By Dan Bernstein–
CBSChicago.com senior columnist
(CBS) The newly acquired Bears starting quarterback looked a little better in the second exhibition game than he did in the first, trying to command the first-team offense with more authority and production. It was closely fought affair, but his team ultimately prevailed.
“There’s nothing else can give you confidence more than a win like that,” he said afterward. “It took an effort on everybody’s part, and it was good to see us come together a little bit.”
He had a rough go of it in the first preseason game and seemed pleased that he was something other than awful given the latest chance, especially considering the investment made in him by the Bears and the extent to which they touted their belief in his abilities upon installing him at the top of the depth chart.
“I finally just felt good,” the 27-year-old said. “I got a few completions and got a little rhythm. That’s the thing that has been lacking. I feel it’s coming, but it hasn’t happened real fast, and this was definitely a step in the right direction.”
Spoiler alert: It’s not coming, and the only direction is off the rails.
That’s because it happened 20 years ago, and those quotes came from Melissa Isaacson’s Chicago Tribune game story after the Bears beat the Buffalo Bills, 20-17. Rick Mirer completed six passes for 81 yards and a touchdown, improving on his first outing against the Steelers in Ireland in which he hit on just four passes for 16 yards in a 30-17 loss. Coach Dave Wannstedt had talked throughout the intervening week about the importance of Mirer’s mental state, repeatedly invoking the mantra “build his confidence.”
After that game, he cited Mirer’s scoring pass to Bobby Engram as the kind of play that could get him going, even though it was a short crossing route over the middle that Engram turned into a 50-yard play by outrunning the safety.
Mirer was a total flop in that 1997 season, despite having cost a a first-round pick in trade with the Seahawks and a three-year contract commitment. He was benched in favor of Erik Kramer, who was coming off a broken neck suffered the previous season and was himself then a backup at best. Mirer finished the season with zero touchdowns, six interceptions, an efficiency rating of 37.7 and then was granted his release upon request. There would be no built confidence, no rhythm and no success.
Forgive me for noticing something familiar Saturday night and understand my obvious overreach in making the comparison, but when the Mirer year went down I was in my third season as Bears beat reporter for WSCR. I remember vividly the anticipation on the first day of practice, followed by the immediate realization that he just didn’t look like an NFL quarterback. From Mirer’s odd cadences under center to low-difficulty passes that fluttered and wobbled unsteadily, there was immediate concern that the Bears had made the mistake so many in Seattle predicted they had. It didn’t take long for the coaches to evince cold-sweat desperation in both their comments and protective play-calling, until reality finally won out.
Bears coach John Fox sounds like Wannstedt did then when he talks about Mike Glennon now, with all the baloney about confidence. The conservative, run-heavy game plan looks similarly designed to limit the kind of mistakes that are catalyzing entirely fair questions about the handling of the position pursuant to what they have said about competition and the best chance to win. Glennon sounds and looks like Mirer did, trying to talk himself into a happy place while struggling for any kind of stability.
The key differences, of course, are the terms of the deal and the alternative.
Glennon is on the books for only this season and a nominal buyout, and what would seem to be a worst-case scenario may actually only be disguised as such. Trying to limp through a season with Erik Kramer is a far cry from letting the first quarterback drafted take over ahead of schedule as a rookie, providing genuine hope amid the growing pains. In that sense, Mitchell Trubisky is a lifeline — a connection to the possibility of something better than this, especially as he continues to resemble what we know it’s supposed to.
So this isn’t 1997. But part of it is too close to it for some of us to be comfortable.