We got apathy, my friends. That’s right we got apathy here in the Windy City. With a capital A, and that rhymes with J and that stands for Just Get this F’n Season Over With.
John Patrick Shanley’s brilliant play Doubt opens with a simple line that sets the ideological foundation for the entire evening: “What do you do when you don’t know?” A similar question can be asked for the current state of the Bears fan base: “What do you do when you don’t care?”
(Okay, that’s two theatre references in two paragraphs. I think that’s enough.)
Justin Fields was the antidote to apathy this season. Every game he played, every snap he took, allowed fans to commit emotionally because Fields is going to be the quarterback of the Chicago Bears for at least the next several seasons. His development, his flash plays, were all that 2021 was supposed to be about and those moments would provide hope for 2022 and beyond. To a large extent, they have. Fields has a long way to go but he has shown the kind of excitement he can bring to this organization, under the right tutelage.
Without him, what were fans left with to care about?
- The team is out of contention. There’s no potential playoff berth with which to concern oneself.
- The head coach will not be here next season so the performance of the roster under his leadership – on both sides of the ball – is inconsequential. By and large, we know who is good, who is not good, and who will be interesting to watch under new coaches.
- Does it really matter how the young players – Kmet, Mooney, Borom, etc. – develop in this failed program? Is it even development? If they don’t fit what the next coach wants to do offensively, they may not even be on the team. Investing in hypotheticals is not an exciting proposition.
- Injuries have ravaged them. What started at left tackle this summer has permeated the rest of the roster. It could still be fun to watch the Bears defend Aaron Rodgers with Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks out there but without them?
Fans want to care, even when the team isn’t winning. That crowd in Seattle was passionately supporting the Seahawks Sunday as they fought the Niners for their fourth win of the season. Why? Because they still have emotional stock in a coach and quarterback who have brought them tons of success. The Lions fans that showed up in Detroit Sunday were in tears as they beat the Vikings for their first win of the year. Why? Because they hope against hope this will be the coach who rights the ship, and it all starts with that first victory.
But this coach is righting any ships. He is weeks (if not days) from walking the plank. And not only has he been unsuccessful as the head coach, but his offenses have been wildly unentertaining. (Most of the Fields-based entertainment had little to do with Matt Nagy.) Every one of us knows exactly what we’re going to see when whatever non-Fields plays quarterback. And every one of us knows it’s going to be a long, boring failure. How is it possible to commit emotionally to an athletic contest when the outcome is negatively predetermined?
Being apathetic about the remainder of the 2021 campaign doesn’t mean one doesn’t care about the Chicago Bears. But caring about meaningless games is not some fan badge of honor. Fact is, “the Chicago Bears” will look vastly different – from top to bottom – in December of 2021 than September of 2022. And that’s when their next meaningful game will be played.
Now, Fields is back. Sunday night, in Green Bay. The apathy will recede. Will the result matter? No. But the fans will care far more with the quarterback is back on the field.