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Every city has its own well-tended gestalt garden of sports self-recrimination.
Chicago and its fans focus resentment on Bears quarterbacks for being, well, Bears quarterbacks, which is to say they are comparably not very good.
This is a comic strip we've seen somewhere before. Bears fans seem forever to be restaging the annual Swiped Ball Trick from Peanuts: Lucy, Charlie, "and that infernal football."
We blame them, mock them, harp on their failures and take solace that, however inept we are at our own lives, we are not as fumbling as they are. I know this to be true because I have done it, too.
It's metaphysical silliness and profoundly false.
It's also a cheap, childish laugh for which I would be ashamed had I any scruples on the issue.
Did you not laugh annually at Charlie Brown's misapplied trust that, at least this once, Lucy would not yank the football away and mock Charlie's naïveté?
In Chicago, as the leaves start to flutter groundward, it's usually the quarterback who swipes the pre-kicked ball. Double doink! And just as usually, Chicago fans are confused, shocked and angry, as if they hadn't seen this paradigm performed before.
We seem to be the perfect audience for slapstick or Snow White awakened with a kiss. We always seemed surprised.
Why are we surprised?
Lucy's need to torment Charlie seems as compulsive as the Bears' approach to quarterbacking but far more competent.
In Chicago's universe, the fans collectively are Charlie Brown and whoever is playing quarterback is Lucy. Or perhaps Lucy's offensive coordinator.
And just as social commentator Eric Schulmiller wrote years ago in a different comic context, the Bears have managed to institutionalize the central "Lucy swipes the ball" metaphor: "The uneasy tension between trust and betrayal, hope and despair. "
Peanuts in its prime was the perfect proving ground for sociologists and social commentarians, partly because every word in Peanuts has been permanently cataloged.
Peanuts creator Charles Schulz seems to have been the grim Martin Heidegger of our era.
As Schulmiller interpreted Lucy and Charlie: "To a kid, of course, it was the moment of failure that mattered - not the metaphor. No single act better encapsulated a child's feeling of powerlessness, and I felt Charlie Brown's frustration and disappointment with every bone in my body."
Sounds like the Bears to me.
That's how Bears' childlike fans and those who chronicle the team seem to respond.
Every year there is another, and slightly more manic reason why the Bears can't master this one central requirement. Every year is a "Groundhog Year" without Bill Murray.
And, as Lucy herself noted annually from 1966, finding a new reason to torture Charlie is essential to the joke.
In 1966, she said it was a "ten-billion-to-one" muscle spasm.
In 1980, she said: "To everything there is a season . . . and a time to pull away the football."
In 1965, she was Jung: "I'm not your mother, Charlie Brown."
In 1971, she was woke: "This year's football was pulled away from you through the courtesy of women's lib."
In 1974, she was philosophical: "In every program, Charlie Brown, there are always a few last-minute changes."
In 1996, it was Schulz's self-reveal as a creator: "Symbolism, Charlie Brown! The ball! The desire! The triumph! It's all there!"
But in 1986, Lucy was blunter: "Charlie Brown says: 'Somehow, I've missed the symbolism.' Lucy replies: 'You also missed the ball, Charlie Brown.'"
Of course, Lucy tormented Charlie in compensation because Charlie had once done the same to her on a football field. He'd been a cruel boy to her. She did not forget.
As she noted in 1963: "A woman's handshake is not legally binding."
Or 1969: "Never listen to a woman's tears, Charlie Brown."
And, very forebodingly in 1970, Lucy recites a long, passage from Isaiah, perhaps aimed also at the Bears: "How long (will you fail at this)? ALL YOUR LIFE, Charlie Brown, all your life!"
So, now another point of view arises.
The Bears might not need eternity to rescue themselves, though it will seem a forever punishment to fans.
But this we must realize.
Mitch Trubisky is not Mitch Trubisky's fault. Don't be angry at Lucy because Schulz made her harsh.
As with Lucy, Trubisky is actually blameless in the larger sense. And given the chance, would not each one of us be Mitchell Trubisky at his very NFL touchdown-misfiring worst if only we could?
Yes, we would.
I have decided that being angry with Mitch Trubisky because he is Mitch Trubisky is not only pointless, it is unfair.
It's like blaming Lucy.
Blame Charles Schulz if you must.
If you have heard the phrase "systemic racism" and didn't quite know what that was, the Bears are the organizational equivalent with "systemic ineptitude."
It appears built inside the team's genetic code.
That means it's not only one person; one event; one season. It's an entire structure incapable of excellence because it's not constructed for accountability or transparency. Is Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones ever going to fire General Manager Jerry Jones for his tortures? No, and neither is Virginia McCaskey or anyone in her family going to fire themselves any time soon.
What was Trubisky to do when the Bears offered him $29 million - that's TWENTY-NINE MILLION DOLLARS - to take a job that even he might have known he was unprepared to do efficiently? After all, plenty of observers announced Trubisky was an unwarranted risk.
Didn't Charlie Brown's friends warn him about Lucy? Don't they warn him every year?
It's possible even Trubisky might have known the doubts about him to be valid, and why it was true.
"Are you SURE you want to pay me $29 million?" Trubisky said incredulously to Bears General Manager Ryan Pace, as in NEVER.
So now that he is one year removed from the Bears' big turnaround, Pace is not only not going to be the Sporting News Executive of the Year, he's the guy who insisted Ford build the Pinto.
And before him, there was Phil Emery, and before him Jerry Angelo.
But NFL owners are known to give their general managers longer to prove their ineptness than general managers give their quarterbacks - especially to deflect from taking responsibility themselves.
The Bears are paying Pace $13 million - that's THIRTEEN FOLLOWED BY SIX ZERO DOLLARS - to be a mediocre general manager. Not only has he cost Bears ownership $29 million for Trubisky, he's also cost them at least $9 million - that's NINE MILLION DOLLARS a year - for replacement Nick Foles.
But Foles is just Lucy wearing a different uniform number.
Nonetheless, Foles gave the Bears a price break. The Bears don't have to pay Foles the remaining $56.9 million owed from his armed robbery of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Foles proved in Jacksonville what Trubisky demonstrated in Chicago: If pro teams spend money stupidly, it's not the players' duty to stop them.
Charlie keeps trusting Lucy. It's the essential joke.
It isn't Trubisky's fault that NFL general managers now pay quarterbacks the equivalent of Guatemala's gross national product.
As for Trubisky's pending exit, that means he has guaranteed $24 million - that's a nonrefundable TWENTY-FOUR MILLION DOLLARS - that went into his pocket. That was virtually guaranteed before he threw his first misguided missile, and the pile of loot will never emerge unless he wants to buy a Lamborghini. Or perhaps a two dozen Lamborghinis.
But fans will mock him. Even millionaires must suffer the anguish of upset fans. Players who fail this way are labeled "draft busts" as if the error was theirs. Trubisky is very close to that now.
So the Bears likely will send their latest Lucy metaphor into the free agent desert, and he'll spend the rest of his football life being Brian Hoyer or Marcus Mariota.
But while he suffers your disdain on his way out of town, Trubisky will have $29 million to comfort his wounded ego.
If that be suffering, lead me on.
It's almost Shakespearean in some ways, and also tragi-comedic.
As Schulz once explained of Lucy's cruel retributions: "You can't create humor out of happiness."
David Rutter is the former publisher/editor of the Lake County News-Sun, and more importantly, the former author of the Beachwood's late, great "The Week In WTF" column. His most recent piece for us was The End Of A Baseball Era That Passed Chicago By. You can also check him out at his Theeditor50's blog. He welcomes your comments.
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Posted on Jan 11, 2021