By Chris Emma–
(CBS) Our great city had one of its finest days on Friday with the celebration of a Cubs World Series championship. Five million people filled the streets, creating quite the remarkable scene.
The party of the century doesn’t seem likely to end anytime soon in Chicago, nor should it after 108 years of waiting for a World Series victory. But now there’s a new championship drought at the forefront of the local sports scene.
The Cubs have 2016, the Blackhawks have hoisted the Stanley Cup three times this decade, the White Sox won it all in 2005 and the Bulls’ dynasty of the ’90s brought six NBA titles. Then there are the Bears, who are 31 years removed from their one and only Super Bowl championship.
Back when John Fox was introduced as Bears head coach in January 2015, he noticed the lone Lombardi Trophy at Halas Hall.
“That one is kind of lonely out there in the hallway,” Fox remarked then.
Since that 1985 Bears team made history on its dominant march, the proud franchise has failed repeatedly. How Mike Ditka’s group only earned one championship is a great sports disappointment, but that’s ancient history alongside the context of recent history.
The Bears haven’t been close to consistent winning. They’re now five head coaches removed from Ditka and have made the playoffs just four times in the last 20 years and just once since losing Super Bowl XLI.
Year 2 with the Bears hasn’t brought the rewards Fox had hoped. His team is 2-6 at its halfway point — a Week 9 bye that followed a 20-10 Monday Night Football win over the Vikings — and there’s reported turmoil in Lake Forest that has placed Fox’s future beyond 2016 in question. An NFL Media report suggested prior to the Bears’ second win that Fox was on “shaky” ground as head coach.
Divorce could be coming at season’s end, with Fox and his coaching staff reportedly failing to find common ground with general manager Ryan Pace and the front office. Pace, 37, would presumably win that squabble with the 61-year-old Fox, whose passion was questioned with the report.
None of this seemed to matter after the Bears’ much-needed win over Vikings last week. Players were thrilled with their victory. They vowed to keep pressing on.
Linebacker Pernell McPhee, the emotional leader for this team, let loose.
“I hope it pisses everybody off,” McPhee said. “That’s what I hope. I hope it pisses everybody off and know we can dominate the league if we really put our mind to it. We just played a great team and we dominated them. So it’s got to piss everybody off and say we shouldn’t lose no more games to teams that we ain’t got no business losing to.”
The Bears are regretting a pair of tough defeats — a loss at the Colts and a meltdown to the Jaguars — as they sit at 2-6 in a wide-open NFC North. The Vikings remain in first place at 5-3, but the 5-4 Lions are in position to win the division too. This is what the Bears were supposed to be in 2016 — good enough to contend in a weak race.
Regardless of what their record says after 16 games, the Bears have more they must accomplish in the second half in order to move forward on solid ground. For Fox, he must follow through on this to save his job.
Young players like Jordan Howard, Cody Whitehair and Leonard Floyd need to continue their development. These are several of the Bears’ greatest investments — the hope for better days ahead. Wouldn’t it be nice if Kevin White could be back for a few more catches later on?
Top target Alshon Jeffery needs to answer some questions for Pace. After being held without a touchdown for seven games, he finally got to the end zone Week 8. The Bears need to figure out whether Jeffery is worth the big money or if he’s better being traded. They could tender the franchise tag again. Uncertainty to White’s future is the other factor to consider.
The Bears seem to have a budding defense, one which has gotten better lately. Still, the secondary is lean on talent, and Pace must figure out who belongs for the long term. Kyle Fuller’s injury status has only complicated that.
Most importantly, the Bears must begin to figure out who’s their next first-round draft pick. They’re in line to pick high in the 2017 draft and are likely to look at quarterback, with Jay Cutler’s future in Chicago perhaps coming to an end. The alternative would be taking Michigan star cornerback Jabrill Peppers or Alabama tackle Cam Robinson. That’s a decision for later, but the scouting is well underway.
When Fox and Pace took office at Halas Hall, they began ridding Phil Emery’s leftovers and building the Bears a younger team. It was the latest in three decades of phases as the Bears have tried and tried again to build a championship team. They’re invested in Fox’s guidance and Pace’s plan, but they’re still waiting to reap the rewards.
Fox has spoken of his admiration for the way in which Theo Epstein carved out the Cubs organization and built a winner, as well as how Joe Maddon managed a World Series champion. Fox has also pointed to the Cubs’ years of losing as Epstein went to work.
All the Bears and Cubs share in common right now are the years of failing to get it right.
The Bears have some pieces in place that could bring success down the road, but there’s still much work to be done. Progress needs to be revealed in this season’s second half in order to move this franchise toward contention. At times, that has seemed a long way away.
Better must come from what’s been a disappointing season thus far. McPhee is right about being pissed off. But if the Bears can mark organizational progress, that’s a win. They could also spiral and see a new coach and another fresh start for 2017.
Chicago will always remember Friday and its extraordinary World Series celebration. Finally, the wait is over and the Cubs are champions.
Now it’s football season, and the Bears are trying once again to be a better franchise. It hasn’t quite been 108 years, but 1985 feels like ages ago.