By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) At the risk of toeing some bad Garfield comic strip meme, it’s Monday, and Mondays are, for the most part, awful. This is besides it being the start to another work week.
As the work week commences, here in Chicago we’re for a day the nexus of the sports world. The Cubs play the Nationals in Game 3 of a tied National League Division Series. The Bears embark on the future of their franchise as their top draft pick, Mitchell Trubisky, gets his first career start at quarterback. While pressure of the bright national television lights should be reserved for the players, as fans there’s a weight to this Monday rarely seen in this town. A confluence of playoff baseball and Monday Night Football with an honest-to-goodness reason to watch it. And with this super sports explosion to start the week comes deserved excitement.
There’s also the potential to psychologically implode. Monday afternoon and evening will involve no finality for either team, though it’s human nature to draw deeper conclusions whichever way Game 3’s outcome goes and Trubisky’s night fares.
Cub fans are still smarting from the bullpen catastrophe Saturday night, and the skepticism of manager Joe Maddon’s bullpen management that has existed since last year’s playoffs isn’t diminishing after that night. This is all to be expected and not uncalled for. But now Game 3 with trade deadline prize Jose Quintana on the bump for the Cubs takes on more epic proportions and mutates into the feel of a die-or-die, even though it’s anything but.
If only we all could have a comfort breakfast for the soul in such a case. Maddon had his team eat brunch (he called it breakfast) on the field at Wrigley on Sunday during a workout while NFL games played on the jumbotron. There’s no sense of major urgency with this team.
“You’re coming to the ballpark, you’re having breakfast on the field, you’re watching football on a big screen, on a football Sunday,” growing boy Kyle Schwarber said. “What else do you want?”
Assuming Game 3 doesn’t go into the 12th inning and toy with everyone’s sanity, the Bears will take the field not long after the Cubs season has either ended with at least another game remaining or put fans back in that invincible happy place. Then all those feelings reset as we ready ourselves for Trubisky’s first game that will be a firm indicator of whether general manager Ryan Pace should be sent packing and Peyton Manning hired for the front office.
Does Trubisky feel the crushing weight of a miserable franchise’s future on him like all the nacho-stained Butkus jerseys out there do?
“Pressure,” Trubisky said, presumably scrolling through @Tweets4Athletes, “only appears when you’re not prepared for something.”
While that sort of reserve should ease Bears fans’ anxieties, there’s little chance of people taking Trubisky’s game Monday with a grain of salt when this team’s history is riddled with corpses of pseudo-quarterbacks higher than the giant salt piles shown during local news winter storm reports. He’s going to screw up. Even Mark Sanchez knows this.
“There will be some sort of success, no matter what,” said Sanchez, the Bears’ veteran backup. “There’s going to be bad plays. I don’t care who you are. Tom Brady. Drew Brees. Aaron Rodgers. All those guys have bad plays in the game.
“Now, it’s what do you make of those plays. Are they going to ruin the entire game? Or is it just going to be, ‘Oh man, I’d like to get that one back.’ I know (Trubisky) can handle it. He’ll be fine.”
In the long run, yeah, Trubisky will probably pan out. But if he throws two picks in a loss Monday night, he’s Cade McNown for the time being.
“A lot of the great ones are able to just put bad plays behind them very quickly,” Trubisky said. “The more mentally strong you are, the quicker you’re able to get past that and create plays for your team. You can’t get down. You can’t show your teammates it bothers you. You have to handle it, move forward and take care of business from there.”
Besides thematic dress for some road trips, Maddon’s famous unorthodoxy for the team’s down time wasn’t all that prevalent this season as in years past. There were no petting zoos or magicians. After a Game 2 loss to the Nationals in which the team had been in control most of the way, he probably wanted to squash any lingering thoughts about blowing a lead late in that game.
“Lighten the mood a little bit,” Maddon said. “You don’t have to thicken it up. You don’t have to tighten them up. You don’t have to add thoughts or concerns or worries. Why would you ever want to do that?
“Just keep going the other way, keep doing what we’ve been doing all year.”
So what’s the meditation for the team should Nationals ace Max Scherzer dominate the Cubs on Monday afternoon? Because there’s no such thing for the Cubs fan if that happens. Flip the numbers on the Eamus Catuli sign across the street.
There’s no greater disparity in collective feeling between a Game 1 victory for your favorite team and then a Game 2 loss. Especially when that game was about 80 percent won before falling apart. It’s now a best-of-three with the Cubs holding home-field advantage, but that doesn’t loosen a lot of rectums in Wrigleyville even if fans have most recently tasted World Series victory.
This one game means almost nothing in whatever the full novel of Mitch-a-palooza ends up being. But fans are fickle high schoolers ready to ditch a book after the first page.
“My job is to just study the game plan and, once I get in there, just go back to my instincts, play the game I know how to play,” Trubisky said. “I’ve been playing this game for a long time, so I’m going to go in there and be myself, and the pressure shouldn’t be anything what everyone else makes it out to be. So I’ll just go out there and try to have fun.”
But Bears fans can’t have fun unless you, Mitch, are dropping balls into waiting receiver hands in the end zone. And if you do that Monday night, you’re clearly taking the team to the Super Bowl next year. That’s just science.
Otherwise, yeah, “fun.” What’s that like when taking in a Bears game anyway? We’ve already forgotten what it means in a Cubs postseason. Monday will only exacerbate both miseries or get us all drunk on the idea that everything is awesome forever.
“I feel like I’m ready,” Trubisky said.
“I don’t think you’re going to see any kind of worry out of our team,” Schwarber said.
What a way to start the first week of the rest of our sporting lives.
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.