Maybe you heard the boos. Maybe you were among those booing. I slapped the armrest of my couch, powerless and frustrated, and booed from my basement, even when there was no one to hear me but my 7-year-old in his shabby Matt Forte jersey. “You said the Bears were going to roll!” he spat at me, and at that moment, I hated the Chicago Bears.
The team’s depressing 27-14 loss to the Miami Dolphins—themselves a mess of team whose season was teetering on the edge after their meltdown against Green Bay last week—never even felt that close. The porous defense made Ryan Tannehill look like Peyton Manning, and every player on the offense looked like they hated one another, or hadn’t met. After the game, the team, led by wide receiver Brandon Marshall, reportedly screamed at each other in the locker room, which doesn’t mean as much in the heat of a locker room than it does in the real world, but still. It means something.
But the boos. That’s what really hurts. The idea that a “loyal” home crowd could turn against its team so quickly, jeering them at halftime as they ran into the locker room down by two touchdowns? Players who have worked incredibly hard for a long time leading up to that moment, dedicating their lives and often mortgaging their future by playing hurt, all for your entertainment, cannot understand that. And they lash out.
“As somebody that is blood, sweat, and tears in this locker room . . . to be getting booed when you’re walking off the field down two possessions is unacceptable,” Kyle Long, an offensive guard, told ESPNChicago.com after the game.
I can sympathize. Long obviously played his hardest on Sunday; so did everyone else. And they still got their asses handed to them and earned the derision of their fans to boot. This loss exposed some ugly truths, not just about the team’s resilience or exasperating inconsistency, but about all of us.
OK, not all of us. Just me.
Six days a week, I love the Bears, and then on the seventh, I don’t. I want to love them, know I’m supposed to love them warts and all, and can’t. Yesterday they were not lovable. For me, a love of a team is not unconditional like love of another person. Does that make me a fair weather fan? Of course it does. But it also makes me a human being.
What Kyle Long doesn’t get is that the fans weren't booing him, nor were they booing his teammates or anyone else affiliated with the Bears. They were booing the disappointment of expectations unmet. The fact that they got up early, put on their gear, got excited, got stuck in traffic, paid a bunch of money, planned their whole day around a game, and it stunk. And they still have to get home. That's what they were booing: The whole thing. They love the team and amass tremendous levels of excitement about them, and felt let down when that excitement got deferred for another week. My son and I felt that even from our basement couch, and we are permitted to feel it.
Athletes want to feel supported; I get that. More often than not they’re treated as commodities by organizations that don’t value them any more than the next guy. Most NFLers are one serious injury away from seeing how little there is linking them to their team’s destiny. So the players latch onto each other, but it’s a business and players come and go and loyalty doesn’t mean what it once did, so they try to latch onto the fans, the stable base of people who are not moving from city to city. And when they inevitably disappoint the fans, the fans disappoint them right back. This leaves players floating in a sort of eternal limbo, and that must be really scary.
But those players, when they wear a Bears jersey, inspire dramatic emotions. Booing means I care. It means I got really excited and you let me down. That’s all. Listen to Bears tight end Martellus Bennett: “If I go see a bad movie, I boo. It’s an entertainment business. We are all entertainers. . . . They pay for their tickets, and the show wasn’t up to their liking.”
I have tickets for the Bears-Saints game on December 15th. Whether the Bears are still in the playoff hunt, I hope it’s freezing cold and I can bundle up and scream and stomp and cheer as loud as I want. I also hope that the Bears shut down Drew Brees and I don’t have to boo. But I just might.