There was a time, when I was a younger man, I would have taken David “Blue Moon” Haugh’s latest exercise in journalistic futility and dissected every single sentence, right down to the incorrect placement of punctuation. I would have shown you that not only was the work devoid of intellectual competence, but also another shining example of why it’s not a wise idea to hire someone for a writer’s position who isn’t good at writing. Haugh’s greatest crime is not his transparent attempts to write his blowhard nonsense into a daily spot on Around the Horn. No, his greatest crime is against the English language itself. That the same newspaper can employ both Blue Moon and the great Rick “Drinks Like an Actual Man” Pearson blows my fucking mind daily.
But I am not that younger man. If you haven’t read Haugh’s take on head coach Matt Nagy’s decision to bench his starters for the team’s fourth practice game, don’t. There will be no link provided here and don’t waste a valuable minute of your life searching it out. Instead, read a few chapters of John McCain’s wonderful book Faith of My Fathers or Neil Simon’s Biloxi Blues or some classic Royko columns being run in the Sun-Times. Hell, just read anything else.
What Matt Nagy achieved this weekend, in a practice game, was somewhat extraordinary.
Forget the result. The result means nothing. Nobody in their right mind believes the second units of the Chicago Bears are better than the first units of the Kansas City Chiefs, a playoff team a year ago. Nobody in their right mind believes Chase Daniel is a rare combination of Joe Montana’s accuracy and Steve Young’s elusiveness. Nobody in their right mind believes anything they see on the preseason field, except Denny Green of course, but was he ever in his right mind?
So what mattered?
While Dan Pompei believed Nagy’s decision to rest players sent “the wrong message” and was an example of coaching “scared”, the sideline reflected the exact opposite.
Mitch Trubisky was the game’s loudest cheerleader, especially when it came to the play of his backup. The starters erupted in support of Kevin White’s first touchdown in a Bears uniform. Players like Danny Trevathan and Tarik Cohen were seen rushing to greet their teammates as they came off the field from a successful drive. These guys were engaged and excited. Why?
Because NFL starters, especially veterans, don’t want to play in these games. They don’t want to risk their long-term financial security in physical contests that count neither in the standings nor in the stat column that ultimately determines how many zeroes are on their paychecks.
The opportunity for second-teamers to compete against first-teamers simply doesn’t happen in the structure of an NFL season. It’s rare to even see it on the practice field. But because of it Daniel and the entire organization must have more confidence in his ability to steer the ship should Trubisky miss time? Javon Wims must believe he’s capable of competing against starting NFL talent?
There are 6-7 backups that will be infinitely more confident because of the weekend’s performance.
Did you see the postgame locker room? No? You’re welcome.
Hot football takes aside, Nagy won over the media by standing at the podium post-game and answering questions honestly. He didn’t hide behind platitudes and coachspeak. He told the reporters why he made the decision he made, acknowledging why it was important for them to inquire.
One of the bigger takeaways from Matt Nagy’s postgame press conference: DAMN, is it refreshing for a head coach to answer questions openly and explain his decisions without that air of smug condescension.
— Dan Wiederer (@danwiederer) August 25, 2018
To paraphrase Lyndon Johnson, “When you’ve won Wiederer, you’ve won middle America.”
Do I Like Preseason Now?
But, then again, I’ve never seen a preseason contest bring an organization together like this. And that is what Nagy achieved both intentionally and unintentionally. Will it all be forgotten if the Bears open the season 1-3 and are staring down another losing campaign? Of course. But if that doesn’t happen, this past weekend may be looked upon as the weekend the Nagy Bears became a football team.
Either way, the lead sports columnist of the Chicago Tribune will miss the point.