The Tournament of Books  |   A champion is decided as The Good Lord Bird meets Life After Life

Ads via The Deck

End Zone

The Bears Stink

The Bears Stink
Credit: discosour

Change is hard, for football teams no less than people. In fact, the only thing harder than making substantive changes may be convincing others that you’re really, truly different. My therapist says it’s possible. Still, it’s not hard to see why Chicago fans, after years of humiliation and heartbreak at the Bears’ hands, might, impressive facts on the ground aside, still be skeptical of their 6-1 team.

Two weeks ago, Grantland’s Bill Barnwell ranked the Bears as the NFL’s best team. His argument began with a single sentence that speaks volumes: “Yes, that’s right, the Bears.”

Yes, that’s right, the Bears, whose only Super Bowl win is best remembered as being preceded by what Wikipedia charitably characterizes as a “rap song.” Sure, they went on to crush the Patriots 46-10, but neither that nor their 15-1 regular season record can hold a candle to the musical stylings on display in “Super Bowl Shuffle.” If you needed further proof of running back Walter Peyton’s moves—or a visual reminder of classic ’80s sunglasses fashion—look no further. Peyton appears to be one of very few members of the Bears team who knows how to find and keep a beat; quarterback Jim McMahon’s verse includes a disclaimer about his lack of dancing abilities.

But in the years since, “We’re so bad we know it’s good” has become prophetic; few other teams are so very good at being bad at precisely the wrong time. In 10 trips to the playoffs since their 1985 season, the team has made it back to the Super Bowl just once, in 2006. The result: a disappointing loss against the Colts.

So even though the Bears walked into Soldier Field first in the NFC North at 5-1—this is largely the result of their superlative defense; cornerback Tim Jennings is leading the league with six interceptions, and he ran one of his two picks on Sunday back for a crucial touchdown—their ugly, come-from-behind victory against a 1-5 team they were supposed to steamroll wasn’t a surprise. Instead, as usual, a relatively sound Bears team was having an allergic reaction to success. It was somehow fitting that when the Bears walked off the field at halftime, trailing 13-7, their own fans were booing them.

After the game, quarterback Jay Cutler, who is perhaps used to hostile crowd reactions, seemed unfazed. “I’d boo us, too,” he said. “I told those guys it was a boo-worthy performance, if you will. It’s pathetic offensively what we put out there. It wasn’t up to standard product-wise. So we’ve got to get better. We know that, the fans know that.”

Cutler is not the most popular quarterback in the NFL—partly because of his erratic performance, partly because of his apathetic facial expressions; there’s a blog, Smokin’ Jay Cutler, devoted to photoshopping cigarettes into pictures of the quarterback looking particularly dull. Cutler’s bored frat boy image is certainly not helped by stories like this one, or the incredibly lazy one-finger twirl that he uses to hurry his team to the line of scrimmage.

Still: Anecdotal evidence that Cutler is kind of a bro doesn’t mean we can blame him for the disaster of the Bears’ first three quarters against the Panthers. Despite Cutler’s two fumbles and one interception—his passer rating at the half was 18.1, which is comically low—the popular narrative that blames him for the Bears’ offensive woes is one I refuse to buy into.

Because Cutler was also sacked six times in the first two quarters, resulting in a bizarre -15 yards passing at halftime. That’s something his offensive line should be feeling guilty about—especially since those hits probably hurt more than usual following this brutal pummeling last week. His receivers continue to drop or miss well placed passes: Brandon Marshall failed to grab two catchable balls in a row in the second quarter; tight end Matt Spaeth dropped a pass later in the same series; Devin Hester dropped a pass in the third quarter. The most animated Cutler looked the whole game was after the Bears incurred a false start penalty on third down in the fourth quarter; he spiked the ball, with palpable disgust at the careless error.

Cutler was impressive on the last drive, taking the Bears over 50 yards with a two and a half minutes remaining, to set up the game-winning field goal. But going six for seven at the end of the fourth quarter won’t change his reputation, and this unimpressive win won’t change the Bears’ either.

At least Bears fans know what they’re getting into; they don’t want or expect too much sympathy. As a with the user name “Shady” commented at Da Bears Blog during the first half, “If the Bears are going to lose today, this is how they would do it.” Maybe Cutler’s apathy is just a Chicagoland defense mechanism.

And while the Bears won this week, a catastrophic loss can’t be too far behind. And when the season does end in tears and bitter recrimination, fans won’t have anyone to blame but themselves for letting those bumbling Bears back into their hearts and homes.

Miranda Popkey is on the editorial staff of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. She blogs about her love for Brett Favre (and occasionally other things) here. More by Miranda Popkey