In a rare and wonderful piece by Dan Pompei of The Athletic, Bears matriarch Virginia McCaskey granted a very insightful interview that every Bears fan should read.
The name “McCaskey” has elicited groans by mere mention for decades now, and is often uttered in a demeaning way, slicing crassly off the tongue with all the gritty tang of a Steve Bartman conversation pre-November-2016 or any immediate television shouting after a Cutler interception.
The truth is that it’s not been terribly fair to the McCaskey name that fans so bitterly point the finger to ownership. It’s not simply that Virginia is by all accounts more of a fan of the Bears franchise than any other fan not named George Halas (her father), but that she is involved at every level of overseeing the team and has no indifference whatsoever: She wants the Bears to win, no question.
That all said, the one part of the piece that really caught my eye was this:
“My least favorite expression is next man up,” she said. “It sounds so cold. It isn’t that. It’s caring about the injured player, getting the proper treatment and rehab, whatever is best for him.”
She also said the concussion issue is “very troubling” to her. She feels she understands it in a way some might not because her grandson Conor, George’s son, suffered a concussion playing high school football.
“We were involved in a very personal way with that,” she said. “It helped me to realize things really needed to change as far as the league is concerned. I know there have been a lot of changes in recent years. I think we still have a long way to go, but I think we are on the right track. We certainly need to lead in this instance because what we do in the National Football League is going to trickle down and affect college football, high school football and grammar school football. I think it’s a matter of education all the way around as well as taking the proper steps.”
“Next man up,” has become something of a standard motto in the NFL, where players and coaches throughout recent decades have worked terribly hard to make the Game of Autumn into something of an unending war, where players play the part of soldiers getting gunned down in the field of battle. “Next man up” is less a slogan and more of a necessity. It is a dehumanizing, callous rule of law for a sport that taxes the body’s limits.
With Alshon Jeffery’s 4 game suspension & Kyle Long’s ankle injury putting him on injured reserve, the cruel nature of “next man up” has almost become redundant for a Bears 2016 season beset with crippling roster setbacks. When your team is 2-7 & staring down the barrel of a top 5 draft pick, mustering hope is becoming a fruitless pursuit, and it’s time to start thinking about where this team goes after the final gun.
Marc Trestman was the ultimate human hire back in 2013. The Bears eschewed Lovie’s fatherly guidance & stubborn adherence to a fading cover 2 defense and instead went with Phil Emery’s dark horse – a bespectacled teacher, a quarterback whisperer, rife with the ambition to ‘grow the man.’
Trestman and Emery also took to their press conferences with a penchant for nearly exhaustive candor. Emery was a wannabe cowboy, sauntering into every decision with the braggadocio befitting a victorious outlaw and bloviating at sometimes miserable length. Trestman would hunch behind the microphone, pull his hat down, and expound details of every loss in a tone that still haunts Bears beat writers to this day.
Yet for all of the cacophony associated with Emery & Trestman, nothing seems to hold a candle to John Fox.
His grating voice drips of condescension, indifference, and his demeanor radiates his disdain for this particular portion of his duties. I get it – he wasn’t hired to be an orator or convince the media or fans of anything beyond coaching a rebuilding franchise back into the realm of success.
But now his team isn’t responding, and there’s only so many ways you can hide behind a wall of bodies before he as a coach must take some responsibility for the mess on the field and, if the sources for Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman are genuine, the mess within the locker room too:
This may not reek of internal meltdown quite as strongly as Aaron Kromer’s betrayal, but the trappings of discord are apparent.
Maybe when the season ends, Ryan Pace will have to apply the “Next Man Up” rule to his own once-celebrated head coach.
Hopefully next year we no longer will have to worry about the voices behind the microphones or the faceless words from the locker room, but the season is long, and enduring our lives as passionate, critical Bears fans continues to be a seemingly endless struggle for hope. Just ask Virginia.