After my freshman year at Evanston Township High School, where my final tackle football experience was starting center on the “B” team, I froze my 15-year-old behind off on a 50-yard-line wooden seat in Wrigley Field’s upper deck on a 5-degree Sunday in December 1963. I watched as the Bears beat the New York Giants 14-10 for the NFL championship, the team’s last until the glorious 1985 Super Bowl year.
(The single bathroom in our concourse was totally insufficient, I might add.)
My family had those fantastic season ticket seats with a live, sightline equivalent of today’s TV view courtesy of my grandfather, who purchased them in the 1930s. I accompanied Gramps and my dad to every home game from the time I was 10 until I headed off to college eight years later.
After that, I went to home games whenever I was in Chicago up until 2003, when a box office snafu after the Soldier Field makeover relocated us to an end zone, prompting me to give up my season tickets. Since then, I’ve joined the multitude of addicted TV viewers, rarely missing a game and often traversing complicated overland routes to catch December playoff games in remote, warm weather vacation spots with poor reception.
So why am I boring readers with one fan’s experience? Because, like most die-hard fans, I think I know what’s good and bad, smart and dumb, right and wrong, about this year’s team. And because I care, I wanna share, as Bears management heads into a postseason filled with promise and peril.
I’m not an insider like Tribune reporters Brad Biggs, Dan Wiederer or Colleen Kane, who do a great job covering this storied franchise, but I’ve watched enough games, and thought enough after their outcomes, to have opinions that might be worth considering.
I’m not going to talk about draft choices, free agents, cap space or who on the current roster should be re-signed, released or developed. I’ll leave those deep dives to the experts who live with the team day to day.
I will simply focus on the main centers of controversy: quarterback Justin Fields, head coach (and accidental defensive coordinator) Matt Eberflus and offensive coordinator Luke Getsy.
Fields is the most athletic Bears QB since Bobby Douglass a few decades ago: a great runner with a strong arm and good unscripted freelance ability, but a mediocre pocket passer who lacks the preternatural patience and field-scanning instincts of a Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers.
So what to do? Work on pocket improvement? Of course, but it’s already happening and will continue, given better pass receivers, better pass routes and Fields’ estimable work ethic.
But in the meantime, he should play to his strengths, with more rollout run-pass options and frequent use of a no-huddle, hurry-up offense that top colleges use to keep defenses off balance.
If Getsy gets it, he hasn’t shown it, so it’s probably time for an offensive coordinator who does, especially late in games, when poor play selection this past season contributed to several inexcusable meltdown losses, costing the team a playoff spot.
I also blame Eberflus’ defensive approach for those same meltdowns, and here’s why. Stellar defensive units — and the Bears have one most of the time — get tired in the fourth quarter. The pass rush penetrates less, and the defensive backs cover a bit less assuredly, so opposing QBs secure in the pocket complete passes and move their teams down the field.
The obvious remedy, when Cover 2 is vulnerable, is more aggressive stunts and blitzes to throw those QBs off balance. That was lacking in those late collapses, along with the shoddy offensive play calls.
There you have it — one really old fan’s perspective.
I don’t know how general manager Ryan Poles and team President Kevin Warren plan to address these three key pieces of the puzzle, along with the rest of their offseason opportunities.
But my hope, and I feel it from the bottom of my lifelong fan’s heart, is that they keep Fields and support him with offensive coaching that can maximize and elevate his incredible talent, and defensive game plans that make opposing quarterbacks run scared instead of sitting back and calmly picking the secondary apart.
On to 2024!
Andy Shaw has been a lifelong Chicago sports fan, in addition to holding down day jobs as a journalist and good government advocate.