Outside of the Bears, my only other serious sports fandom belongs to the wayward New York Knicks. The Knicks only flash of national relevance in the last twenty years was quickly snuffed out by a ballhog unwilling to share the limelight. The team has drafted in the top ten for the last three years and only missed it in 2014 because they had traded their pick away for the chance to get Carmelo Anthony a few months before free agency. When the reports came out in the summer of 2017 that Phil Jackson was shopping Kristaps Porzingis because he didn’t show up for an exit interview (really), I hit the point where I seriously considered resigning my allegiance to the team. That was a bridge too far.
I mention all this because I know what the hopelessness of fandom can feel like.
That’s what confused me so much throughout this Bears season. Despite winning nearly every week it felt like all I was seeing (from both Bears fans and the national media) were questions about the quarterback. While life has interfered with my Bears fandom over the last few years, Nagy, Mack, Hicks, Cohen, and, of course, Trubisky, made it fun to watch the team again this season. I didn’t miss a game on TV, I taught my three year old “Bear Down, Chicago Bears” (it’s very cute), and I read all the Bears coverage I could find every Monday morning for the past 19 weeks.
Sports are entertainment and this team was nothing if not entertaining. So what’s the point in trying to pick apart a kid who holds the keys to a decade of possible relevance? I trust Jeff and the rest of the crew here are going to spend quite a bit of time breaking down the game, the season, and what’s in store for the next nine months, so I thought I’d spend a bit of time trying to get inside the head of the fans who love to hate Trubisky.
Here are my three best guesses for why people feel the need to pick apart a player who offers them their greatest hope for football salvation:
Protection From Disappointment
This is the most understandable reason, but then why be a fan? The difference between liking a sport and liking a team is whether you feel something when your guys win and lose. For the past 10 years in the NBA I’ve liked the sport more than the Knicks. It’s fun, I watch a bunch of games on League Pass, but there’s no real emotion there. I wanted LeBron to beat the Warriors, but I didn’t care when he didn’t. We are human and we crave feelings, both good and bad. It makes some sense to try and protect your emotions by playing down the hope, but if you really care about the team you’re going to lose that game with yourself.
I think this is another possible explanation. Fantasy has been an incredible boon for the sport of football, but it’s also diluted fandom. I honestly believe a lot of the national media who were haranguing Trubisky throughout the season were following his fantasy stats, disappointed with the inconsistency week to week. That’s fine, but it’s a different game than the one on the field.
Blaming Mitch For Being #2
Expectations are a pain in the ass. We often can’t control them and they actually effect the way we experience things. Lots of studies have shown people enjoy cheap wine more when tasting blind and the expensive stuff when the blindfold is off. It’s not that we are tricking ourselves, it’s that our expectations can fundamentally alter the way our brain interprets things.
Mitchell didn’t chose to be the second pick in the draft. Ryan Pace made that choice, clearly thinking he had the talent to be a quarterback worthy of that price. And while it’s perfectly reasonable those expectations would color the way we feel about him, it doesn’t mean it’s fair. Ten years ago Trubisky might have sat behind a vet for two or three years before he was put on the field, but that’s not the world we live in anymore. The second pick and everything we traded to get it is a sunk cost. It doesn’t matter anymore. The only question that matters is did he do enough to win on Sunday and in all but four games this season the answer was “yes”. (And he probably did enough to win Sunday as well.)
So what do I take away from this season…?
First off, let’s all remember why we do this. When Jeff and I started this site almost 15 years ago it was because it’s fun to watch and talk about football. This year was damn fun. Khalil Mack is a monster. Akiem Hicks is as close as I’ve seen to a real-life bear in Soldier Field. Tarik Cohen can break one off in a way that only Hester could in recent memory. Eddie Jackson and Kyle Fuller might take the ball out of the air at any moment. Roquan Smith looks like he might be the next great Bears linebacker. Nagy is probably going to win coach of the year. Ryan Pace could discover another All-Pro in the fourth round.
And Sunday, when it mattered most, the Bears quarterback marched his team down the field and put them in a position to win the biggest game of his life. In his second year in the league. In his first year in a new offense. Without one of his most potent weapons throughout the season. And I was sitting in Soldier Field again, after a long hiatus, screaming for the Bears with one of my best friends.
To win in sports you need a competent owner, an executive who makes the right moves, a coach who can scheme and motivate the team, a bunch of luck, and, most importantly, players who can win. If you take that as your checklist it’s hard to feel good about the Knicks and easy to feel amazing about the Bears. Will they do it again next year? I don’t know, maybe not. But I’m excited to see them try and I’m hoping like anything that Trubisky picks up where he left off when the final whistle sounded Sunday night.
Noah started DaBearsBlog with Jeff and now mostly does tech support when WordPress decides to do something stupid. He writes about media, technology, and other random stuff at NoahBrier.com and is on Twitter at @heyitsnoah.