by Ryan Meehan
Living in Bears country when you’re not a fan is something that I am a bit of an expert on. While I have religiously rooted for my New York Giants year in and year out, I am constantly bombarded by the blind faith that is Chicago Bears fandom. That being said, I don’t hate the Bears or their fans.
Now, I’m going to say a few things that might seem contradictory to that statement: I do believe that for some reason or another, fans of that particular team seem to be oblivious towards some of the things that are happening within the organization. Outside of a few people, very rarely do I hear criticism of the McCaskey family or the poor decisions they’ve been making for the past two decades. Additionally whenever something happens to the Bears that doesn’t work in their favor, they tend to start pointing fingers and blaming everybody in sight. The refs, the playing surface, the current playoff structure, you name it. And even though the really smart Bears fans know better, enough of them don’t for the majority of them to be insufferably irritating.
Now-former Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith was fired on Monday morning, and it was followed by a firestorm of criticism from players within the organization. Most notably was Devin Hester, who had suggested that he might retire after hearing the news that Smith had in fact been relieved of his duties. Here are some snippets from his interaction with the media on Monday afternoon:
“We already knew what the news was…Just hearing it from him. The media, the false fans, you all got what you all wanted. Majority of you all wanted him out. As players, we wanted him in. I guess the false fans outruled us. I thought he was a great coach, probably one of the best coaches I have ever been around. He brought me in.”
I can understand the last part, as you always have a certain bond with the guy who is your mentor. But the rest of it is a bit ridiculous. The false fans? I can say which sectors of Bears fans are smart and which aren’t, I’m just an online sportswriter and nobody is showing up on my doorstep with questions like this. You’re a part of the team (at least at the moment, you’re still on their roster) and those fans (along with the media, which I’ll address here in a second) made you the man you are today. If you had never made it into the NFL you’d be “former University of Miami kick returner from the early 2000s when that university’s athletic department was up to only God knows what Devin Hester”. And not only that, but those “false fans” that wanted Lovie gone were probably right. So not only did he come off like an ungrateful dick, he was also wrong in the process.
And blaming the media? As I’m sure you’ll remember, Devin Hester never seemed to have a problem with the media making him into a superstar, and now he’s going to go after them in the second largest sports market in the country when they made what everybody pretty much agrees is the right decision? That doesn’t add up…”Got what (they) wanted? Does anybody who is a fan of a team or that covers a team want them to go 10-6 and miss the playoffs, all the while raising questions about the way the whole nacho platter is served? One more thing – “the best coach he’s ever been around?” I’ll buy that, but consider the company. When Mike Tice, Mike Martz, and Larry Coker are the biggest names that he has to compare Smith to maybe I could see how he really believes that.
“I don’t even know if I want to play again, man…You know, that’s been on my mind for two years now.”
This should be a cause for alarm to everyone else that will be on that roster next year that Hester hasn’t been giving it his all. It probably has a lot to do with the reason he was demoted in the first place, and why specify a certain amount of time so as to call attention to all of the players that were a part of the Bears during that time period and only that time period?
“It’s not (as much fun anymore). It ain’t. So, I have my workers’ comp papers in my pocket. See how I feel, go home and talk to my wife, my family. See where we go from there. I’ve got two beautiful kids, man, young. Two boys. A lot of stress has been on my mind lately.”
Good Lord, these quotes are starting to sound like excepts from a suicide note. And I highly doubt the contents of Hester’s pocket on Monday consisted of his “workers’ comp” papers, whatever the hell that means in the NFL anyway. I don’t have a family and I will never know what it’s like to be a parent, but I can’t stand when people whip out the “what’s best for my family” card when this much money is at stake. What’s best for your family would be for you to stay involved with the largest professional sports league in America, and in the offseason setting a good example for your kids by not lying about where you keep your documentation for any work-related grievances.
“Not being able to showcase my talent the way I want it to be showcased, stressful. I feel like I have done enough in the league where I established myself to be one of the elite players ever to play the game. God blessed me for seven years. The average years of an NFL player is about three. I made some accomplishments on my own, some goals I reached. Some more goals are out there I still felt I could achieve.”
If that’s really the case, why not just announce your retirement right there? Why keep everybody on the edge of their seats waiting to see what you’ll do until training camp is finished? If you’re going to speak only in past tense sentence fragments, then why should there be any doubt in your mind that you are in fact done with football?
We can’t provide any correct answers to these questions, because obviously Devin wasn’t thinking in a right frame of mind when he spoke these words. And since we can’t go inside of his mind and tell exactly what he was feeling when he said them, we’ll never know for sure exactly what he was thinking. But what we can do is analyze the information that we do have. So let’s break this down and list off a few reasons why Hester’s statements would lead up to believe that (at least at the moment) he is completely off of his rocker, starting with the most obvious:
1) Let’s face it, Lovie Smith was probably not as great of a coach as most people would have liked us to believe he was
To those who may defend Lovie, I understand that one of your arguments here would be the fact that just six short years ago he coached the Bears all the way to the Super Bowl.
Here’s why I’m not buying that angle: First off, everybody knows it was the Bears defense was one of the many Non-Lovie Smith issues that were responsible for that Super Bowl run. It certainly wasn’t Rex Grossman, and isn’t is possible that one of the reasons the Bears were able to play the maximum number of games in a season largely due to the fact that the NFC was very weak that year? Of course it is – Just a year before that, the NFC had sent the Matt Hasselbeck-led Seattle Seahawks to Super Bowl Forty. They lost that game to Ben Roethlisberger, who had the lowest QB rating of any Super Bowl winning quarterback. Most people who know anything about football can tell you that the only Super Bowl team that was worse than the 2005 Seahawks were the 1985 Patriots, who laid down for…(you guessed it) the Chicago Bears to give them their only title in the modern era of the NFL since the merger. What I’m getting at here is while there were many different factors that led to the Bears making it all the way to the big game that year, Lovie Smith being their coach was not one of the most important of those factors.
Now on to my second point – So he got the Bears to the Super Bowl six years ago? Great…go ahead and complain to Ken Whisenhunt about that. He also led his team to a Super Bowl loss two years after Lovie did and he got canned Monday as well. And much for the same reason that Lovie did, because of a mid to late season slide after expectations were running so high. At least Whisenhunt had the attitude of a football coach, whereas I feel Lovie never really showed the excitement that is necessary for that position. Maybe it’s the way he looks on the sidelines, but Smith always had that blank Art Shell-like look to him. He lacked the fire that is inherent in most every other NFL coach with the exception of Andy Reid, who had plenty of other things on his mind this year. And put next to the Harbaugh brothers, Lovie is basically a 15 second spot for Lunesta.
And for the record, what the hell kind of a name for a football coach is “Lovie” in the first place? Doesn’t seem like it’s that tough of a header to me. If he wanted to instill fear into the hearts of the opposition, he would have dropped that name (even though it’s his birth name, but don’t even get me started on that) the second he became head coach of The Monsters of the Midway. If I suddenly became the head coach in one of the most blistering divisions in all of professional football, I would have most certainly changed it to something else. Hell, my name is Ryan and I think even that’s unacceptable. But “Lovie” is almost unheard of…his middle name is Lee so that doesn’t really work either. He would almost have to go all out and call himself something powerful that has nothing to do with either of those. Why not “Packerkiller”, “Liontamer” or “Metrodomepopper”?
2) Devin Hester would be insane to leave the Bears or retire at this point, so this is an empty threat that held no weight from the second it left his lips
Hester is a young guy known to the casual sports fan for possessing an unbelievable skill of running back kickoffs and punts for touchdowns. He holds the following NFL records:
Combined Special teams return touchdowns, career (18)
Most regular season kick and punt return touchdowns, career (17)
Punt return touchdowns, career (12)
Punt return touchdowns, season (4)
Kickoff return touchdowns, game (2)
Combined kick return touchdowns, season: (6) (4 punts, 2 kickoffs)
Combined kick return touchdowns, rookie, season: (5) (3 punts, 2 kickoffs)
Combined kick return touchdowns, game: (2) twice
Now, although that seems like a great set of numbers to retire on, consider this: With every return touchdown that he scores from this point forward, he is that much closer to football immortality. Most of these records are not going to be broken for a very long time, if at all. So even if he gets one more in the remainder of his years, it will be worth the effort that he’s put into it. He’s thirty years old. He doesn’t have to play on most snaps from center, and is used primarily for special teams. So basically he’s collecting a pretty hearty paycheck to play whenever possession changes hands. Seems like an awfully sweet deal to me. Besides, what else is he going to do – Become Robert Griffin the Third’s stunt double? Join the Roots? Sell bibles with former “Growing Pains” star Kirk Cameron on late night cable television? Believe it or not, the third one is probably the most likely out of these three.
But did he really think that they’d call his bluff? And if so, why? And in what manner? Apologize to him? There’s no way in hell any management team is going to do that to any player in any professional sports league. That’s how sports works – the people in the skyboxes make the decisions, and the players who are on the field play the game. If it were the other way around we’d have a hundred and ten times the number of concussions that we do now, and a bunch of guys with African Studies degrees “making it rain” in the form of poorly thought through billion dollar transactions.
3) There is nothing that Hester had to gain by making these statements
So Hester said what he wanted to say, and made his fondness of Lovie known for the whole world to hear. And that’s fine, it’s his business. Although a completely stupid thing to have said, it’s his opinion and this world will never experience a shortage of athletes saying stupid things when a microphone is in front of them. So none of that really bothers me all that much. What really bothers me is the fact that Hester had nothing to gain by saying the things he said. Did he really think that if he threatened retirement that ownership would back off of the firing and say “My bad, we didn’t know Devin Hester was going to have a problem with this…” Of course not – they made it clear that they weren’t willing to rank him high on the wide receiver depth chart, and that’s precisely why they went out and got Brandon Marshall in the first place. While Hester puts fans in the seats, it would be difficult to claim that he is an essential part of that team. And he’s not going to grow five or six inches in the offseason. Am I missing something here? And it’s no secret that his importance has decreased…According to Wikipedia:
“On April 30, 2012, Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice and GM Phil Emery announced that Hester’s role will be reduced down to at least 4th-string, and Tice mentioned that the Bears will utilize Hester in a series of plays called the ‘Hester Package’, instead of an every-down receiver…”
Hmmm. Sounds to me like we have a guy here who’s more than just mad at the ownership for getting rid of his boy, it sounds to me like we have a guy here who is aware that his role has systematically been reduced over the past couple of years and he’s looking around nervously for someone to take it out on. It’s a combination of panic and irrationality, and in this instance there’s going to be a long time between now and when he can once again prove his worth to the team as a speed special teams player at thirty years of age.
If anything what he did by saying this is he sent the message to his teammates that he doesn’t have any trust in them although he should for sure make a note of their poor play down the stretch using the proverbial “we”. (I’ll get to that in point four) He is basically pulling a Tiki Barber early (saying that he is going to quit at some point in the near future) only in this instance it’s because ownership has finally wised up and realized that a coach who isn’t working…well, isn’t working. A leader rolls with the punches and finds a way to get back on their feet and do what’s best for everyone involved. A chump makes flippant remarks even when he has to know nothing good can come from them. Hester might not be a chump, but this was a chump-like move.
4) If he was really hardcore, he should have addressed the fact that the Bears didn’t deserve to be in the playoffs after that kind of skid
After a 7-1 start, the Bears went 3-5 down the stretch and their last win of the year was a squeaker against the Lions – a team they should have beat handily. Instead of fighting for a week off and a byline to divisional playoff weekend, the Bears’ recent play led them to depending on winning a nail biter of a week seventeen matchup against one of the most underachieving franchises in the league that had absolutely nothing to gain by giving that one their all. And even after all that, to be in a position where they had to hope for their archrival the Green Bay Packers (whom Lovie did not do well against at all in his career) to beat the Vikings in a domed stadium that was no match for snow just two years earlier.
If Hester was a true warrior, he would have acknowledged the faults of his team down the stretch (as well as his own lack of production) instead of claiming that the coaching change was unnecessary. I’m sure the rest of the Bears can’t be too happy about the way the second half of the season went down, and that most of them would agree they could (and should) have played better. Devin could have really stood up and emphasized that the Bears as a team were responsible for the collapse, and that while he disagreed with the coaching change he acknowledges that the game is in fact won on the field of play. It’s my own personal belief that he could have done this without “calling out” his teammates and you’d think with that seven years experience in a league where the average career isn’t even four that most of the younger guys would listen. Maybe not, but it’s a thought.
5) Hester’s actions now make him look like a whiner
While doing such a great job in the front part of his career when it comes to addressing the media and reflecting his Christian belief system, Devin Hester now looks like a guy who quits his job because his friend got pink slipped. I’ve never understood that mentality – “Well, if he’s not working here I don’t have to either…” What? Don’t you still want your money? And although on principle the “friend getting fired from work” thing is a great analogy, remember that this isn’t just some summer telemarketing job or your local milkshake joint…We’re talking about millions of dollars after all of the Chicago car dealership endorsements here. Why not just shut the hell up and get paid? That’s silly.
In the social media age, it’s more important than ever to watch one’s mouth. (I know this better than anyone, just look at how edited my Twitter account has become) What’s even worse is, sometimes it only takes one stupid thing being said in order to ruin years of good behavior. When I read about Devin Hester in Sports Illustrated his rookie season he seemed like a quiet guy who meant well and was focused. When I saw the clip of him saying he was pondering retirement, he also seemed quiet but he also seemed defeated and looked like a major complainer. Not to sound like I’m boss, but suck it up kid. Keep getting your paycheck and don’t blow it, you’re not getting any younger.
Summary: This is a unique situation because although I usually side with management on most everything that players question, I can see why the Chicago Bears might be viewed as a little different due to the McCaskey’s incompetence. Look, Lovie Smith was not working as the coach of the Chicago Bears. When something isn’t working out, you don’t just keep doing the same thing you’ve been doing because you’ll end up with the same results. The Bears did what was right for the organization, one of the few smart moves they have made over the past twenty years. I sincerely doubt he’ll find a job soon, even though at the moment you’d think he’d be a perfect fit for the Jets offensive coordinator position. We’ve probably heard the last of Lovie Smith for at least some time, and maybe forever. And that shouldn’t just please fans like me who are tired of hearing about him, it should please Chicago Bears fans as well.
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