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Mitch Trubisky Grows Up

He’s scrubbed his social media, groomed his playoff beard, and studied the tapes. Now all the Bears QB has to do to win our love is redeem 34 years of heartbreak.

Above:“Last season was the most fun I’ve ever had in my life,” says Trubisky, shown here in one of his 13 custom suits. Three-piece suit, $3,500; shirt, $295; handmade tie, $115. All bespoke from ESQ, esqclothing.com. Photo: Saverio Truglia; Grooming: J. St. Jaimes / Distinct Artists

There’s a miscom­munication on the route. The receiver is supposed to stop and face the quarterback, but he keeps running and the ball hits him on the side. The pass was a light toss — a real lollipop — but it lands with a smack. The wideout twists his face into a grimace, and the crowd holds its collective breath. Oh no, is he about to cry?

Chicago Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky has been throwing passes for much of the morning with varying success. In his defense, the receivers have been all over the place. In their defense, they are children.

Trubisky is at Pilsen’s Harrison Park for Go Play Day, which isn’t a charity event per se but rather a branded Nike promotion encouraging kids to stay active. Trubisky is the center of attention. It’s hard for him not to be. He’s a massive dude, thick as a tractor tire and broad enough to shade a huddle of children from the mid-July sun.

Trubisky at a Nike event for kids in Pilsen in July
At a Nike event for kids in Pilsen in July Photo: Cameron Good

The last time Chicago saw Trubisky was January’s wild-card game against the Eagles, when the second-year quarterback led the Bears into field goal range with a miraculous last-minute drive. Well, nearly miraculous. The infamous “double-doink” kick ended the team’s season, but the playoff beard Trubisky started growing remains. The effect is striking in an Amish sort of way. It’s as if he spent Rumspringa lifting weights and drinking protein shakes.

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Trubisky is pushed and pulled around Harrison Park from the time he gets there. A burly Bears security official does his best to keep people away, but the pocket is easily breached and the quarterback is beset by requests for autographs and selfies. Trubisky obliges, remaining unflinchingly polite; I think I even hear him call a young teen “sir.” Meanwhile, two police officers are brought in to clear space around him — whoops, now they’re asking to take a photo, too.

The kids have been as patient and polite as Trubisky, though the same can’t be said for all of the adults. “He could sign autographs for everyone,” an exasperated man holding a football says to two children. “It would only take him 10 minutes.” The man paces around and returns to the kids. “That’s the funny thing. He could sign everything in under five minutes.” He groans when the event MC announces that Trubisky has time for just one more throw.

On his way out, as he walks to a waiting SUV, Trubisky passes a T-ball game, and a smattering of parents yell from the stands: “Mitch!” “Super Bowl!” “Mitchell!” A man wearing a Bears shirt bellows, bizarrely, “Go Packers! Let’s go Packers!”

This is just a taste of what it’s like to play quarterback for a franchise that has been more or less wretched at the position for the overwhelming majority of its century-long history. The hope is genuine when it’s there — and with Trubisky it’s there — but a 34-year championship drought is enough to drive some to the point of speaking in Green Bay–loving tongues.

In the car Trubisky reflects on his nearly disastrous incompletion, which led to a trembling lip from the boy but no tears. “I don’t want to hurt the kids,” he says. “I won’t even be mad if they dropped it. Just don’t take it to the face or anything.”

It could have been worse. Three weeks earlier, Trubisky held his own football camp in Lake Forest, and a participant broke his arm diving for one of his passes. “He landed the wrong way. Freak accident.” The next day, the boy came back and asked Trubisky to sign his cast. “He was a trooper.”

 

While there are only 16 games during the NFL’s regular season, being a quarterback is a year-round job. It’s kind of like being the lone physician in a small town in this regard, and Trubisky assumed his duties after roughly three decades of medical malpractice by his predecessors. Bears training camp is less than two weeks away at this point, and Trubisky, a northeast Ohio native, is back in Chicago for just one day before he jets off to California for a last-minute tune-up with quarterback guru Adam Dedeaux. He’s taking advantage of his brief stint in town to get a haircut, which may explain why his baseball cap stayed glued to his head all morning at Harrison Park.

Trubisky arriving at Soldier Field as Mike Ditka for a game before Halloween last year
Arriving at Soldier Field as Mike Ditka for a game before Halloween last year (“I wouldn’t call it a costume. I’d say I dressed like a legend,” he said at the time.) Photo: Courtesy of Chicago Bears

Lawrence Funk’s barbershop is a block from the Harold Washington Library Center in the Loop, and the space is festooned with old-timey tonsorial accoutrements (there are multiple barber’s poles inside the shop). “He is literally a barber historian,” Trubisky says.

Funk marvels at the quarterback’s curly bangs when he takes off his hat. “It’s been a month,” Trubisky says defensively, and he asks for his usual cut and some minor facial hair maintenance (the beard is staying). He sits in the main chair by the window, and on the mirror is a decal reading “Barber of the Chicago Bears.” Funk travels to Halas Hall to cut many of the players’ hair during the season, and he straight-razor shaves the dome of head coach Matt Nagy every week. “It’s part of his ritual,” Trubisky says.

Nagy, a puckish offensive swami, led the Bears to a division title during his first year as a head coach and helped Trubisky grow into his role under center. “Last season was the most fun I’ve ever had in my life,” Trubisky says. The Bears went 12–4, and Trubisky enjoyed, by every definable metric, one of the finest seasons in the history of Chicago Bears quarterbacking, becoming the first at that position since Jim McMahon to make the Pro Bowl (albeit as an injury replacement). Whether this says more about the franchise or the player is another matter.

Still, as thrilling as it was, last season will largely be remembered for how it ended. “I answer that question a lot: ‘How’d you feel after that kick?’ ” Trubisky says. “You can pretty much answer it yourself: Not. Good.”

Had Cody Parkey’s attempt hit the crossbar at a more favorable angle, the story of the game would have been Trubisky’s two clutch passes that moved the Bears 33 yards in 38 seconds. Instead, the “double-doink” has been entered as a case study in the Chicago Sports DSM-5 for eternity. “They’ll always be talking about that,” Trubisky says. “Am I traumatized by it? Absolutely not. Am I motivated? For sure.”

That’s a silver lining for Bears fans, whose relationship with Trubisky got off to a rough start. The team went all in on the quarterback during the 2017 NFL draft, trading two third-round picks and a fourth-round pick just to move up a single spot and select him second overall. It was a bold move — one that was questioned by many pundits — to get a player who’d only started a single season at the University of North Carolina and it added pressure to what is already one of the more stressful gigs in America. “I really got a taste of it the day after I got drafted,” Trubisky says. “I went to a Bulls game, and I got booed.”

Put yourself in his position. It was the first day he had ever stepped foot in Chicago. A video clip of his draft walkup plays on the United Center’s Jumbotron, and the crowd lets him have it. Well-meaning acquaintances later told him that his new neighbors were actually razzing the sight of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and that they didn’t realize Trubisky was in the building, but it was a formative memory nonetheless. “It was pretty eye-opening.”

Trubisky showed flashes of talent his first season, but John Fox, who was head coach at the time, had limited trust in his rookie quarterback. “Everyone looks at numbers, and I only threw seven touchdowns,” Trubisky says. “I mean, I threw seven interceptions to match that, but there was a lot of growth.”

Trubisky with coach Matt Nagy
With coach Matt Nagy Photo: Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune

In Trubisky’s second season, Nagy introduced intricate schemes that challenged his young quarterback. His offense relied on movement and timing to confuse defenses, allowing receivers to pop open. It was Trubisky’s job to find them — and adjust when his first option was covered. The Bears’ offense hummed when he was able to make those quick decisions and stumbled when he wasn’t.

Trubisky’s favorite pass from last season is a prime example of the former. It came in the 14th game, against the Packers, when he hit tight end Trey Burton on a corner route in the fourth quarter for a touchdown and the lead. “I feel like I ripped that one. I just threw it so decisively,” he says. “We knew we were going to win after that.” The victory clinched the Bears’ first NFC North title in eight years.

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Cody Whitehair has had a front-row seat to all of this. He has been the Bears’ center throughout Trubisky’s tenure (he’s moving to left guard this season) and has seen him become more self-assured. “He’s done a great job on the field of seeing things,” Whitehair tells me. “He’s able to read things just a little bit quicker. That helps his confidence. He can trust in everything he’s learned to just go out there and play ball.”

Unlike last year, when the team’s success surprised everyone, expectations are high this season. And a lot of that hangs on the arm of Trubisky, who turned 25 during training camp. He is embracing the situation. “I’m still a kid who dreamed to be in this position. I’m very intense and passionate about what I do.”

This off-season he studied game tape to better understand the ways opponents defended him, like the Patriots forcing him to make plays to his left. And he threw passes almost daily, including on vacation in Florida, where he found a field to work out on while there with the family of his girlfriend, Hillary Gallagher, a Florida State marketing student. “If there’s no place to throw, I’m not going. Last week I was throwing back at my high school.”

Trubisky with girlfriend Hillary Gallagher at a Bears charity gala
With girlfriend Hillary Gallagher at a Bears charity gala in May Photo: Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune

Trubisky’s hometown of Mentor (the way Mitch pronounces it, it rhymes with “tenner”) is the kind of place where they sell the high school team’s gear at the local Foot Locker. Being the quarterback there is, in Trubisky’s words, “a big deal,” and he’s quick to note that he was one of only two players in the school’s history to be named Ohio Mr. Football. He was a ball boy for the high school team when he was young, and his earliest football memories are of watching the older guys play on Friday nights. “I just remember the details, like how they wore their gloves. Or how they tucked their jerseys into their shoulder pads to make them look tighter.” You’ll notice that Trubisky still tucks his sleeves into his pads, and given his build, the nostalgic homage makes him look less like a quarterback and more like a middle linebacker. At the barbershop, a man getting his hair cut wonders aloud how Trubisky would fair in a mixed martial arts fight.

Trubisky may not be a finished product yet, but his improved second year eased fans’ doubts. He now leans into the city’s endless reverence for a particular season in Bear history. When he sat with Jim McMahon at a Bears centennial event in June, the Super Bowl champ gave him a Punky QB–esque headband and shades, and Trubisky wore them both for the duration of his appearance. Last October, he donned a Mike Ditka vest and aviators on his way into Soldier Field before a game. It was Trubisky’s idea, and the video of his entrance set an engagement record on the Bears’ Instagram page. “That was the most fire clip that we ever posted,” Cameron Good, the team’s former social media producer, tells me.

Other than home games, Trubisky doesn’t get downtown much. His house is near the Bears’ Lake Forest training facility, and so this haircut is part of a rare foray into the city. Everyone at the barbershop is respectful of his space, but at one point Trubisky notices a grinning man outside pointing his cellphone camera directly at him through the shop’s window.

Funk asks a friend to go deal with it, but his buddy demurs. “He’s got cracked, swollen fingers, bro,” the friend says. “I don’t trust this guy.”

 
Trubisky with his dad, Dave, at age 9
With his dad, Dave, at age 9 in Mentor, Ohio Photo: Courtesy of the Trubisky Family

Early impressions of Trubisky were partly informed by old tweets from high school that were dug up shortly after the 2017 draft, and they painted a portrait of a happy-go-lucky jock. On the scale of problematic social media behavior, these missives hardly registered as anything beyond goofy, but they were quickly scrubbed from his account nonetheless by his agent’s team. It’s a shame, because some of them were genuinely endearing: “ate 21 cough drops today #notgood”; “USA has the sweetest flag”; “just got handed a 2011 penny damn these boys are #Shiny.” The most infamous one: “I love to kiss tittiess.” It still makes me chuckle, and I tell him this.

“Oh, hilarious,” he says. “And some of them weren’t even me.” He explains that he and his friends were “messing around with each other’s phones” on a basketball team trip. “People don’t know the backstory, and I don’t want the backstory to get out because that’s the funny thing about it.”

These days, to keep focused during the season, Trubisky deletes Twitter and Instagram from his phone as soon as training camp begins. But on this day he spends some of the nearly two-hour ride from the barbershop to his house in Libertyville posting shots from Go Play Day to his Instagram account. His mentions can be a harrowing scene, but that doesn’t stop him from occasionally reading what people write.

“One person will comment, ‘You’re a god, you’re the best, you’re amazing.’ The next person will say, ‘You’re garbage, you shouldn’t be in the NFL, you’re a piece of crap.’ How can you be that high and that low? All you can do is laugh at it.”

During the season his agent’s team posts on his accounts for him. “I’m very specific about what I share,” he says. “I’ll give people insight but never get too close because I think that takes away from the sacredness of what you’re doing on a day-to-day basis.”

Trubisky is extremely cautious in choosing his words in interviews, too. When I ask if he minds that I use a recorder, he shrugs it off: “I talk as if everything’s recorded anyways.”

He learned that the hard way in college. “I wasn’t good when I first came in,” he says of his media skills. “I would actually say how I feel.” That included voicing his frustrations. Before his first start in 2016, after a year as a redshirt and two as a backup, he told the Daily Tar Heel that he had spent his time on the bench pondering an exit plan: “I was always thinking, ‘Well, if I’m not gonna get my opportunity here, maybe I need to go somewhere else.’ ”

Trubisky after a game his junior year of high school
After a game his junior year of high school (he was named the top player in the state as a senior). Photo: Courtesy of the Trubisky Family

He’s more circumspect now, but he knows that can lead to canned answers, and so he studies tape of his own press conferences and interviews like they’re an opponent’s defensive schemes. He identifies the words and phrases he tends to overuse, like “for sure,” and he will occasionally catch himself mid-exchange should he let one slip. “I don’t want to make it seem like I’m just regurgitating it back,” he says. “I want to make it sound more like a conversation.” I note that this must require some mental gymnastics, and he replies in the affirmative: “For sure.”

He’s getting more comfortable with his media appearances. In May, he went on ESPN Radio’s The Dan Le Batard Show With Stugotz, where he breezed through a lightning round of increasingly absurd food questions. When producer Billy “Guillermo” Gil asked him which condiments he would choose if his fingers were replaced with sauce dispensers, he answered with little hesitation: “Ketchup, honey mustard, Buffalo, ranch, and raspberry vinaigrette.”

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“Very definitive answers he’s giving us,” Le Batard said. I ask Trubisky about the interview, and he concurs. “I was decisive, right?”

Le Batard also asked him if he goes by Mitch or Mitchell, which is a question that has followed him since the draft combine. He had told a reporter there that either is fine (his friends call him the former; his mother, the latter), and minor speculation about his preferred moniker ensued. In an attempt to quell the discussion, he said that he wanted to go by Mitchell from there on out. “But then people went, ‘Oh, I don’t like Mitchell. It’s too hard to say,’ ” he recalls. He’s since explained that he doesn’t actually care. “Some people will still give me a hard time about it. Like, ‘No, seriously, what do you prefer?’ And I’m like, ‘No, seriously, I don’t.’ ”

At this point I realize I have no idea which name to use. “In the article you could probably use Mitchell in one sentence and Mitch in another sentence and nobody would notice,” he says. “It’s just three letters.”

 

It’s worth remembering that Trubisky gets only 16 opportunities a year to prove himself on the field, and so he has to make the most of them. “People want you to be perfect. They think it’s a video game,” he says. “I’m human. I’m going to make mistakes, but I’m trying to do the best I can.”

He is obsessed with being a professional. Last summer he struck up a friendship with the Wall Street Journal’s “leadership columnist” after he read his book The Captain Class. Trubisky is currently reading Legacy, about New Zealand’s legendary rugby team. “They’re one of the most winningest sports teams ever,” he says. “They’re talking about how they built their culture, how they won, and how they developed their leadership. There’s a lot of good tidbits to take away from that.”

Even the more mundane aspects of his daily life project this ongoing quest for self-actualization. For example, his custom-tailored suits, the collection of which has become something of a hobby for Trubisky, are a signal to the world that he is always thinking about work. “I want to look like a professional, and what better way to do that than by wearing a suit and tie? To show everybody I’m about my business?” The suits are a recent affectation — he remembers not being able to afford nice clothes at the mall when he was a kid — but he already believes he’s one of the best-dressed quarterbacks in the league and knows exactly how many suits he owns (13).

This single-minded approach extends to what he doesn’t do, too. You won’t catch him partying, for example; someone might snap a photo. “That’s why I don’t go out. Literally.” Besides, he simply doesn’t have time for much else outside of football. “It’s so busy. I realize I can’t do what everyone else my age is doing, but flip that around and nobody else my age is doing what I’m doing.” He dismisses the suggestion that his is a lonely existence. “I have a girlfriend now, so it’s different. We’d rather hang out with our families or go out to eat by ourselves than hit a nightclub.”

He’s a self-proclaimed “foodie,” a word he uses frequently. Trubisky has an encyclopedic knowledge of seemingly every restaurant and takeout joint in the north suburbs and freely rattles off addresses and menus like stream-of-consciousness Zagat poetry. At Eddie Merlot’s, the Lincolnshire steakhouse where we have dinner, he knows the waiter by name, and the two pick up on conversations they had the last time he was in. Trubisky orders seabass and, for the table, creamed spinach, cheesy potatoes, sweet-and-spicy shrimp, asparagus, broccoli, and filet mignon pot stickers. He is clearly not on the TB12 plan, Tom Brady’s draconian diet. But the MT10 plan works fine, thanks to his 25-year-old metabolism. “I like to try to play around 223, 220 pounds. It’s a comfortable playing weight. I’ll try to get up to 225, just so I have a little comfort area to lose a little weight during the season.” There’s even a football logic to ordering extra sides.

Obsessiveness is a defining character trait for Trubisky well beyond football. He is a neat freak to the extreme. The man actually folds his dirty laundry, for goodness’ sake. When Cody Whitehair went over to his house for dinner this off-season, he noticed Trubisky had neatly highlighted notepads for all of last year’s games aligned on his kitchen counter and organized chronologically.

“I’m kind of OCD,” Trubisky says. His fingernails are a good example of this. He keeps each one precisely the same length, manicuring them himself because he doesn’t trust anyone else to get it right. “If one is off, then you start playing with all of them.” He’d keep his nails in check no matter his occupation, but there’s also a functional motivation: The uniformity aids the mechanics of his release.

Trubisky cover image
Photo: Saverio Truglia

He orders dessert — a gourmet riff on an oversize peanut butter cup — and before it arrives, I show him the product review website Wirecutter. He literally starts bouncing up and down in his chair as he scrolls through the cleaning products. It’s the happiest I’ve seen him all day.

“Best vacuum cleaner? That would be huge.” His jaw drops at the low price of the recommended device. “One forty from Amazon? No freaking way! It looks so basic. I love it.” Now he’s in the comments, reading aloud an interaction between readers looking for something to pick up flea eggs. “What?!”

His eyes dart across the phone screen. “The best handheld vacuum. Wow, that one is sick. Black+Decker, huh?” He looks up, beaming. “I’m getting a new vacuum cleaner. One hundred and ten percent!”

I want to ask more about the coming season, but I cannot bring myself to distract him from what is obviously a sublime moment of discovery. He’s moved on to leaf blowers, double-checking to see if the one he just purchased is recommended. The waiter overhears Trubisky and asks if he does his own yard work.

“I don’t do my own lawn, but I do my own cleaning,” he says.

“OK, I was going to say, we don’t want you spraining nothing doing the lawn.”

Trubisky nods. “It’s cordless, which is clutch. You know what that’s clutch for? Cleaning out your garage.”

He asks me if the website has recommendations for laundry detergent and is delighted to learn that it does. “Dude, this might change my life.”

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