Even a win is too much to Bear
CHICAGO -- This can't be happening.
Less than 24 hours earlier, the Chicago Bears won a football game, evened their record at 1-1, and made Kansas City Chiefs star tailback Larry Johnson look as if he were running with the Sears Tower tied to his cleats. LJ finished with just 55 yards -- but at least he finished. Chiefs quarterback Damon Huard was so battered that he spent most of the final series on the bench reattaching body parts, what with him being caned and all by the Bears defense.
"ESPN 1000," says Zederman, "whattya want to talk about? Uh, huh. OK, stick to that point. Now turn your radio down and don't ask the guys how they're doing."
Zederman types in the first rant of the day: Howard. Skokie. Benson runs like a pig.
The calls never stop.
- Sam. Arlington Heights. Rex is dumb as rocks.
Bob. St. Charles. Ron Turner is the problem.
Zach. Rockford. Should we go after Leftwich?
Dave. Joliet. Rex is too short.
The Bears won, right? They're not 0-2, like 10 other teams (including the Chiefs, the two New York teams, the Eagles and the New Orleans Saints, the team the Bears beat in the NFC Championship Game a season ago). They're still the favorite to win the NFC North. Still the smart guys' choice in Vegas to reach the Super Bowl. Brian Urlacher didn't take a leave of absence, correct?
But during the four hours I spend in that control room watching Dan McNeil, former NFL defensive lineman John Jurkovic and Harry Teinowitz take the temperature of a city, it's obvious the locals need a cold compress and a sedative. My gawd, are they cranky.
"I can't remember being so distressed by a win," says Eric from the North Side.
In a way, you can't blame them. They gnawed their fingernails to the nub last season as Good Rex and Bad Rex made regular appearances, often during the same game. That's what they call quarterback Rex Grossman in this town: Good Rex ... Bad Rex. Good Rex throws touchdowns. Bad Rex throws screen passes off his back foot that float in the air longer than party balloons. Then they get intercepted and before you know it, Sam from Arlington Heights is saying the Bears QB is dumber than rocks.
The Bears won 13 of 16 regular-season games in 2006. But there were more than a few times that the Bears --- and Grossman, in particular -- played like mopes. But they won, enough times to convince even their skeptics (hello there) they were destined to somehow beat the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLI.
The Bears were semibrutal that day in Miami. Grossman was completely brutal. And Bears followers haven't been the same since then. They're fidgety. Nervous. Even during the recent win over the Chiefs, the Soldier Field crowd had no problem booing Grossman and a Bears offense that has scored exactly one touchdown (on a trick-play pass to an offensive tackle) in two games.
If the Bears are looking for a cup of hot chocolate and a group hug from the Chicago media, forget it.
"Absolutely putrid," says McNeil of the offense about a minute into the show.
"They should change the C on their helmets to a C-minus," Teinowitz says later.
In the Chicago Tribune, one of the headlines reads, "Less than Super ... Benson, Hester, Briggs stand out, but offense still bumbling along."
Benson, ridiculed by the San Diego Chargers earlier in the week, rushed for 101 yards against the Chiefs. That doesn't stop an e-mailer from ripping Benson for the way he gets up from a tackle.
"Let's give this guy a break," Teinowitz says of Benson.
- Chris. Roselle. Bench Rex now.
Wes. Northwest Side. Grossman mentally weak.
John. Norridge. Grossman not bad. Bears slow.
Dan. South Side. Blame Ron Turner, O-line, not Rex.
Mike. Lombard. Bears need two RBs.
Poor Grossman gets hammered on the show. He was 13-for-20 for 120 yards and a TD pass in the first half against the Chiefs. But the second half was depressingly familiar Bad Rex: 7-for-14 for 40 yards and two interceptions.
"The guy's not a student of the game," Jurkovic says.
"I'm starting to lose faith in him," says Teinowitz, the lone Grossman defender on the show.
Grossman takes most of the body blows, but there are other targets.
Wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad (two catches for the season)? "Washed up," McNeil says.
Offensive tackle Fred Miller? "Awful," says McNeil. Ought to wear an usher's uniform.
Urlacher. "We should get Urlacher on," McNeil says, "[and] congratulate him on his first sack in two years."
Meanwhile, Zederman keeps answering the phones.
- Pasquale. Downtown. Rex won't get better. Orton?
Fred. Wood Dale. Crowd dead.
Jason. Rockford. Stop beating on Rex.
About the best thing any of these guys can say about the Bears is they won by double-digits. And return man Devin Hester was spectacular. And the defense, especially linebacker Lance Briggs, was mostly its usual stifling self. But that was it for back pats.
When someone mentions the Bears are still the faves to win the division, McNeil says, "I'm not willing to bank on that just yet."
I look at my notes. Four hours, a combined two pro-Bears comments from callers or e-mailers.
"Were they more negative today, or after the opening week loss to the Chargers?" I ask Zederman during the final segment.
"Today," he says.
More negative after a win? But that's Chicago's love-scream relationship with the Bears. There's no in-between. And it could get worse. Just think if they lose to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He co-authored Jerome Bettis' autobiography "The Bus: My Life In and Out of a Helmet," which is available now.
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