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The Chicago Bears' Real Tradition is Change

Forget the talk about Chicago being an old school football town. When you really dig into the legendary moments of the franchise's history, innovation is what paved the way for success.

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Sitting at 2-5, the Chicago Bears need to focus on getting ready for the San Diego Chargers on Monday night. Fans of the Chicago Bears, on the other hand, are left with a full week—plus a few extra hours—during which we can analyze and discuss how the game got away from the team. We can lament plays that should have been prevented, and we can wish for plays to turn out differently. In short, we can dwell on the past and hope for the future. We can also ask ourselves how we feel about the changes to "our" Bears.

Change is tough for Chicago fans.

It's not too surprising that fans of one of the oldest franchises in the NFL find themselves thinking about history, but some of the best moments for the Chicago Bears have come from innovations, not tradition. Thus, while I find it a little strange that the Bears are running a "wild bear" formation from time to time, I am all for the effort if it works. Likewise, when I see that Jay Cutler does significantly better in a no-huddle offense (his passer rating climbs from 84.7 to 92.4, and his TD/Int ratio improves from less than 1.4:1 to 5:1), I wonder why the Bears don't try it more often.

I sometimes feel like there's a group of fans who don't want things to change, though. Like there are Bears fans who still feel like the team can't be ‘true' to its history if it doesn't do things in the "traditional,' manner, which seems to mean putting defense before offense and...well, that's where things fall apart, because while Chicago does have some pretty strong traditions, one of its most important traditions is innovation.

For example, it's not uncommon this year to encounter fans who are upset about the Bears adopting a 3-4 defensive system. Before Fangio arrived, there were posters on Windy City Gridiron who claimed that because the Bears had invented the middle linebacker position, it would be a shame to seem them adopt the 3-4.


Because the Bears were successful with one change or innovation they should not continue to change or to innovate? That's so bizarre I have trouble understanding it. So, rather than dwell on the immediate past (Sunday, November 1, 2015, starting about 2:45), I want to go a bit further back.

First, consider the T-formation. As deployed in the late 1930s and then the 1940s, the T was an innovation. It was such a powerful tool that it helped to power the Bears to four national championships, including the famed 73-0 destruction of Washington. It's an innovation that actually made it into the team's fight song. It was a break from tradition, and that was a good thing. The game was changing, and the Bears changed at the right moment in order to be able to succeed.

Die-hards could argue that Halas staying true to the T represents the denial of an innovation instead of an adaptation of Clark Shaughnessy's new ideas. However, even if we grant that the Chicago Bears were using an old formation, they were still using it in new ways and in order to exploit new opportunities. This would seem to be a win for innovation.

Next, consider the middle linebacker position itself. Hall of Famer Bill George is widely credited with inventing the position as a way of adapting to the needs on the field. In fact, the 4-3 as a defense came out of George's innovation. By being able to drop back into coverage, George changed the way that defense was played. His toughness, athleticism, and innovation led him to eight pro bowls, among other honors. Innovation is now 2-0.

Finally, take a moment to recall the 46 Defense. The storied 46 defense deserves more than a simple paragraph here, but the "go for the throat" attacking style of the 46 was new, different, and game-changing. It allowed the Bears to dominate against the pass and the run for a wonderful stretch in the 80s.

Innovation has climbed to 3-0.

Bears need to embrace innovation. If they don't, they're going to be left behind. There are wrinkles that they can already add, or at least that they should consider adding, even without waiting to draft or sign more talent.