Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011
By Joe Collins
Moments after the last episode of Seinfeld aired on May 14, 1998, critics blasted the performance. TV and entertainment pundits labeled it as a shabby, weak performance that wasted a lot of potential. The living room onlookers thought the same, saying that it never came close to meeting expectations. My reaction was the same.
But every time that I have watched that final episode in syndicated rerun form, I have come to respect it a little more. No, not because the episode was funny (it's still lukewarm compared to, say, any episode from the '94-'95 season), but because of what it represented: an unexpected smash hit that had sustained success for quite some time -- much longer than anyone, including their competitors, had predicted.
You know, kind of like this Bears season.
People didn't take Seinfeld seriously until the fourth season, and even that wasn't saying much because the show barely dented the top 30 in Nielsen's weekly rankings that year. In the fifth season (midseason in football terms, if you will), the show took off. The Bears had a somewhat similar fate. Their season began as "a show about nothing," more or less. Vegas gave them a 401 chance on winning the Super Bowl. Not exactly a lot of expectations right off the bat. Then the Bears got a season-opening win against the Lions thanks to a fluke call. The 3-0 start didn't do much to get people excited, especially after a crushing defeat in New York the week after. Two losses going into the bye week didn't help either. Then the Bears took off: five straight wins, including a convincing victory over the Eagles. A first place title in the NFC North followed, followed by a home playoff victory against Seattle.
Then all hell broke loose. The Bears lost their starting quarterback, lost the game, lost the shot at the Super Bowland some fans lost their minds in the process -- especially when Todd Collins started taking snaps. Talk about entering the bizarro world, you know? Jay Cutler immediately took the role of Newman (fair or not) and 20 hours of injury PR damage control ensued. Tweets and Facebook status updates blew up at several points during the game:
The Bears (stink)! We are who they thought they were!"That bike won't get you to Dallas, Jay!"You guys are ruining it for Chicago and everybody else south of Wisconsin!"Put Moses Moreno in!Epic failurethanks for choking!
The Bears stink? Seriously? An epic failure? Really? Im not sure if I buy all that. Based on the social network updates, you would have thought the Bears were 1-15. The Twitterverse was also on fire just after video surfaced of Jay Cutlers jersey getting, ahem, torched. Have we all lost our minds?
We have become a society that is so reactionary, so irritable, so -- pardon the pun -- knee-jerk when it comes to the way we respond to certain stimuli in the sports world. Lets face it: the Bears, a great team, were beaten by the an even better one on Sunday. No question about it. Tip your hat and salute our northern neighbors. Did we forget that the Bears were playing with house money since the first game this season? It is said that, sometimes it is better to be lucky than good. Yes, the Bears were goodgreat even. The offensive line rebounded after a horrendous start. The running game was solid and the passing game eventually found rhythm. The defense dominated at times. The special teams unit was nothing short of elite. But how many strokes of luck did they get this year? 10? 20? How many times can a team claim they went up against threethreethird string quarterbacks? And even if Cutler hadnt injured his knee, do you think he could have carried the already-wounded Bears to the promised land? Im not so sureespecially the way the Packers Ginsued their way through the Bears defense in the first half. The Bears could have easily been down 21-0 or worseheading into halftime.
The Bears had a great season. It was a nice run. The last game was a stink bomb. And I know that the exit from the playoffs was a painful one, especially given the opponent. The hype was tremendous and the loss was nothing short of ulcer-causing. But we need to realize that the Bears had a great season that completely surpassed expectations. When you were watching the Bears stagger through a winless preseason, did you envision them in the NFC Championship? When you saw Cutler get squeegeed by the Giants defense in the Meadowlands, did you think the Bears would be a late drive (or two) away from a ticket to Dallas?
One can only hope the Bears answer the call next year. The pressure to win will be enormous. Anything less than an NFC Championship would be considered a failure. But if this Bears team has shown us anything, its resiliency and the power to overcome any kind of adversityespecially from us in the media that sunk the team at 6-10 before they took one regular season snap. We should look back at this season, not with anger at the finale, but with joy on a run that few thought possible. I know that's easier said than done today, especially with Bears fans questioning the leadership of the starring role behind center. The Bears -- and especially Cutler -- can and should rebound. Let's hope, anyway.
Maybe they will start off with a few wins next year andyada yada yadatheyre in the Super Bowl.
Or something like that.