The Saturday Night Live Super Fans bit will never die; I am grudgingly resigned to accepting that reality. You would think, as comedy is an extremely time sensitive medium that an early ’90s SNL bit about dysfunctional obsession with sports/deification of sports heroes would eventually become stale, but whatever.
The “DA BEARS!!!!” routine doesn’t seem to ever die, regardless of the countless times it’s re-hashed, re-booted, re-worked, but anyway. The important thing is that each time it is, the mythology around Mike Ditka continues growing. For those with just a cursory knowledge of Iron Mike, and football in general, he’s the greatest football coach of all time, the absolute paradigm of rough, tough manliness.
For those of us who are up on the Bears every week, who keep current with the National Football League, who make free NFL picks ahead of every Sunday, Ditka is simply an anachronistic pitchman, Hey, props to the man for taking one accomplishment, from 30 years ago, and keeping himself relevant off of it.
Also, much love to a man who can somehow plug every single product on the face of the planet, while also standing firmly on the wrong side of history on just about every single social issue. As Jay-Z would say “being broke is childish, and I’m quite grown,” so I do respect Ditka’s hustle for product pitching.
It’s especially noteworthy because corporations hate controversy, and being controversial is often a quick and easy way to lose your endorsements, but somehow that rule doesn’t seem to apply to him.
Overall, however, Ditka is not really that interesting a persona, so we need to move past him, on to someone who is. The Chicago Bears, as a franchise, have struggled on many fronts with progress.
They honestly never had a modern passing game until the mid ’90s, when Ron Turner’s scheme, led by QB Erik Kramer and WRs Jeff Graham and Curtis Conway, finally brought them up to speed in regards to a passing attack.
And the Bears QB history is so brutally awful that Jay Cutler, regardless of your opinion of him as a field general, or as a human being, is the greatest passer in franchise history. So the new identity of the franchise will not be a QB, and with that not a wideout either.
Walter Payton is in some ways the true identity of the franchise, but tragically, he was taken from us way too young. It’s been 20 years already, and in my world, I cannot own a Bears jersey unless it’s Payton #34; period. He’s the franchise’s all time greatest player, as the Bears 100 poll said, and the most iconic. He will always be my all-time favorite player.
In terms of living former Bears, my favorite is the same guy who also just happens to be the greatest pass defender in franchise history- Charles “Peanut” Tillman. Defense is a big part of the franchise’s identity. As is the running game, but there is obviously no non-Payton option considerable. And honestly, it’s near impossible for the Bears to have a running back like that again.
And since their passing game has been so brutal, why not go with the greatest cornerback/pass defender/turnover maker in the long history of the Monsters of the Midway. (Thank you @Frustrated_Fan for the suggestion here)
Like the cliche says, “it’s a passing driven league.” And with Tillman being the purveyor of the Peanut Punch, he’s regarded as one of the best all-time at forcing turnovers, an extremely important part of the game.
Just think of every single “keys to the game” segment that’s every been produced. Every single one, by Federal statue, must include “win the turnover battle.”
More importantly, Tillman is more than just a great cover corner and future Hall of Famer. He’s a great person, who does great work for charity. He has character, and he’s a man who has truly conquered adversity. Actual, real life genuine adversity, not the b.s. you hear constantly during football season.
Trailing in a game is not adversity, the sleepless nights and health scares that he dealt with when his daughter was just an infant, is. And all of the good that Tillman does with the Cornerstone Foundation is a narrative that really goes overlooked.
Here’s to hoping that more attention is brought to the current FBI agent’s good works with his philanthropic endeavors. Having attended a couple of Tillman’s fund-raisers, and having conducted several exclusive interviews with the man, I can tell you that he is the perfect public face for the Bears; NOT Ditka.
Peanut needs to be the ambassador moving forward, so let’s STOP GIVING OXYGEN to the Ditka and “Da Bears” meatheaderry.
Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, the author of “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” regularly appears on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation.
You can follow Banks, a former writer for NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com on Twitter here and his cat on Instagram at this link.
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