As the Bears auditioned young punters late last season and refused to give the incumbent a vote of confidence during the NFL's work stoppage, it became a formality that when football finally returned, the Bears would cut Brad Maynard. When the axe finally fell yesterday, it wasn't a surprise to anyone who pays attention to these sorts of things. The rock solid performance Maynard delivered annually in Chicago since signing in 2001 had dissipated; he turned in the lowest gross punt average of his career and season numbers that made him out to be decidedly below average.
Still, none of this stopped Bears fans from a vocal outpouring of support yesterday when the official news finally hit that, for the first time in 10 years, the Bears would be in the market for a new punter. Talk show callers were incensed, Maynard's special teams teammates were devastated, and a legion of fans took to the Internet to voice their displeasure. It was enough to get Maynard's name trending locally on Twitter. It was also a perhaps unmatched figurative round of applause for a man who plays football's least heralded position.
Brad Maynard was the fourth longest tenured Bear, trailing only Brian Urlacher, Olin Kreutz and the man who snapped him the ball every Sunday, Patrick Mannelly. Urlacher and Kreutz are potential -- probable? -- Hall of Famers, Mannelly has seemingly been at the top of his profession since day one. Still, you'd be hard-pressed to convince me that when those guys leave town, they'll receive the same show of love that Maynard got. Yes, Urlacher included.
Urlacher has had a marvelous career, but has a bit too much Frank Thomas in him. To say he's a 'sourpuss' is likely putting it nicely, or at least that how he's portrayed by the local media that he routinely loathes. Kreutz has a laundry basket full of used Pro Bowl jerseys and a long history of suspiciously high Madden rankings, but the amount of personal fouls, false starts, and botched snaps he's compiled in recent years have left him seemingly short of 'fan favorite' status. And Mannelly, well, likely wouldn't be recognized on the street by even the ardent of Chicago football supporters.
This is where Maynard persevered. He was never in a contract dispute, always said the right thing, never crashed a Lamborghini and fled the scene. Fans adored him because of all of this, but also because he was, for a while, quite good, even when the team around him wasn't. When the Bears were the punchline, Brad Maynard was the foil. Everything else sucks; our punter is our best player. I think the Sun-Times' Kyle Koster put it best on Twitter.
It's funny and it's true, or rather, funny *because* it's true. The Bears have been more successful under Lovie Smith than their public perception -- Final Four last year, you guys -- but something about them always seems to boarder on joke status. After all, the punter was their best player. Now it's time to find a new one.