It’s the first Sunday of the NFL season, and I’m scared.
I’ve noticed in recent years that my emotional state in the fall has grown inextricably linked to the successes and failures of the Chicago Bears. I am no longer a casual fan watching with casually detached interest. I no longer watch football on Sunday afternoons with the remove of a fan watching a TV show. I am slowly but surely crossing the line into superfandom. When the Bears win, it brings both climax and catharsis to my week. No matter what else might be bringing me down, I can go to bed Sunday night with the assurance that all is momentarily right with the world. When the Bears lose, the frustration follows me the rest of the day and haunts me into the night. I wake up Monday morning wound up and already desperate for next Sunday to get here already so I can get some release.
And when the losses start to mount? When a game becomes a streak?
You’re probably better off asking my wife about that.
Better yet, don’t. I don’t want her to get mad at me.
Anyway…I suppose I can trace it all back to 2011. We’d been spoiled the previous season, watching a stalwart defense and stellar special teams buoy an emerging offense en route to the NFC Championship game. The team got better and better as the season went on, and they were only an injury away from playing in the Super Bowl.
If Jay Cutler finishes that game, the Bears win. Just sayin’.
When the 2011 season finally arrived, it came bearing otherworldly expectations. And the season seemed to follow the same blueprint as the year before. The Bears started slow, hit some bumps in the road early, but made steady improvements every week. By mid-season, they were systematically dismantling some excellent teams. They were hot, and they looked like legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
Then…disaster. Injuries to Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, and Johnny Knox devastated the offense and cost the team the season.
And that season nearly cost me my sanity.
Watching as the losses added up and the odds of making the playoffs continued to shrink became a weekly exercise in anger and misery. By the time the playoff window finally closed for good on Christmas night (irony), my emotional nerve endings were already fried and I was nearly numb.
The 2012 season was more of the same, although this time it was the defense that caught the injury bug and collapsed late in the year. Not that the offense did much to help.
Then there was 2013. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you already know how I feel about 2013.
But here’s what really worries me. The wife, a psych major with a Masters in School Counseling, pointed out that I seem to be projecting my issues with my own football team onto my favorite pro team. In other words, the Bears have started bearing the brunt of my frustrations with my own players. The line between coach and fan has grown increasingly hazy.
In 2010, we had a lot of talent but it never fully jelled. We finished the year 9-2, but got dominated in our second-round playoff game. In the end, we were never anywhere near as good as we should have been. In a lot of ways, losing was a relief. Still, the after-effects of 11 weeks of stress and frustration lingered. Thank God for that 2010 playoff run.
In 2011, we were even more talented. And all the pieces seemed to come together. We were winning games by an average of 30+ points, and we beat the eventual 8A state champion (at their place, no less) on the road to a 9-0 regular season. The wheels came off in a second-round playoff game that we lost 7-0 at home to a moderately talented but very well-coached 6-3 team. Our team was undone by its biggest playmakers’ own egos. We were finished long before we should have been, and the Bears were all I had left. Watching them find new and more pathetic ways to come unglued each week compounded my sorrows to the point that my family could hardly stand to be around me on Sundays.
2012 was our state final run. We lost 10-8 in Champaign. It was the one black mark on an otherwise perfect season spent coaching an amazing group of kids. But it was followed by an inexplicable meltdown that kept the Bears out of the post-season and cost Lovie Smith his job.
Last year, our defense was never as good as it should have been. And that defense let us down in the state quarterfinals. Critical breakdowns in the closing minutes cost us a late lead and, ultimately, our season. We racked up a lot of wins, but we lost to every good team we played. Sound familiar, Bears fans?
And now, the 2014 season is less than three hours away. I’m not coaching this year, but is that going to make things better or worse? Without a team of my own, I don’t have any emotional baggage to bring with me on Sunday afternoons. At the same time, the Bears are now my one and only outlet as far as football is concerned. Is this season going to be easier since I can no longer project my own professional issues onto my favorite professional team? Or is it just going to get harder since the Bears are now my sole emotional investment in football?
I guess only time will tell. I’ll let you know how it all plays out.
As always, thanks for reading.
And GO BEARS!