I love football, to the point of being a Midwestern cliché. I played it in high school – horribly. I played the legendary Tecmo version of it on the Nintendo Entertainment System to much better results. I’m fairly certain my parents have a pet cemetery plot somewhere containing all of my old Starter Jackets – the Bears, the Steelers, Notre Dame, and, only briefly due to a hilarious misunderstanding, Howard University. I chose college in part to go to a large state school with a big football tradition.
As you can see, my life choices are On Point. But specifically, I love the Chicago Bears. Ever since those earliest memories carrying a cotton-stuffed toy football around the house, I remember loving the Chicago Bears. Pictures from any era of my life show younger John invariably in a Bears hat, or shirt, or – one very special Halloween – a complete replica uniform with the number of my favorite player: Neal Anderson, #35. My fandom has survived the sucky later Ditka years, the sucky Wannstedt years, the mostly-sucky Jauron years, and the heart-ripping sorrow of watching Rex Grossman literally throw away the Super Bowl.
I get way too into the Bears every year. Nothing in sports – not my beloved Cubs, not Blackhawks hockey, and not even my alma mater, the University of Tennessee – can influence my mood quite so much as a Bears win (or loss) can on a particular Sunday. So this year, we’re going to use that. Instead of drinking too much, pacing the house (or bar) and swearing at the game, I’m going to eat my feelings. Every week, we’ll preview the Bears opponent, do an autopsy on the previous week, and provide a theme-appropriate recipe for your Sunday game-watching enjoyment and as a blessed distraction for me.
The 2014 Chicago Bears
Last Season – 8-8, missed playoffs
Last season was, let’s face it, brutal. When Cutler went down, people freaked out because they remembered 2011. When Josh McCown played above-par, people screamed for him to be the new starter, because (and I say this lovingly) Bears fans are by and large idiots. It was nice to have an offense for once (aside from those 6 or so freakish Rex Grossman games in 06) and not have to pretend that Earl Bennett or Johnny Knox or Devin Hester was an actual #1 receiver. But that defense … oh that horrible defense. I went to the Packers game with my brother-in-law, and the look in his eye when Chris Conte blew the season in one play was the same look my Dad got when I told him I’d be majoring in English Literature.
How Does 2014 Look?
Well, good news is that we signed and drafted a lot of defensive help. Bad news is that the unit is still run by Mel Tucker, whose defenses have followed this path in his time as coordinator:
2008 (CLE) 16th in the NFL in points allowed, 26th in yardage
2009 (JAX) 24/23
2010 (JAX) 27/28
2011 (JAX) 11/6
2012 (JAX) 29/30
2013 (CHI) 30/30
But no, by all means, tell me this is the year he finally becomes at least an average defensive leader because DIS GUY JARRED ALLIN IS A TRUE BEAR TYPE MY FRENTS. Maybe if we can get the NFC North to play Arena League ball with us, there’s a chance. I shudder to think what a ball control team is going to do to Lance Briggs, Jared Allen, and 9 other guys who nominally play defense.
We’ve got whatever cardboard cutout Phil Emery stole out of a Dick’s Sporting Goods window coaching special teams. So enjoy a season of Eric Weems running into his blocker at the 15 and Robbie Gould making the “ohshitohshitohshit” face going into too many tackles.
Did I mention that I love this team? Realism gets in the way of that sometimes. BEAR DOWN!
This Week’s Opponent – The Buffalo Bills (0-0, 4th in AFC East)
Super Bowl XXV is the first one I can remember watching. I was 7, I hated the Giants for beating the Bears 31-3 in the divisionals, and I placed my hope for vengeance on Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, and Andre Reed. In a running theme, my quest for revenge turned out about as well as a George R.R. Martin character’s. I felt so deeply for those poor bastards when Norwood’s kick was well-long but just off. Hell, I still feel for them now. And things only got more dire for the Bills (and the AFC) from there. I must have won the Tecmo Super Bowl with them 500 times as a kid, just to prove that the Giants game was a fluke. Best believe that shit didn’t come down to Norwood. Somewhere, Bruce Smith and his 53 sacks led the Bills dynasty to everlasting glory. Unfortunately, that place is my parents’ attic in the suburbs.
In a super-depressing turn, those four years of heartbreak and Super Bowl beatdowns represented the high point for the franchise. Now the ghostly specter of Toronto beckons, and there’s one more thing to feed bad for Buffalo about.
This Week’s Bears Tailgate Recipe – Raw Effing Meat
I really wanted to make a Scott Norwood reference here, but the only thing I could think of was making a sandwich where all the ingredients fall off to the right side. But this being the first week of the season, with the pent-up aggression, hope, and anxiety at a fever pitch, I can think of nothing more delicious, manly, and easy to prepare ahead than a raw beef dish. Don’t be a wuss. Of if you are, then sear a tenderloin and make it a super-rare-beef dish.
1 lb prime lean steak
4 oil packed anchovy fillets
3 tsp capers rinsed
2 egg yolks
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 oz cognac
1 small onion, minced extra-fine
6 cornichons (or gherkins) chopped
6 sprigs parsley leaves picked and minced
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp Dijon
1 tsp Worcestershire
Salt and pepper
Sliced Italian bread, oiled and toasted
(If you absolutely can’t do raw, then rub the beef with oil, salt, and pepper and sear it well before cooling it and letting it chill to firm up. We don’t judge.)
1. Trim the beef of any excess fat and place in the fridge (or about 15 minutes in the freezer) to chill while you make the dressing.
2. Mince the anchovy fillets.
3. In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks and add the mustard and anchovy fillets. Keep whisking until it forms a thick paste.
4. Continue whisking and slowly add the oil, then the tomato paste, cognac, and Worcestershire.
5. Slowly fold in the parsley, cornichons, onion, and capers. Place the bowl in the fridge while you prepare the meat.
6. Mince the chilled beef, add to the bowl, and toss to coat evenly.
7. Serve on the bread or a chilled plate. Add a little of the Tabasco and any extra onion or parsley before serving.
The Bears defense worries me. On the other hand, EJ Manuel. BEARS, 24-20