Eight long, long years ago — back when teenagers used Facebook, Steve Jobs had just unveiled the iPad, and Joe Paterno, Bill O’Reilly and Bill Cosby were still men of stature — the greater Chicago region was abuzz with playoff fever as the Chicago Bears marched into January rather than disappearing into it.
Mark Zuckerberg was your reigning Time magazine Person of the Year and Jay Leno was in the final stages of screwing Conan O’Brien out of “The Tonight Show.” Seth Rogan as “The Green Hornet” was your No. 1 movie at the box office. Yes, January 2011 wasn’t exactly a lifetime ago, but it really was.
During the past near-decade of wandering in the wilderness, the Bears probably lost untold thousands if not millions of potential fans, and not just adults wrestling with things like the NFL’s concussion crisis and the general disillusionment of midlife.
Also distancing themselves from the fan base were teenagers who went through elementary school and into high school surrounded by the success of teams from upper Wisconsin and suburban Boston.
On top of that, all of us have cousins or friends in their 30s who grew up in the ‘90s and, if they didn’t hop aboard the Brett Favre bandwagon, they adopted the successful teams of that decade — the Jimmy Johnson Cowboys and/or the Steve Young 49ers. The Bears of Dave Krieg and Curtis Enos could not compete for the hearts and minds of success-minded children with no memory of Super Bowl XX.
But now it is January 2019, and the Bears, suddenly and surprisingly, are actually good, maybe even very much so. Certainly good enough to both participate in and host a real, live playoff game.
To once again quote the late work of John Lennon, strange days indeed. Most peculiar, Mama. Whoa.
For all you young people out there — assuming your interests haven’t been permanently secured by the Apple, Android or Playstation universes — we need to set the stage for what this looming adventure or misadventure is all about. Here are your alphabetically ordered cheat codes for being a Bears fan in the rarefied air that follows New Year’s Day:
“Da Bears”: The key phrase in a parody of simple-minded, obnoxious fandom that aired on “Saturday Night Live” more than a quarter-century ago but is still considered cutting-edge humor by guys over 50.
Ditka: Speaking of worn-out nostalgia, this is the former coach who is still worshiped by some acolytes despite a 2-4 record in his final six home playoff games. This is mentioned here only to warn you that home-field advantage sometimes means nothing in the postseason, even if you think it should.
Nagy: According to veteran NFL writer Peter King and others who have addressed the matter directly with Bears coach Matt Nagy, this surname is pronounced “Neggy.” Do not play a drinking game for the number of times it is mispronounced as “Naggy” or any other variant uttered by paid announcers.
Philadelphia Eagles: The defending Super Bowl champions and their mojo-possessing quarterback are the opposing team on Sunday. Those of us who remember the surprising division-champion Bears getting spanked at home by a more experienced Eagles team in January 2002 are concerned about the Shakespearean phrase “past is prologue.”
Soldier Field: Not “Soldier’s,” but don’t argue with Drunk Uncle.
Super Bowl LIII: The archaic manner of numbering the NFL’s championship game, because Arabic numerals are so 15th century.
Trubisky: No, it does not have the letter N in there, but the aforementioned uncle will probably include one if and when “Trubin-sky” makes a young-player mistake.
Wild Card Round: It sounds like something on a Wink Martindale game show from when your grandparents watched TV on a Quasar, but the only important thing to know here is that if your team loses, they go home with no lovely parting gifts.
But wait. A review of the above observations reveals a distinct air of cynicism. Perhaps this is because of past one-and-done playoff disasters — see also: Bears vs. Eagles in 1979 — or because the last time the Bears played beyond the first week of January … well, you can Google that result if it’s not burned into your book of nightmares.
On the other hand, maybe we’re on the verge of a joyride — a run of success that will find reporters across the metropolitan area searching their communities for stories about, say, a husband and wife whose bedroom is a shrine to the Bears or a superfan who has his entire body covered in Bears tattoos.
Maybe there will eventually be stories about the mayor of Lake Forest making a Super Bowl wager with the mayor of the community that hosts the opposing team’s training facility; about how many calories the average fan consumes at a Super Bowl party (3,000); or about the residents of a local nursing home writing and performing updated lyrics to “The Super Bowl Shuffle.”
All of those things and more were the subjects of news stories way, way back in late January and early February of 2007, which would be the last time the Chicago Bears made real noise in the postseason.
For now, let’s focus on how much we all enjoyed the first part of that Super Bowl XLI joyride and hope that is duplicated. We’ll leave aside all negative thoughts about how the frigid opening weeks of 2007 turned out.