The Chicago Bears last won a championship on January 26, 1986. In the 28 years since, the Bears have been back to the conference championship game three times (1988, 2006, 2010) but have returned to the Super Bowl only once (2006).
It's a well-known fact that the revered '85 Bears are still local (and national) legends who are treated like kings and get decent endorsement deals all these decades since their glory. That's all fine and good, but fans are getting more and more anxious for a new Bears team to knock the '85 squad off its pedestal.
The Bears franchise has been through a lot in those 28 years since the '85 season culminated. They're on their fourth head coach (Dave Wannstedt, Dick Jauron, Lovie Smith and Marc Trestman) and their sixth "general manager" (Bill Tobin, Wannstedt [de facto GM], Rod Graves, Mark Hatley, Jerry Angelo and now Phil Emery).
The Bears have also had two members of the McCaskey family at the helm of the board of directors since '85, too. Ed McCaskey gave up the chairman job to Michael in 1999, who turned it over to George in 2011.
George, in my opinion, has really shaken up Halas Hall for the better since taking over. He ousted Jerry Angelo and sent the message that the status quo wasn't going to be good enough. After Phil Emery was brought in, Emery was given control of the football side of things and got the full support of George to fire Lovie Smith and go in a new direction.
The Bears just finished year one under Marc Trestman and Emery. Things did not going swimmingly but the future is bright.
It's arguably the most bright it's been since 2005-2007. In the post-Ditka era there was not much winning but Lovie Smith did change that, however the consistency was not there and so now the Bears have turned to Trestman.
How close are the Bears?
Last year they were 8-8 with a top two scoring offense in the league. it's fantastic but the defense now needs to be rebuilt. The answer to the question at hand likely comes down to how quickly you believe the defense can be retooled.
Let's make a short checklist of what a team needs to win a Super Bowl:
1) Top-flight offense: Check - Year one of the Trest Coast Offense was a success and I have yet to hear of someone who does not think Trestman's offense is capable of winning a championship. The pieces of that offense are there: a solid offensive line, elite playmaking receivers and a dynamic running back.
2) Franchise quarterback: Check - Obviously this is a source of much debate and argument but for better or worse Emery and Trestman believe he is the franchise QB; the future of the team, and their jobs, are tied to whether or not they're right.
3) Solid defense: Uncheck - Obviously this is the element missing for the Bears right now. What all they need, though, is a source of debate. They need to re-tool the defensive line but is that a matter of getting healthy (Henry Melton, Turk McBride and Nate Collins all missed parts of the season) or restart it by drafting at least one DT and DE? Do they need another cornerback and two safeties, or can they get by with what they have at safety if the CBs and DL is improved? The scheme is a whole other argument too. Should they go hybrid 3-4/4-3, go all 3-4 or go stick to a 4-3?
4) Solid coaching: Uncheck - Trestman for the most part was good in his first season at the NFL level but there were some moments that called his decision-making into question. Can he make the adjustments in year two? Is his choice to stay with Mel Tucker going to be his undoing or will he prove doubtful fans wrong by sticking to his first hire?
5) Solid drafting: Uncheck - Emery has had some hits in his first two drafts (Alshon Jeffery, Kyle Long) and some misses and questionable calls (Shea McClellin, Jonathan Bostic, Brandon Hardin). Can Emery put together a great draft of day one and two prospects that can contribute early? This will be essential in getting the team to a championship level. It will be especially important this year in getting the defense back into shape.
Now, some of those unchecked items could be argued the other way but I have left them unchecked because I believe we need to see more evidence before the boxes can be checked off.
Personally I think the Bears are at least a year away. A team like the 2013 New Orleans Saints proved that a defense can be rebuilt in an offseason with solid drafting and better coaching. However, this defense needs a lot of re-working and whether Mel Tucker is the right guy remains to be seen. I believe Trestman will make the right strides in his coaching decisions but that needs to be seen, too. Emery has proven he can draft well but he's also out-thought himself with some picks as well.
I think that with good health and a solid offseason the Bears can make 2014 a building block season that can set up a championship run in 2015. Beyond that it will rely a lot on Jay Cutler's health and the pieces that are around him.
With the right moves the Bears can set themselves up to have a three-year window for a Super Bowl, and hopefully with more building they will be in contention for years to come.
How close do you think the Bears are to a championship? How big is their window?