Primetime, the greatest show ever produced by the four letters.
I knew nothing of Chicago’s media. Knew nothing of their newspapermen or radio hosts. Knew nothing of the approach those fellas took to the team I loved. I knew only the approach the local media took to the Giants and Jets. My formative sport fan years were spent in the company of the nation’s best sportswriting/broadcasting talents.
Mike & the Mad Dog, WFAN’s industry-changing pair, became part of our lives. When you played Wiffle ball in the driveway or street football there was a always a radio nearby playing Francesa and Russo. Opinions were shaped by Mike and Dog. Debates were formed and furthered by them too. You didn’t have to agree with their often insane opinions to understand they had shaped the language you used to discuss sports. The Newark Star-Ledger had Jerry Izenberg – one of the greatest sportswriters who ever lived. Izenberg could make a failed Vince Coleman bunt attempt read with the power of a Shakespearean tragedy. Dave Anderson in the New York Times was, like Izenberg, one of those sportswriters who seemed to come from a different time. Every one of his columns was delivered with a literary gravitas but one always got the sense he wished he were ringside at the Garden in 1962. The Daily News‘ Mike Lupica could see beyond the game. The player’s face as he stood beside his locker. The Yankee Stadium janitor hiding tears underneath his worn ball cap. These guys were and are the best in the world. And they were all available for a less than a buck up at the corner deli.
Then DirecTV and the Sunday Ticket emerged in the mid-90s and were a sure thing in taverns everywhere by 2000. The internet came too and came hard, making available the full content of the Tribune and Sun-Times. It did not take long for me to realize the men writing columns for those newspapers were not watching the same games I was watching. It did not take long for me to realize there was a pervading sense of negativity in the newspaper each day. Every move was wrong, even when it worked. Every loss was symptomatic of organizational disarray and had nothing to do with missed field goals or dropped touchdown passes. Every win was lucky. Bill Gleason was being replaced on the importance scale by the likes of Jay Mariotti and Rick Telander. These were not men concerned with capturing a sporting event from a unique perspective or with any semblance of passion. These were men concerned with instigating a disappointed populous by praying upon a seemingly inborn negativity.
There are still bad columnists working in Chicago, of course. David Haugh’s opinions are as bland and lifeless as his prose. Rick Morrissey actually graces the pages of the Sun-Times with these kinds of sentences (about Phil Emery), “If somebody had asked him about the life of a hermit, he would have said it takes a village to raise a recluse.” Deadspin went out of their way to attack Telander’s work of Herculean inanityon Cutler’s non-winning sensibility with the brilliant headline, “Jay Cutler Is Not a Winner Because He Doesn’t Smile at Bears Employees, Writes Crazy Person.”
Steve Rosenbloom is the worst. In my two decades of reading sports writers from around the country I have never encountered a man quite like him. His writing is atrocious; a mixture of failed humor attempts and sarcastic jabs at the local teams. His opinions are pointless and predictable. His moment-to-moment reactions to Bears games on his blog actually reveal how little he understands the game he’s covering. Rosenbloom is not competing with the best sports columnists in the country. Rosenbloom is competing with the drunkest guy at the end of the bar and the loudest teenage brat on Twitter.
Today is the first day of the 2012 NFL season. And DaBearsBlog will no longer validate the existence of these men on its pages. Brad Biggs, Sean Jensen and the boys over at ESPN Chicago are the real deal. We’ll celebrate their work and rely on their information. But no longer will I be using the columnists as a springboard for my columns. No longer will links to Rosenbloom or Haugh or Telander appear here. The Chicago Bears are one of the greatest franchises in the history of sports and the Chicago Bears fan deserves better.
Can I be the one to provide it? I hope, from an opinion perspective, I am part of a solution . I know, from an editorial perspective, ignoring the current crop of columnists is a definitive step in the right direction for the emotional and intellectual sanity of us all.