Though the ratings were low enough to force a truncated fourth season and oust the program's wildly creative showrunner, I'm going to assume anyone reading this has seen the episode of the NBC comedy "Community" I'm about to reference. The Internet is rarely colored as a safe haven for groupthink, but as a totally worthwhile exercise, find me someone with more than 1,000 tweets who has a dissenting opinion on Breaking Bad or Mad Men or Beach House or craft beers or NBC's other fantastic Thursday night comedy, "Parks and Recreation". Chances are, if you are cool enough to make your way to SB Nation, you probably watch "Community". Glad this is settled.
I'm not sure if "Remedial Chaos Theory", the fourth episode of the third season, is the best thing "Community" has ever given us, but it's probably close. In it, the gang attends a housewarming party that quickly dovetails into a series of alternate realities based on who answers the front door to get delivery pizza. As each person exits, the episode becomes a character study on how the tight-knit group would be affected by losing one of its seven members. Each of the consequences are hilarious, of course, though one particular scenario sticks out the most. When Troy leaves to get the pizza, chaos ensues. One character dies, one loses an arm, one goes crazy, one becomes an alcoholic. This is The Darkest Timeline. Given how the past eight months have shook out in Chicago sports, it's not hard to draw your own local parallels.
The Chicago Bears were 7-3 when the San Diego Chargers came to Soldier Field on November 20. The possibilities seemed limitless. I had gone on record saying this was the best offense I had seen the Bears produce in my 25 years. I engaged friends in discussions over whether this team was actually better than the one that went to the Super Bowl in the 2006 season. The Bears were good, legitimately, but then Jay Cutler broke his thumb making a tackle after an interception and everything went to shit. Backup Caleb Hanie proved he was every bit as terrible as all the other Bad Bears Quarterbacks who came before him, and Chicago ended up going 8-8 and missing the postseason.
Since then? Marian Hossa was the on the receiving end of one of the most hard and dirty hits in recent NHL history as the Blackhawks were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Phoenix Coyotes.The Bulls were banged up all season until they finally suffered an injury they couldn't overcome, a torn ACL to superstar guard Derrick Rose. The Cubs still might finish with the worst record in baseball. This is, as they say, the darkest timeline.
The Bears head to Bourbonnais in exactly one week to begin training camp. Now that the Forte drama is finally off the front page, they can focus on what's really important: ending this horrific period in Chicago sports once and for all by getting down to the business of becoming one of the best teams in the NFL. Because, yes, that's what's on the table here. The Bears believe they are a very real Super Bowl contender, and why not. The preseason is a time for optimism and everything else sucks right now for the 70 percent of sports fans in this city who don't cheer the White Sox. The Bears are talking a big game, and part of fandom is buying into it. What's the point of skepticism on the brink of training camp?
Make no mistake, this Bears team could be something special. It'll take many good breaks and the God-sent miracle of avoiding the injury bug, but that's the case for every team. All the pieces are in place, as Dave Wannstedt used to say, for this team to avenge their own death.
A year ago at this time, I blasted the Bears for leaving millions in salary cap space when they were equipped with a talented-but-flawed team with a rapidly closing championship window. While the defensive veterans that have defined the Bears for a decade didn't get any younger, new general manager Phil Emery saw fit to fix some of the problems that plagued last year's team while also swinging for the fences with wide receiver Brandon Marshall.
Marshall has a lengthy list of transgressions, but his talent is undeniable. It feels safe to already call him the best receiver in franchise history months before he'll play his first real game. The Bears have lacked a big playmaker in the passing game since acquiring Cutler from the Broncos three seasons ago. Those days are now over. With Marshall and Cutler reunited, the optimism surrounding the Bears seems warranted.
While the Marshall trade refueled our football engines months ago, it was hard to get too excited with Forte's future still hanging in the wind. This was the story that dominated headlines for over 12 months, with the running back and the team at odds over $5 million in guaranteed money. In the end, the two sides did the sensible thing and met in the middle, with Forte pocketing $18 million in guaranteed cash over a four-year, $32 million contract. It's a solid deal for both sides. The only question: what took so long?
Now it's about football, and thank goodness for that. Are the Bears better than the Giants and the Packers? Are they even better than the Eagles, 49ers, Falcons or Lions? Time will tell. The NFC certainly appears loaded this season, though the Bears have enough firepower on both sides of the ball to compete with all of the above. And before you talk about depth and injury concerns for an aging defense, chill out for a moment. It's July 17, and the Chicago Bears have a chance to be really good. At this point, I think we've earned it.
Ricky O'Donnell is the editor of SB Nation Chicago and the founder of the Chicago sports blog Tremendous Upside Potential. Follow him on Twitter or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.