The Chicago Bears are feeling the pressure of the national spotlight


Jay Cutler’s expression in this picture is all you need to know about the state of the Bears this week.

If there is one thing everyone seeks in life, it’s respect. The Bears have had the respect of Chicagoans for years.

But many fans like myself have found it baffling that year in and year out, the Bears would get no respect or media attention nationally. Maybe that has something to do with only 3 playoff trips in Lovie Smith’s tenure (9 years).

At any rate, I was always confused by why a legendary, large market team like the Bears never got the attention like their marquee counterparts the Dallas Cowboys or New York Jets have over the years.

It’s not like either of those teams have had that many more playoff appearances than the Bears in the same time period (Dallas: 4, New York: 4). And the Bears have made deep playoff runs in 2 of those playoff appearances, including a Super Bowl birth in 2006. The same thing can’t be said for the Cowboys or the Jets.

I understand the point of playing in the NFL is not to grab the most attention, it’s to win football games. But considering the stats I just presented, I’ve always been irked by the lack of attention paid to the Bears on a national scale.

Over the years, the Bears have been a footnote on the national map. The only time I remember them being a trendy pick to succeed was in 2007, the year after their Super Bowl appearance.

I thought every team in Chicago, the greatest city on earth, deserves at least moderate national attention purely out of respect. Seems to happen in New York; why not us?

Heading into this season, aided by the addition of Brandon Marshall, national recognition came like a whirlwind to the Windy City. All of the sudden, the Bears were the team with that “it” factor before playing a single down in the regular season.

Their week 1 success against the Colts ramped up the hype to a whole other level. There was speculation flowing in from national outlets wondering if the Bears might just be good enough to unseat the Packers as division champs. Maybe Jay Cutler can throw for 4000+ yards and have that elite season we’ve been waiting for.

Finally. The Bears were now getting the praise and attention I felt they deserved.

But maybe it was too much pressure; too much attention all at one time. I’m not blaming the terrible performance against the Packers on the suddenly sky-high expectations that people now had for the Bears. It was even clear that the players enjoyed all of this newfound attention based on how much they were running their lips heading into last Thursday night’s game.

It was cool to finally see the Bears talking the talk, but they couldn’t walk the walk.

Now the Bears are left to deal with the bad side of being media darlings. Just like how every positive performance equates to unicorns and rainbows, every negative performance is put under a microscope and dissected until you’re nauseous from hearing about it.

Take the Jay Cutler – J’Marcus Webb altercation, for instance. If this same thing were to happen in 2008, we’d be well beyond the point of discussing the fallout from the incident. The players would get over it, the fans would get over it, and nobody would blow it out of proportion.

Now the Bears are squarely in the national spotlight. No matter what channel I turn to on the TV or radio, or what sports website I go to, there are headlines about the infamous bump that happened a week ago:

“Did J’Marcus react the right way?” “Should Jay apologize?” “Did you hear what D.J. Moore said about Cutler?” Or, my personal favorite: “Is the Bear’s locker room becoming divided?”

Now the Bears have to suffer through the extended week of preparation with all of this turmoil plastered in their face. They have to monitor what they say to the media for fear of exaggerating the problem. They can no longer solely focus on football because they have to worry about protecting their pubic image.

So while having the respect that comes along with national coverage may seem rewarding when things are going good, it can’t outweigh the distractions it creates when things are going bad.

Look at the teams I mentioned as the nation’s perennial attention getters: the Cowboys, and the Jets. Almost every year, the media gives them ridiculous amounts of attention, and as a result America has had a front row seat of them falling short of expectations.

I’ve come to change my stance on this respect issue.

I wanted the Bears to be given respect just because of their history and the market they play in. But these past few days have convinced me to take my own ego out of the situation, as a fan, and realize the Bears still have a lot of work to do to EARN the respect and attention they’ve now been given by the national media.

Week 3 has turned into a turning point for the season. Raise your hand if you circled this matchup against the Rams in September as your defining game for the season… Yeah, me neither.

With the constant attention on the Bears (specifically Cutler), I expect every game from here on out to have an enhanced sense of urgency. They can win more than their fair share if they play up to their potential, but now every game will be seen as a “must win”. In my opinion, that might be too much for this Bears team to handle.

I hope I’m wrong.

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