By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) My first car was a 1998 Oldsmobile 88. It was severely used.
Working a day job in my early 20s laying asphalt for the city’s Department of Transportation while paying for college at night, that car became an extension of my very self. Not flashy. A bit dented. Penchant for breaking down but always jumping back up after being cursed at and belittled in public. Black.
We got through those salad days together, I eventually took a pay cut to be a teacher and the 88 was towed away from my house after barely surviving a round trip to Morgantown, West Virginia for a West Virginia-Pitt football game I never quite made it into. That car helped make me the man I am today — yelling at teens about Shakespeare and yelling at you about sports. One of which is largely done in my underwear.
The point of this is that I feel new Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. The second overall draft pick a couple weeks ago, Trubisky arrived at rookie minicamp Thursday driving his 1997 Toyota Camry that used to belong to his grandmother.
It was then that I knew the Bears has selected a winner.
You get these 21st-century draft picks who splurge on vanity items like chinchilla coats and diamond teeth and cars that only are only legal in Vin Diesel movies, but not Mitchell. He’s not getting a Maserati stolen like Kevin White, who will probably miss two to four months recuperating from the loss. With Trubisky, it’s clearly not about the sizzle; it’s about the steak.
“So we go to dinner,” Bears general manager Ryan Pace said post-draft about Bears personnel’s pre-draft meeting with Trubisky, “and we’re walking back to the parking lot, all of us, and he’s walking toward his car and he starts laughing. There’s some hubcaps that are missing, and the thing is kind of just falling apart, and we joked at that moment like, ‘Hey, you need to bring this car to Chicago, don’t change.’ And he’s like, ‘I don’t know if it’s going to make it to Chicago,’ so I said, ‘I don’t care if you have to change the engine but you’ve got to keep the shell.'”
No word on if Trubisky ordered the tartare at that dinner, but he impressed Pace enough that the Bears didn’t contact Trubisky between his pro day and draft night. Ironic that when it comes to the man — the franchise quarterback — it’s not about the shell but, rather, what’s inside. It’s not about the risk of a 20-year-old car dying somewhere between North Carolina and the Windy City, perhaps on a dark, lonely road amid the Smoky Mountains, desperate for help to get to your new job in the big city to make a good impression on teammates and coaches and instead being kidnapped and chained in basement by an overalled false Samaritan who redefines what it means to toss the pigskin.
Nope. Bears coach John Fox told the Sun-Times that he “loved what (Trubisky) brings as far as a leader and a competitor.” That’s high praise from a man who was reportedly not involved in the trading up process on draft night.
Like me as a lad green to the world, Trubisky owns a whip that symbolizes him in the less-is-more sense. Regardless of how many miles are on that Japanese machine that far outlasted my American piece of crap, his true engine revs right underneath his breastplate. And that has no odometer.
It reminds me of a couple of other quarterbacks who didn’t let automobile expectations define them either — the incredibly dorky Kirk Cousins and the incredibly indifferent Jay Cutler.
The former will now be Trubisky’s rival in how much football analysts can speak out them in workman-like clichés, and the latter hands over the reins as the focal point that Chicago fans already hate for no rational reason.
Like that will phase the man they call Mr. Biscuit. Fitting, because everything beyond a car that simply does its job is gravy.
“A little beige color handed down from my grandmother,” Trubisky said after the Bears traded up to draft him. “I got that my freshman or sophomore year of college. My dad drove it up for me from Florida. So yeah, that’s my car and it’s got 170,000 miles on it so it can still lug around a little bit. It moves pretty well. Gets me from Point A to Point B and yeah, that’s what I drive.”
The drives that matter are the ones on Soldier Field turf with the game on the line and the ball in Trubisky’s hands. A man who values simplicity — getting the job done without frills — should inspire confidence in teammates and fans alike. It doesn’t end with his ride — his Twitter account is a bastion of the Everyman, too.
“I’m a very simple person,” Trubisky said. “That’s who I’ve always been, that’s how I was raised, to be conservative and stick to who I am. That’s who I’m going to be.”
Staying true to oneself is crucial in this business. Someone who can be conservative and stick to who he is can do amazing things like throw game-winning touchdowns or fire an FBI director who’s investigating him for possible collusion with Ruskies. It’s the stuff that legends are made of.
Camry, if you didn’t know, is derived from the Japanese word “kanmuri.” Translation: “crown.”
I feel you’ll wear yours proudly, Mitchell. As you drive past the flashier haters on your way to glory.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.