Jeff Pearlman

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The game within

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I am standing inside the Chicago Bears’ locker room at Soldier Field, moments after their embarrassing 41-21 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
We are all here, media representatives TV and radio and web, big and small, known and obscure, because, well, it’s what we do. Following all games in all sports in all American cities and towns, we make the ridiculous ritual retreat to the locker rooms and clubhouses to hear thoughtless thoughts akin to this:
• Greg Olsen, Bears tight end: “We didn’t play well. We can play better, and we’ll work hard to do so.”
• Danieal Manning, Bears safety: “We can be better. We are better. We’ll get better.”
• Al Afalava, Bears safety: “We can’t come out and start the game so poorly. We need to play better.”
It is inane. Beyond inane. The blue carpet is covered with an odd mixture of game stuff. Scraps of athletic tape. A Gatorade bottle. Sweat-soaked T-shirts. The air smells of body odor. A large swarm of men holding TV cameras flock from one half-naked player to another, then stand by and watch as their tag-along reporters ask questions like, “What was the difference between the first and second half?” and “Can it be a good thing that you have to come back and play on Thursday?”
Truth be told, we all have seen enough professional football to know the answers to all the questions we’re asking. In fact, we know the answers better than the players themselves.
• Why did the Bears lose? Because they’re not a very good football team. Their offensive line is old and surprisingly unathletic, they only have one viable deep threat (Devin Hester) and while Matt Forte is a good running back, he’s not good enough to carry a team. On defense, their safeties were slow to react, and they allowed Warner way too much time.
• Can the Bears rebound by Thursday’s game at San Francisco? Maybe, but only because the 49ers ooze mediocrity.
• Was Cutler overhyped when he was acquired from Denver? Extremely. He has the league’s best arm, but he’s not someone who’ll carry a franchise. Too scattered, too hot and cold.
• Are the Bears, at 4-4, a playoff contender? Judging by their upcoming schedule, including home games against the Eagles and Packers and visits to Minnesota and Baltimore, no. A big no.
And yet, all we get is one cliché after another after another. There is little originality to today’s sports coverage because we all—with rare exception—choose banality. Nobody asks any of the Bears’ massive offensive linemen (who allowed quarterback Jay Cutler to be sacked four times) why they are an absolutely dreadful unit, befitting of the Mahopac High School’s junior varsity. Nobody asks the defensive backs how they could possibly allow Kurt Warner to throw five interceptions one week after he looked more David Whitehurst than two-time league MVP.
Why? Because, truth be told, we are intimidated. Not all of us—but many. The football players are the cool kids in school, and we are the geeks. They are big and strong and fast and muscular. We are small, weak and slow. They get bruises, we get ink stains. Waiting outside the locker room is a fleet of sexy blondes and brunettes, all dressed to the nines, all smelling of the sweetest perfumes, all attached to a certain player. We, on the other hand, have our deadlines to attend to.
Then, afterward, fantasy football!

  • Murray

    oooo so cynical! Being that you were in the locker room and aren’t a beat writer any longer, did you pose any of your interesting questions to the players? or were you too intimidated?

  • Bill in Oregon

    “They get bruises. We get inkstains.”

    Classic.

  • lunchboy

    I bet if you were to ask them what they had for lunch, or what they plan to have for tomorrow’s lunch, you’d get a fresh quote or two. Tell us more about the blonds and burnettes next time, too, please.

  • As much as I hate to admit it, you’re right about the Bears. And at least you’re honest about your observations of the locker room. No need to “glamourize it” like so many other people do!

  • Chris W

    You spend two bullet-points rightly pointing out how the Bears have no wide receivers and no running backs and then essentially–in the same breath–proclaim that Jay Cutler was overhyped because of his (relative) lack of success running a completely talentless offense in Chicago.

    I’m not exactly sure how to reconcile those two declamations

  • PSC

    Just curious, Jeff: Why do you have a line-up on the 1984 slam dunk contest participants? And why are they posing in a middle school auditorium?

  • I want to know what Jay Cutler thinks of Jeff George. Does he like being called the next Jeff George? Does he take that as a compliment? Does he know who Jeff George is?

    Get to work!

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life