I've been a fan of the Bears since I can remember and the one thing that always stuck with me was assuming everyone in the Chicagoland area was a Bears fan. This is far from the truth, but as a kid, this was seemingly common knowledge.
As I got older and met new people, I started noticing the different fandoms that surrounded me. People could be White Sox fans and Packers fans? They can root for the '90s Bulls and then don the Waste Management apparel on the short drive up I-94 to Green Bay?
It didn't make sense to me but now that I'm an old wise ass man, it's become extremely clear. The Bears haven't given us fans a reason to teach our kids what it means to be a Bears fan. The Bears have a generational problem on their hands.
The '80s and '90s are Long Gone
The '85 season was legendary. One of the most dominant teams to ever step on the gridiron won the championship after they predicted it in dance form. The '85 Bears are without question one of the most feared teams ever, and that produced an entire generation of fans.
Anyone who was around for those magical years in the '80s talks about it as if it were yesterday. They reminisce about those years because that was the last time the Chicago Bears gave truly gave us a reason to be fans. They were trying, succeeding, and trying again afterward. But those years came and went into the '90s with disparaging ideas.
The Bears in the '90s had expectations unfairly placed upon them following the success of the mid-'80s. Their decline started after Buddy Ryan left and the team was never quite the same. I grew up in the '90s and the Bulls' dominance drastically overshadowed the downfall of Chicago's team. This is a football city, and until the Bulls went on their run(s), there was no changing that.
If the '90s Bulls didn't do what they did, the love of the Bears would have dropped even more significantly. Why root for a team that can't win? Why bother getting your children excited over a Dave Wannstedt-led team that had a record over .500 only twice in six seasons? They had back-to-back 4-12 seasons before Wannstedt was fired, and that's unacceptable in this town.
The 2000s Had Potential
The Bears lost the Super Bowl to the Colts and that was the most electrifying year since the mid-'80s. We were completely fired up for that team and head coach Lovie Smith. The sensational Devin Hester broke not only ankles but opposing spirits all season long and became an instant fan favorite.
Why was it so hollow though? Was it because it fizzled out before it could really get going? Did the Bears vanquish their one opportunity to achieve greatness and birth an entire new generation of fans? The short answer is: hell yes.
That team was pretty special. The offense was alright but the defense was stout and the special teams were amazing. After the loss to Indianapolis, the team had another downfall.
The loss of running back Thomas Jones hurt and his lack of usage in the Super Bowl was questionable. He took 15 carries for 112 rushing yards but couldn't find the end zone. With Rex Grossman (ew) at the helm of the offense, why not overload Jones and win a damn championship? The decisions were strange, to say the least. They played that game in rainy Miami with a subpar quarterback and a total stud at running back. The following year, Jones was gone and another Bears' decline ensued.
The 2010s Ruined A Generation
The Bears fired Lovie Smith after a 10-6 season, a.k.a. a big mistake. They replaced him with the legendarily aloof Marc Trestman. He led the Bears to a repulsive 13-19 record over two seasons. He was also relieved of duties only to be replaced by Super Bowl winning coach John Fox.
Mr. Fox had a fine record. He led the 2003 Carolina Panthers to the Super Bowl and lost to the Patriots. Carolina didn't lose fewer than seven games until Fox's last year -- a 2-14 season in 2010.
Fox took over as the head coach for the Broncos. He started his time in Denver with an 8-8 season before going 13-3 twice, and then 12-4. Fox took the 2013 Broncos to the Super Bowl, where they were demolished by the Seattle 'Legion of Boom'.
When Fox landed the head coaching job in Chicago, there was a lot of praise amid mixed feelings as well. The man knew how to win in the regular season and he proved that he can lead a team in the playoffs. It was sure to be better than the Tresman era, right? Oh boy, were we wrong. So wrong and so disappointed.
The three years that made up the John Fox era consisted of 6-10, 3-13, and 5-11 records. The Bears largely wasted the premier talents of Jay Cutler and very well started Mitchell Trubisky on the wrong path. It wasn't all Trubisky's fault. He was drafted way too high, but he went to the Bears and all he could do was get to work. Fox didn't have what it took to coach this young man up to his full potential and it showed. The Bears fired John Fox, thankfully, and hired the young offensive guru: Matt Nagy.
Matt Nagy Era
The 2018 Chicago Bears were a fun group to watch. Ryan Pace acquired Khalil Mack right before the regular season started and the defense was the best in the league. The 12-4 record was a façade and the brainchild of Vic Fangio. Nagy got a lot of the credit, hence the Coach of the Year award, but it was really Fangio's defense that made the 2018 Bears so damn good. They hosted a playoff game that ended with the double doink and blew out the optimism amongst fans.
The negativity and pessimism grew quickly as Fangio left the team after the 2018 season. Since then, the Bears have sported two consecutive 8-8 records. The offense under Nagy has been abysmal, dull, and inspires no one.
Final Summation: What's the Point?
I had my first child in 2019. I made sure I bought plenty of infant Chicago Bears onesies and as she grows, I make sure she has plenty of Bears gear to rock on gameday. However, when she's old enough to understand it, what is there to root for? Why would my child, or anyone's child, want to support a team like this? In the age where the internet can give you access to watch any team in the league, the 'local connection' to the Bears is as foreign as ever.
Kids today have a vast variety of interests available at their fingertips. You can live in California and be a die-hard Cleveland Browns fan. It's a weird perspective, but it's true. There isn't anything creating new fans except for parents pushing their teams on their kids and the teams actually experiencing success.
The Kansas City Chiefs are a great example. They have a young star in Patrick Mahomes who can play the quarterback position exceptionally well and is a great role model. The team wins and they breed new fans by the NFL week. I've seen loads of kids around the Chicagoland area wearing Mahomes jerseys or shirts, and he's not the only one.
The Chicago Bears have a generational problem that isn't going to fix itself. They either start winning or start begging the fans they already have not to abandon ship. Perhaps the potential move to Arlington Heights can help fix some of it. Seeing as Soldier Field is an outdated mess with terrible logistics in arriving and departing, the new stadium could breathe life into an almost lifeless fan base.
Whatever happens after the conclusion of the 2021 season needs to be for the best. If Nagy is let go, the Bears absolutely have to make the next hire the right one. The McCaskey family needs to hit the nail on the head with this one and they need to relinquish their desire to control the football side. They need help, and without it, an entire generation of potential Bears fans could flock to the North... or anywhere else in the country for that matter.