There are traditions that somehow always materialize when it comes to the Bears. Safe assumptions to operations that are seldom overlooked. Whoever’s the quarterback will, at best, profile as either a harmless bb gun of a game manager, or an overconfident, flippant gunslinger. The defense, save for a few porous seasons here or there, is routinely the backbone of whatever success there is. When asked to elaborate on a new contract, free agents of the defensive variety are certain to pontificate about Bears’ lore. Dick Butkus, Doug Atkins, Richard Dent, and the 85 Bears’: they adore each and every player and era. Their own ambitions and personal motivations shelved away, these men only agree to sign with the Bears because they want to follow in legends’ footsteps. Why else would they sign on the dotted line if not to be like Mike (Singletary)? Open tryouts were being held by the Monsters of the Midway to join the fraternity and they happened to answered the email.
All of these truths are self-evident to what comprises the Bears over the years. Unless you’re an exception like Robert Quinn.
The Bears introduced the primary faces of their 2020 free agent class Friday. (If there were “faces” they were more likely emojis as it was held over conference call to reporters in light of social distancing.) When it was Robert Quinn’s turn to speak, you would’ve been forgiven if you expected him to discuss the conventional. He was motivated to sign with the Bears because he wanted to emulate Mike Singletary or someone similar, you thought. “They had a great culture, a great team,” would’ve followed out of his mouth in your one-track mind. A company man through and through putting on a nice smile for the cameras, er, laugh for the recorders.
None of the typical flattery or groveling was present.
Instead, Quinn spoke his mind. He let his playing future rest on the flip of a quarter. The Bears and Chicago, or the Falcons and Atlanta, for all the marbles.
“I really couldn’t make up my mind, so I had to do it the honest way,” Quinn said. “The Bears were on the right side.”
No one could show such nonchalance in deciding where they’ll spend half the calendar year, could they? Flipping a coin to decide the next few years of your life, which is very public and visible to even the most casual of observers? Impossible. Unfathomable. Foolish.
Asked to clarify that flip, Quinn doubled down. This was his moment, and he’d frame it as he pleased.
“That’s kind of how it came down to the final decision,” Quinn said. ”It was still pretty tough. That’s what it boiled down to is a coin flip. I don’t regret it.”
Ludicrous sentiments tend to die down when a higher-up has their say. After Quinn stepped away, the Bears maintained their new pass rusher did not, in fact, flip a coin to decide his fate. It was more about painting a picture of how close his decision really was. It came down to the wire and he ended up choosing the Bears. A literal coin flip did not occur in the 28-year-old switching his uniform colors to navy blue and orange. As amusing as it would’ve been to ponder, he did not push his life forward on the whim of a small piece of copper and silver. Some things are better not left to chance, or gravity.
What is interesting is what Quinn neglected to mention in his thought process. He didn’t glow about the Bears of old at any point. There was no mention of the Bears’ terrific history (every year before 1985, that is). Nothing about how humbling it would be to wear the same C on his helmet that Brian Urlacher once donned. The former All-Pro was so out of the loop, he even admitted he didn’t know Chuck Pagano was the Bears’ defensive coordinator off hand until he took the initiative to research it. That takes commitment.
Sometimes it’s more about the present. Quinn joined the Bears because of who he gets to line up alongside in the here and now. If only honesty in players reflected this notion as such on more regular basis.
First there was the mammoth Akiem Hicks. Someone understated in comparison to other household names, but a space-eating talent Quinn is nevertheless eager to make a partner of. If only because it makes his work easier and less strenuous.
“He’s dominant against the run,” said Quinn. “Him knocking the pocket back, not allowing the quarterback to step up, it’s huge and often underrated sometimes for a defensive tackle.”
Then Quinn beamed about one of football’s premier active superstars. Someone who draws extra attention every time he sits on the bench, let alone takes the field. The one and only Khalil Mack. A man who will let roam Quinn roam free on his own island. A he was all too quick to elaborate on.
“He’s probably gonna get the double-teams or more attention,” Quinn said. “Hopefully that frees me up a little bit and I can take advantage.”
When any free agent signs with a new team in a new city, of course they’re going to love their new home. Their former opponents, now teammates, are the best they’ve ever played against. This is standard athlete-speak. They’re starting anew. It would be unwise to say anything otherwise. While Quinn didn’t deviate too far from the script, he ad-libbed enough to show the vast difference between himself and his bland peers. He wasn’t a stunted, programmed robot reading off cue cards about legends he’ll only hear once or twice from while he stays in Chicago. He was a human being making a calculation for his own designs. Perhaps the future will have more players following Quinn’s sincere example of coin flips and individual ambition. A welcome, progressive thought. He’s here to sack quarterbacks, force fumbles, and do it on his terms. Nothing more, nothing less.
Oh, and there is that reality of $30 million guaranteed hanging over the room. That certainly didn’t hurt.
Follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski. You can’t take a picture of this, it’s already gone.