Robert says every time I write one of these we lose.
“No iconic wins against the Dolphins”? None once more. “Our last chance to beat Tom Brady”? Stopped at the 1. “The Lions are arrogant punks who keep beating us, and hot damn it’s enough already”? Got that one right at least, but The Prophecy sunk no sooner than I put finger tip to keyboard.
Well I’m back at it and I surely don’t care. You know why? Because this Bears team fills me with confidence. The purest kind. The kind that comes without internal backlash that then makes me jittery because my confidence feels too high.
This confidence builds on itself. This confidence is making me confident. And it is making me say one thing to myself this week and one thing only:
Let’s beat the Pack and clinch this damn division.
The last time we had a “Holy moly we’re actually really good now” season was 2005, and at that time in my life I leaned toward the Steady Progression mindset, whereby as a fan I wanted to feel the full arch of a team’s rise. I wanted the “Oh wow we’re here!” season AND the “WE ARE THE GREATEST” season and then I wanted the “Let’s defend this thing” season and maybe even the “We must recapture our glory” season.
But pining for delayed success is a fool’s nostalgia, as I rightly learned that year. Since then, I’ve been an all-in-when-the-time-is-upon-us fan.
The time is upon us.
The levels of success in this 2018 season have snuck up on me. I thought we would be good, but I didn’t know we’d be this good. Even when we got Mack (and let’s all say it again and again: WE GOT MACK!!) I don’t think I truly knew that we were going to be in a position this early to wrap the division.
Part of that is because of the struggles of the Vikings, Packers and Lions. But part of that is us. Here’s how I described it in our Cold Takes column this week:
This season has continued to just creep along, as we moved from “Thank goodness the Fox era is over” to “Yeah Nagy seems cool” to “We could compete for the 6th playoff spot!” to “WE GOT MACK” to “Oh damn, we’re pretty good” to “Yeah but there will be growing pains” to “Oh damn, we’ve got an outside shot at the division crown” to “HEY LOS ANGELES HOW YOU LIKE DEM APPLES!”
It feels like every week brings a new level of consciousness for Bears fans about what this team is and what it can be, and all of that growth has coalesced into this moment right here, right now, where we can suddenly put something real next to those feelings. We can win the division now for the first time since 2010. That’s not hypothetical but mathematical, and it’s happening this week. Man I love this team.
It might not feel like it (or perhaps it does), but we are in the midst of our second longest postseason drought in franchise history. Seven seasons without making the playoffs. The longest drought was the 13 seasons from 1964 (the year after we won the NFL championship) to 1976 (Year 2 of Walter).
But of course in 1964 all we had was one championship game for a postseason, meaning only two teams made the playoffs. By ‘76, the NFL and AFL had merged and we now had a more proper postseason, though that was still only four teams per conference.
In the 16-game schedule (since ‘77) and/or in the wild card era (since 1990), the run from 2011 to the present is our longest playoff drought. We haven’t even had a whiff of the postseason since the doomed conclusion of 2013.
The last time we clinched the division was Dec. 20, 2010, in Minnesota to play the Vikings, a 40-14 whupping that included Devin Hester breaking Brian Mitchell’s combined KR/PR touchdowns record and Corey Wootton ending Brett Favre’s career.
That’s how long ago we were last in the playoffs: Brett Favre was on the field.
Brian Urlacher was too. They’re both in the Hall of Fame now.
Football heroes of 2010 have been immortalized in bronze more recently than we’ve made the playoffs.
I know I’ve said this before and not always been successful, but again, I don’t really care: this ends now. It ends with us finishing the job that we started Week 1 on the Packers. It ends with us breaking 12’s spell on us. It ends with cheers at Soldier Field, with the most exuberant Club Dub that’s ever been Dubbed.
It ends with hats.
It ends Sunday.
This division is ours.
Let’s go out and take it.
Jack M Silverstein is Windy City Gridiron’s Bears historian, and author of “How The GOAT Was Built: 6 Life Lessons From the 1996 Chicago Bulls.” He is the proprietor of Chicago sports history Instagram “A Shot on Ehlo.” Say hey at @readjack.
Okay, it’s fun fact time. Here are three:
- The aforementioned Bears-Vikings clinch game had two other historical wrinkles, other than Hester’s record-breaking day. First, it was played at TCF Bank Stadium, the home field of the University of Minnesota, because the Metrodome’s roof had collapsed earlier that week. Second, this was the final game of Brett Favre’s career, which ended on the first career sack of then-rookie Corey Wootton. Here are links to both Favre and Wootton telling the story of that sack, which included Favre being jostled awake by a team employee as he snored on the field.
- The last time the Bears clinched the division against the Packers was Christmas Day, 2005, a 24-17 win at Lambeau. This game completed our first season sweep of the Pack since 1991.
- Weirdly, six of our last seven division clinching games have come against division foes: the Vikings in ‘87, ‘06 and ‘10, the Lions in ‘88 and ‘90, and the Packers in ‘05. We clinched the division in ‘01 against the Jags, but we had already clinched a playoff spot a few weeks prior, which we did against Central-division foe Tampa Bay. That means Sunday could give us another division clinch against a division rival.