Thursday Night Football: Fun For Almost Everyone!

Thursday Night Football is here, and the Bears are in first place. Enjoy it.

Singletary, Mongo, Danimal, the Fridge, Richard Dent, Gary Fencik ... hearing those names make most people think of one thing: When are those guys from Chicago ever gonna quit bringing up that '85 Super Bowl team?

The answer to that is... never. So, deal with it. Besides, it's not us bringing it up this time. Blame the broadcast media. Every time the Bears and Dolphins get together, you can be sure that Monday Night Football loss to in Miami 25 years ago is going to be mentioned. And right after that, you'll hear about the Dolphins' pinnacle team, the undefeated '72 squad. Such is the nature of sportscasting.

But while tonight's meeting may not end up being as 'historically significant', it's a much more important game for the Bears. The Bears of '85 were headed to the Super Bowl. Nobody, but nobody, doubted that. This year's model is going to have a much tougher path, and every win is crucial.

The jury is still out on the Bears, and it contains lots more than just twelve angry men. Many fans feel the Bears wins have come against bad teams, and their two home losses were to mediocre opponents who should have been beaten. And while I disagree with none of that, I do see some reasons for optimism.

Two reasons, actually: The Bears just might not be as bad as all that, and being optimistic is just a lot more enjoyable.

The Bears do have one of the top ranked defenses in the NFL. They are second in the league in rushing yards allowed, with a stingy 82.3 per game, and more importantly in points allowed with 16.2 average per game given up. The special teams play is the envy of every coach in football, with a return game that's more dangerous than a payday loan.

To say the offense has been troubled would be putting things charitably. But since the bye week, they've seemed to settle their most glaring issues, particularly on the line. In reality, even in the loss to the Washington Redskins, the offensive line wasn't the main author of the Bears' demise. It was Jay Cutler and his four picks that gave that game away.

But with a healthier run/pass ratio, a mobile Cutler, and a passing game that's suddenly harder to defend against, the Bears seem to be hitting their stride.

And you know, it seems odd to me to even have to say this, but I want the Bears to win. This season, this evening, now. I understand that there's people who feel that it would be better for them to fail this year, in hopes of a thorough house-cleaning at Halas Hall come the off-season, I just feel like they're missing the point.

I don't have a problem with Lovie Smith's demeanor. I have questioned his decisions, on several occasions, often to the point of creating brand-new previously undiscovered profanities, delivered at top decibal level. But that's when his decisions failed.

Which happens less often, then when they succeed. For all the grousing from some corners about Lovie Smith, only two coaches have ever won more game for Chicago: George Halas and Mike Ditka. Lost in the pointless discussion of how Lovie needs to get mad is the fact he's done some great things as the head coach of the Chicago Bears -- like take them to the league's championship game, another thing he has in common with Halas and Ditka.

What Lovie Smith doesn't have in common 'Papa Bear' Halas and 'Iron Mike' Ditka (besides a cool nickname), is a tendency to visibly display his anger. He doesn't blow up, throw his gum, or try to throttle players on the sidelines. He's known as a players' coach. He keeps a cool head on the sidelines and during press conferences.

This is maddening, particularly to Chicago sportswriters. If you've ever watched Lovie Smith give a post-game press conference, you might understand why some of those reporters dislike him so much. Lovie doesn't give much away. He knows that he's obligated to answer questions from the press. But clearly, he doesn't feel he has to answer to the press. He doesn't take the bait when they try to rile him up. He doesn't snap. As often as not, the corners of his mouth, will turn up, just slightly, into a grin that shows up when he thinks a particular question is nonsense. It's sort of a mocking look, without being too demonstrative. He looks exactly like a man being questioned about his football knowledge, by people who he understands know a great deal less than him about football.

That mocking look may or may not be the reason that some reporters, attached to Chicago dailies, are so vocal in their demands Lovie be replaced.

But that, at least to me, is another debate. On a fan level, if you prefer that your team loses, either to make management change direction or to validate your preconceptions about the quality of the roster, you've lost your way. It doesn't matter if, in your imagination, Bill Cowher is striding the sidelines for your team, getting in players' faces. That's probably not going to happen next year, or the year after, or ever.

I understand that this Bears team is less than perfect. I understand that even the playoffs might be out of reach. That's what makes the game exciting. Right now, we're seeing a team that's really begun to coalesce. They just might have found the formula. It's possible they're hitting their stride, right now. That sense of hopefulness, the adrenaline rush of exceeding expectation, that's fun. And it's supposed to be fun.

And yes, it's also possible, it's just a fluke. That might even be easier to believe for a Chicago fan base that's had it's heart broken, so many times, in so many ways.

But it doesn't seem like it's any fun.

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