That sound you hear in the background of your every activity today is the heated debate raging among fans of the Chicago Bears regarding whether head coach Lovie Smith should sit his regular starters to prevent injuries and keep them extra fresh for the first round of the NFL playoffs or send them out onto Lambeau Field on Sunday to (we hope) crush the Green Bay Packers. You can track the progress of this developing story in our StoryStream but, as a fan of the Chicago Cubs, I can't help thinking back just a couple of short years ...
(Pretend your screen just got all wavy like on TV shows when someone is remembering something.)
The year: 2008. The month: September. Two teams are about to face off at the very end of their sport's regular season. One calls home Chicago: the Windy City, that toddlin' town, broad shoulders, meat packers, you know the rest. The other team resides in a place not far away yet different in so many ways. There are many names for this largely untamed territory, home to many a rustic dairy farmer and fine purveyor of recreational explosives, but let's just call it ... Wisconsin. The Chicago team has already clinched its division after a storybook ride in which the prolific run scorers have amassed 97 victories. The other team is on the brink of the postseason, but they need a win (or two) and they need it bad. And only the team from the Chi stands in their way. Sound familiar?
Yes, of course I'm referring to the 2008 Cubs, who played their final series of that glorious regular season against the Milwaukee Brewers across the state line in Miller Park. There was some mild debate at the time about whether manager Lou Piniella should rest his regulars for the NLDS or keep everyone sharp by playing all three games against the Brewers. But, as foggy memory serves, it wasn't a big deal. Whatever you think is best, Lou.
As things turned out, Piniella did field a fairly regular lineup for Game One, on Sept. 26. But, for Games Two and Three, he filled out the lineup card with a variety of backups and bench types. Guys such as Ronny Cedeno, Daryle Ward, Micah Hoffpauir and, in an interesting bit of foreshadowing, Casey McGehee -- who's gone on to play a couple of nice seasons for the Brew Crew as a (mostly) third baseman.
The result? The Cubs lost the series two games to one, and the Brewers secured their first postseason appearance since 1982. And, from there, of course, the story turns tragic: The Cubs were one-and-done (or do you say three-and-out?) in the NLDS against smirking Manny Ramirez and his Los Angeles Dodgers. They haven't been back to the playoffs since.
In retrospect, this Cubs fan and many others came to believe that Piniella probably shouldn't have taken that final series in Milwaukee so lightly. (And, yes, most of us will fully admit that hindsight is 20/20.) He should've played those games like they were postseason contests and done everything in his power to stop the Brewers, who have become quite a spirited division rival, from reaching the playoffs. Had he done that, maybe his team wouldn't have looked quite as sleepy and shell-shocked as it did when it played the Dodgers on those awful October nights.
But enough skimming over another chapter in the tragic tome that is the Chicago Cubs. What about the Bears? Could they suffer a similiar fate if Lovie leaves all or most of the regulars on the bench on Sunday. Well, yeah, they could. So this Sunday's game must be approached with some modicum of intensity and competitiveness. No one wants to see the Packers win nor watch the Bears go into the first game of the playoffs with a defeat on their minds (though, with a bye week secured, the players will have plenty of time to get over it).
But there are obvious differences between baseball and football, of course. (Cue George Carlin.) Aside from a base-running incident here or there, baseball players don't spend the entire game slamming into one another. And, most important of all, a starting pitcher doesn't have to worry about suffering a concussion if an opposing linebacker breaks through the blockers. To be more specific, the Bears have no discernible depth behind quarterback Jay Cutler. If he goes down, it's virtually impossible to even imagine the team succeeding in the postseason.
So the answer would seem like to lie somewhere in between. This will be a game where Lovie and his staff will really need to explore the team's depth to keep the pressure on the Packers and do everything they can to win without jeopardizing the health of their very best players -- Cutler certainly being one of them. It won't be easy and it's one of those situations in which a highly paid head coach like Smith will have to earn his paycheck. But, after some early shakiness, Lovie and his staff have seemingly settled down into a pretty effective leadership group. I think they have it in 'em.