What goes up must come down. It is one of the maxims of life, and it applies to sports too. Teams never stay good or bad forever. They are bad while full of young players, then get good as the players develop. They stay good for a while, but then fall off as the core players get old. Then the team bottoms out and then the process begins again. Fandom is living through the cycles. Each part of the cycle is fun in its own way.
In the lean years, you get to benefit from a lack of attention on your team. Tickets are cheap and the stadium is not usually full, so you can move down into the nicer seats with ease. You have top picks in the draft, so the draft becomes a fun event where you can dream on the stars of tomorrow. You get to watch college games and picture all the players on your team. You get to watch young players on your team develop into good players. You get to make fun of your team in a loving way. Sure, you are losing, and don’t get to play in the playoffs, but there is fun to be had.
When your team is good, you get to compete for titles. There are huge playoff games for which everyone is abuzz. If you do win a championship, there is a parade, and that is a blast. You are winning most of your games, and the team is the talk of the town. While it is harder to get tickets, games feel more like an event. There is more stress here, but the highs are high.
But my favorite is the very first season in the good part of the cycle, the transition from bad to good. The team is full of younger players basking in the spotlight for the first time. Expectations are still low so every win feels like found money. You get to learn the fun quirks about each player, generally for the first time. And the world has not become sick of the team’s dominance, so there is a lot of positive media coverage. All of this leads to a feel-good factor around the team that is wonderful. This was that season for the Chicago Bears, and I loved it.
Before going 12–4 and winning the NFC North this season, the Bears had not made the playoffs since 2010 and had not had a winning record since 2012. I’m now 25 years old and had not seen the Bears post a winning record since I was a freshman in college. The core of that team got old, and they did not do a good job of rebuilding.
During this time, I followed the draft intensely and devised obscure jokes with my friends about random players on the team. I’ll always remember Deiondre’ Hall’s long arms, which were constantly brought up after they drafted him. I also laughed at the team’s neanderthal play-calling. Seriously, they won a game against the Panthers just last season where they attempted seven passes. In 2017!
This season was different from the very beginning. Matt Nagy was hired as head coach before the season, and he promised an exciting new offense. Pace filled the team with big money signings like Allen Robinson and Trey Burton, before trading for Khalil Mack just before the season started. It was fun to be a Bear fan again, even if I only expected a 7–9 or 8–8 record going into the year. I was excited to see another year of development of Mitchell Trubisky, and the defense had a lot of potential.
The Bears were way more fun than I could have imagined. They had the best defense in football making huge play after huge play. The defense became known for elaborate team celebrations. My personal favorite was the Lions game on Thanksgiving where the team did a mock Motown-style music video in the end zone. It was incredible. Young players like Eddie Jackson and Eddie Jackson grew into dominant forces. It was exciting to see what they could do every week.
The offense had some hiccups, but in general, was solid. From the first play of the first game, when he rolled out an offense in the T formation, Nagy drew up tons of creative trick plays that seemed to always work. I was always excited to see the next one. Watching the Bears each week was an incredible experience, and helped make this fall fun for me. I will always remember that.
It ended last Sunday in the playoffs in a devastating loss to the Eagles. I’m not quite over it yet, but I will be soon. This was a fun season, and I loved every second of it. I’m ready for the next one.