Football

Week 14 – Cowboys vs. Bears Matchup Spotlight: Chasing the Ghosts of Titles Past

Tony: Are the Bears cursed?

It’s a funny question, I know. Obviously sports curses aren’t real, except for the very real Curse of Colonel Sanders placed upon the Hanshin Tigers in (creepily) 1985. Yet every Bears team that has come close to the ’85 Bears have fallen short, for myriad reasons: QB injuries in the NFC Championship game, Danieal Manning forgetting that Peyton Manning can throw deep, the double doink… I could go on but I won’t. Could curses be real, and is the Bears franchise carrying some demons that need to be exorcised?

Today’s Matchup is going to look at the way the Chicago Bears franchise is haunted by the ghosts of the ’85 team, and why it’s time we forget those ghosts and stopped holding the current team up to that legendary group every year.

Every new coach says on day one that they need to beat the Packers first and foremost, a cute little throwback to the era before free agency when players stayed with one organization for their entire career and developed a passionate hatred for their division rivals, and not necessarily what I want to hear from a new coach. I will defend to my grave that if the Bears went 14-2 and won a Super Bowl but lost both games to the Packers, I’d be just as thrilled. This is totally a throwback to those 80s Bears/Packers bloodbaths that I wasn’t even alive for, so just drop it! I hate the Packers, sure, but I’d rather see the Bears win a Super Bowl.

The Bears franchise narrative has been rooted in the identity of the ’85 team for my entire life (I was born in ’86). They are supposed to have a handful of things, regardless of anything else:

-Bad QB play

-A stud RB

-Great defense

-Fantasy football irrelevance

As crazy as it sounds, I feel like the front office drafts to this identity either consciously or not. Mitchell Trubisky is the highest the Bears have taken a QB since 1951 when they took Bob Williams (and also in 1939 when they drafted the QB that most consider the best in Bears history- Sid Luckman). Considering they passed on two other signal callers who have much more success in the league thus far, it’s an interesting thought that maybe this was a concerted effort to trade up and explicitly break the narrative. However, Mitch is, well, Mitch, and the Bears are like the Weedians walking through the desert on the cover of Sleep’s “Dopesmoker,” wandering in a haze forever on a permanent search for the franchise’s first amazing QB.

Shitty QB play isn’t the be all end all: Tampa Bay, Baltimore (twice!), and the Giants (also twice!) have won with 1uarterbacks that are at or below The Dalton Line. It’s the defensive side of the ball that has to consistently be held up to the ’85 team in a totally unfair way. Offenses in 1985 were way more run-heavy: only two teams had over 4000 passing yards on the season, whereas 14 teams threw for over 4000 in 2018 (with two teams breaking 5000 yards). Buddy Ryan was a genius and that defense was stacked, but given the way the league was at the time, you could stack the box and force the issue like the 46 did. One of the two teams that threw for over 4000 yards that year was Miami, who as you surely know were the only team to beat the 46.

Let it be said that the current year and a half run of the Bears defense should be considered the best this team has ever looked. We are blessed, but nobody is going to do anything but compare this team to ’85, and the current defense is so much better. Over the last 28 games, they have totally dominated and are easily the best defense in the league. Argue with me about stats on this team all you want, but they haven’t gotten to play with a significant lead very often and usually spend 65% of their time on the field after multiple three-and-outs by the offense. The ’85 team used talent and a revolutionary scheme to field an absolute monster, but this incarnation of the defense beats an offense simply by being better. They might be better if Vic stayed, but they can still get after people.

Are Bears fans destined to spend the next 20 years making up “Buddy Ryan’s Curse” theories until the team finally wins a championship? Fuck, that’s depressing. The Bears need to win a Super Bowl soon, but I’ll be looking forward to it so we can forget 1985.

 

Wes: I can’t think that the Cowboys or any of their fans would say they’re cursed, but they definitely have the ghost of lofty expectations haunting them. 

Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin and Jimmy Johnson made up the NFL dynasty of the 1990’s in Big D and crazy asshole Jerrah Jones has been chasing that dragon for nearly 30 years. Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and Jason Garrett are the most recent trifecta looking to succeed where so many others have failed…but their window is closing quicker than Jones pal Papa John’s decline. 

While Chicago chases one title from over 30 years ago, Dallas is looking for a fix of 5+ years of dominance and three straight Super Bowl Titles from 1992-94. We could take it back to the 70’s too when the Cowboys went to five Super Bowls and won two with QB Roger Staubach and Legendary Head Coach Tom Landry. Cowboys fans were used to success, even if that success was every other decade. 

Well, the ‘boys are staring at 25 years since their last NFL title and almost as long since they appeared in the NFC Championship. Jones has burned through coaches like Bill Parcells and Wade Philips and quarterbacks like Tony Romo and…umm…Jon Kitna, winning plenty of Division titles, but watching the Giants and Eagles come out of the NFC East and win NFL titles (and do it over the current and possibly best NFL dynasty in history in the evil empire of the New England Patriots). 

Dallas and Chicago have actually had a sort of similar run since the late 90s, with Chicago arguably seeing better success having made it to a Super Bowl and a handful of deep runs through the NFC playoffs…albeit not recently. Similar QB issues, similar coaching issues, similar disappointed fans. 

Dak, Zeke and Garrett are the latest to take a stab at conquering the NFL and bringing glory back to big D, with Garrett currently holding on as one of the longest tenured HCs in the league despite a scant 2-3 record on three playoff appearances since 2010. Nine seasons, three NFC East titles and three playoff flame outs (including the infamous Dez Bryant non-TD catch being reversed on replay in Green Bay back in 2014). He’s probably gotten such a long leash because he took over a dumpster fire – points if you remember the Stephen McGee days – in 2010 and is working on a fourth NFC East title in six years. Garrett’s seat is seemingly forever hot, though, with Jones as a boss. He’s routinely discussed as finally losing his job, and failing to win a very disappointing 2019 NFC East and surprising in the playoffs will probably see his run come to an end. Maybe a fitting way to end the decade?

Dak Prescott rose from relative mediocrity as a mid-round draft pick to surprise as a very capable NFL QB, much like Romo before him, but even with Zeke and now Amari Cooper to help on offense the Cowboys haven’t been able to put enough competent performances together this season to make anyone believe they can upset the NFC hierarchy come January. Elliott has been good but not great on the ground; games the defense shows up the offense seems to lose it’s way and vice versa. Dallas has beaten every sub-.500 team on the schedule, save for a shameful loss at the Jets, but also haven’t been able to beat any team over .500. Sound like any team you’re used to seeing, dear reader?

Matching 6-6 records and an oddly similar two decade stretch culminates in a TNF matchup of mediocrity. Dallas has the luxury of still being very much alive regardless of the outcome, but in the grand scheme they’re still stuck in the NFL purgatory the Bears find themselves in. The NFL is so widely popular because worst to first is doable with a solid draft and some good signings and hires…but they don’t ever talk about how worst to first and back to worst is just as easily attainable. 

Chicago and Dallas are great examples of the latter, without either reaching the heights of the ghosts they’re stuck chasing.

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