Bernstein: FOX, Bears Take The High Road

By Dan Bernstein- Senior Columnist

(CBS) A miserable loss, with echoes of last season’s most desperate time. No blocking, nobody open, nowhere to run, and a quarterback trying to stay just conscious enough to yell at his position coach.

Serious injuries to important players. Patchwork personnel groupings looking helpless and hapless. New questions about the Bears, with answers we may not want to confront.

And it could have been worse.

I was steeling myself for an afternoon of mawkish sentimentality, with FOX Sports presenting a football game through the prism of death – cameras tracking Brian Urlacher all afternoon, announcers consumed with his feelings after he buried his mother just the day before.

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I imagined it would start with a coach doing what so many have done – succumbing to the temptation of exploiting a player’s loss, with the opportunity for a cheap motivational ploy trumping class, brains and plain human sense. And it would snowball, predictably, from there.

Thanks to the tone set by Urlacher himself and reflected by Lovie Smith, however, it turned out I was wrong.

The easy grab for the heartstrings never materialized. Urlacher reportedly requested that Smith not mention anything about him in any pregame comments to the team, and Smith obliged. Classy, grown-up moves by both men.

The pre-production meetings for the television broadcast must have been fascinating to hear, since the restraint shown by FOX was so uncharacteristic. Major stories about star players almost always become the themes of the day, and in this case you’d think especially so — an all-time great, future Hall-of-Famer dealing with the death of his primary parent by returning so quickly to the field, and on the heels of one of his best recent performances.

And thankfully, it remained underplayed.

For a specific comparison, see how Brett Favre was covered in the game just after the passing of his father. Actually, don’t. You’ll throw up.

Would it have been different had the Bears acquitted themselves better, or if Urlacher himself had excelled as he had a week before? Probably.

The syrupy stuff goes down easier in victory, for all involved. An audience’s tolerance for such things is higher when it can be presented as somehow causal, either through some kind of inspirational power or outright supernatural activity, and that’s why I always wince when the usual emotional playbook is employed.

On one hand, the “somebody was looking down on us today” stuff is insulting and creepy. Even if one believes in afterlives, spirits, heaven, hell, or guardian angels, invoking any of that in regard to the outcome of a football game is only for the dimmest bulbs, or the weirdest freaks. Or some combination of both.

(Again, for reference, I give you the 1999 “Walter Payton’s Ghost” game in which the Bears’ Bryan Robinson blocked a late Green Bay field-goal attempt, supposedly carried skyward by invisible, helping hands.)

More importantly, it’s unfair to professional athletes to expect that they will try harder just to be part of some uplifting story. They are paid to do their absolute best every week, regardless whether or not a teammate has suffered a tragedy.

So I credit Brian Urlacher for handling himself carefully and maturely in what must be an indescribably difficult time. I credit Lovie Smith for not trivializing something so important, respecting all his players enough to expect that they can motivate themselves without schmaltzy rallying-cries.

And kudos to FOX for retaining their dignity, too. On the heels of their surprisingly-stately handling of the 9-11 anniversary, it may cause me to question some long-held assumptions.

For Bears fans, that was one awful football game, but at least it was a football game.

bernstein 90x130 Bernstein: FOX, Bears Take The High Road

Dan Bernstein

Dan Bernstein has been the co-host of “Boers and Bernstein” since 1999. He joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995. The Boers and Bernstein Show airs every weekday from 1PM to 6PM on The Score, 670AM. Read more of Bernstein’s columns here. Follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.
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  • Larry Horse's Arse

    Time for Lovie to have that special little talk with Martz…don’t wait for the bye week to do it.

    • Bronzo

      yes it is Larry… the play calling was horrible…was it 2 running plays called in the second half ?

      Would love to hear what his though process was

  • Bearsfan4071

    Yo Bernsie, I realize you’d prefer players to play without emotion of any kind (after all, it’s not easy to measure the effects of emotion on a player’s athletic talents), but emotion is a part of sports (granted, NOTHING was going to help the Bears play better today, but emotion, ‘fire and passion’, etc. does have an effect on a player’s athletic talents as far as the player playing at a higher level than usual. There have been plenty of studies that support this, and it’s more common thatn you’d like to admit).

    If Urlacher had the national coverage that Favre had when he played, then you’d would have had the sentimental stuff a lot more than heard today.

    • Chris in Scottsdale

      Why? Why would “number of TV’s tuned in” make a difference as to the focus of the broadcast?

  • Denver Deadite

    I must admit, the broadcast surprised me for specifically this reason: FOX loves to take advantage of the storylines (see: NFC CG last year with how they dealt with Cutler’s injury).

    Unfortunately, the Bears completely @#$%ing the bed didn’t surprise me very much either.

  • Ricking Ball

    Agree with most of this, but Dan, I’ve heard you say many times that professional athletes don’t have anything to tap, that they are pros and play to their top level of performance. This is just not true. They are also human. You give them too much credit.

    Did you not watch Alex Rios this summer?

  • Ry

    FOX may have taken the high road this week, but I doubt they will next week when the Bears play the Packers. Get ready for fake newspaper headline graphics!!!!!

  • Bronzo

    I see Dan’s point but I just don’t know why he has to COMPLETELY disregard emotion when it comes to football. These guys are human beings and emotion is going to play a part in their performance. Did anybosy hear Doug Plank on Mac’s show on Friday? he told a story of when the Bears played a game the day after Mugsy Halas died in 1979. he told quite a differnt story. In short they came out and played at a much higher level that day due to all the emotions running very high on the team.

    I guess it all depends on the person.

  • Chris in Scottsdale

    “Fire and Passion” and “Effort” are not the same thing.

    Also, A player can (and should be able to) try his hardest and focus his energy without needing some sort of exterior factor to serve as motivation.

    I believe we get the best Brian Urlacher has to offer every week (don’t you?), so I refuse to believe he tried any harder yesterday due to heightened emotion. With that in mind, if it had any effect on his play at all, it may have served to detract from his focus. I’d like to not believe that as well.

    • Bronzo

      I agree with your point on the Bears getting Urlacher’s best effort week in and week out….I think they (we) do. But as a human being I’m talking about emotion not effort or “fire and passion”. Football is an emotional game played by emotional players…See Ray Lewis for example…

  • Jake

    So how did Olin do on Sunday Dan?Have you mentioned it yet?

  • wheelingdad

    Nice article and take on the awkward situation with Urlacher.
    Bernsie can write some good stuff

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