By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery knew the basic fan would not stand for it, so he played to the base.
In a press release regarding parting ways with Devin Hester, Emery said: “Not only is Devin a special player, he is also an exceptional person. He is a great teammate, husband and father. Devin represented the organization off the field as well as he did on it. When his career is over, he will always be a welcome member of the Bears family. We thank him for his dedication and wish him and his family all the best.”
That’s basic GM-speak for trying to minimize the blowback from walking stereotypes who are appalled at the gall of a front office deciding to not re-sign one of the most exciting players in franchise history. Lots of fans really hate it when the jersey they own becomes sort of obsolete, smart business decisions be damned. And I’m sure it didn’t enter into Emery’s mind (because he’s, you know, mature and stuff), but the banging at the gate becomes extra pathetic when it’s by a guy who wore an actually-issued jersey.
Brian Urlacher hates the Bears general manager because in 2013, Emery put what was best for the team ahead of letting the corpse of a Hall of Famer decay further on the field. And then when nobody else wanted Urlacher either, he burned a bridge rather than admit even just to himself that Emery was basically right. Far be it from Urlacher than to look at Emery’s choice to let Hester walk in a rational manner when No. 54 can instead keep his pathetic grudge aflame.
“Look at what the Steelers have done the last couple days signing Troy Polamalu, Heath Miller, some older guys to a couple more years just so they can retire as Steelers,” Urlacher said. “The Bears could do that with Devin. He should retire a Bear. He set all those records in a Bears uniform, and his No. 23 should be retired one day in Chicago. It’s just the loyalty factor. It’s just not there.”
Don’t think for a second that the last part of that quote isn’t a shot at Emery, whose name Urlacher maturely refuses to say anymore. And it’s a shot that won’t pierce the GM, but it is a scrap that rabid fans eat up. The same ones who think the Bears would have been better last season and probably this coming one with Urlacher. The same who relish the former linebacker’s hardly disguised dislike of Jay Cutler.
The NFL has decided it doesn’t care for kick returners. It eliminated kickoffs from the Pro Bowl, has debated eliminating them in real games and, after moving kickoffs up to the 35-yard line in 2011, the amount of them returned has plummeted. There is no sane reason for a GM to pay significant money to a return specialist like Hester anymore — and doubly so when he has an offense that no longer needs its special teams to pull so much weight but very much needs as much cash as possible to fix the league’s worst defense that kept the Bears out of the postseason.
That isn’t a loyalty issue, it’s a basic business issue. People who make personnel decisions fueled by loyalty don’t get to make decisions for much longer. Just like if a cable company didn’t see someone’s celebrity value worth what it once was, it wouldn’t be disloyal, just smart.
But, hey, memories, right?
“You think of Devin returning all those punts and kicks as a Bear,” said Urlach Holmes. “He’s going to break the record on another team, probably. It’s crazy to think he won’t be in a Bears uniform doing that. It’s frustrating as an ex-Bear and a player to see that happen.”
Holy meatball signal, Batman. Why is seeing a player set an individual record in a team sport on another team “frustrating?”
“No, he must be reflectively ours forever and never wear another uniform,” said the man with the car and Bears flag on his lawn.
Problem is, Urlacher’s voice still carries to those fans, the ones who buy the nonproductive but very marketable and profitable “heart tradition Bear football loyalty” jumbotron bumper stickers, who wish Hester could play in Chicago until he doesn’t want to anymore because clinging to nostalgia and refusal to let go are always signs of a person with some solid opinions and one who should be a voice on a network that desperately needs credibility.
And where he has the opportunity to educate, Urlacher chooses to retard a very basic understanding for the sake of his petty saltiness toward his former team that, with every lame refusal to say Emery’s or Cutler’s name, is taking away more and more of the easy “team ambassador” money Urlacher could make if his broadcast career doesn’t pan out.
It’s very unlike Olin Kreutz, the former center who on Wednesday on 670 The Score with Zach Zaidman and former Bears teammate Patrick Mannelly had positive things to say about the Bears and no harsh words for how his much publicized football divorce went down.
“There’s no hard feelings at all,” Kreutz said. “My career, that’s just the way it was meant to end, and that’s when I was meant to leave.”
Makes a lot of sense why during the interview Mannelly acknowledged Urlacher’s locker room contribution but made it clear that Kreutz was the team’s unquestioned leader when both played.
Nobody likes being dumped, and part of me feels bad for an electrifying player, should-be Hall of Famer and really nice guy in Hester (who isn’t taking this well). But because he’s such a good guy, he’ll hopefully soon see this as business, not personal.
Then maybe he’ll tell Urlacher to stop being so basic.