I walked down my block towards the Blue line in my Trubisky jersey yesterday on my way to meet the Grahamdogger and crew at Kroll’s South Loop before the Bears game. A neighbor emerged from his front door wearing a Khalil Mack jersey. We exchanged knowing nods and slight smiles of anticipation. A homeless woman asking for change outside the station took one look at my jersey and said simply: “Bears.” Transferring from the Blue Line to the Red Line at Jackson, I passed a man in a Devin Hester jersey in the tunnel. We nodded at one another. The Bears-centric camaraderie increased incrementally with each step I took closer to Soldier Field. We strolled up to the Waldron Deck to meet some fellow tailgaters. Girls in pink Bears jerseys played drinking games with Whiteclaws. Men with mustaches munched on polish sausages. We encountered a Vikings superfan of some NFL Sunday fame:
Word of Roquan Smith’s unexpected inactive status due to “personal reasons” spread through the port-a-john lines. Akiem Hicks – also inactive. Two key defenders. The Vikings are a formidable team with a stud running back in Dalvin Cook. Reason for concern…unless you have Khalil Mack. That’s what reassured us as we slugged our final Coors Lights in the parking structure: As long as Mack is playing, we’ll be in the game. Superstar effect.
Mitch Trubisky went down on an overturned fumble call in the first series. Chase Daniel stepped right in a led the Bears down the field for a touchdown. I’ve never been in a stadium full of fans with such a nonchalant attitude about losing a marquee player to injury. I’ve been at Wrigley when Kris Bryant got plunked or at United Center when Lauri Markkanen got fouled hard and there’s a certain uneasy quiet that overtakes the stands. The ease with which Daniel handled that first drive was the reason I felt no inner dread. Fans just sort of shrugged. Because, when it comes down to it – quarterbacks have never been our big ticket players. Our franchise, and our city cares about defense. And our star, the center of our universe – wears #52 and wreaks havoc on offensive lines.
After the dominant defensive performance led the Bears to a 16-6 victory, we walked over the tracks on the bridge and…upon reaching Michigan Avenue, I jokingly offered my Trubisky jersey in exchange for a Khalil Mack jersey worn by a middle-aged Chicago dude attempting to hail a cab – straight up. His scoff somehow came across with a Chicago accent: “Shhhyea” – as if to say – what are you nuts? Bad investment on your part, pal. You live with your #10. Did you see my guy’s strip sack to begin the 2nd half. Or the way he got held on every play and still made impact plays? Or how all the attention paid to Mack opened up big play opportunities for backups who took advantage with big plays – guys like Nick Williams and Roy Robertson-Harris and Nick Kwiatkowski(the Polish Hammer)?
Our victory parade ended at Flo & Santos Pizza & Pierogis. Started out with a pierogi sampler; some goat cheese and marinara appetizer & a couple buckets of Coors Light. Two pizzas, a Na’Ma’s Veggie & a Grace’s Favorite (basically a supreme). Some of us stucj around for another pizza and another beer bucket. For this round we did a Marco’s Italian Beef – although half without beef to lighten the load. Think it’s my new favorite Italian Beef pizza in the city. The Khalil Mack of Italian Beef pizzas. No hyperbole. Of course, I was hyped on a Bears victory and several oversized domestic beers. Either way, they really caked on the beef and the giardiniera is excellent combined with the other toppings: carmelized onion & fire-roasted tomatoes. Both halves were amazing. The leftovers we bestowed upon me, so have ’em in my fridge. What a great thing to look forward to.
Mitch might only miss a game or two with a banged up left (non-throwing) shoulder. So my Trubisky jersey is still useful. But I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t prefer a Mack. That’s not what is important right now, however. What’s important is the Bears are 3-1 and tied for 1st place in the NFC North. Who would’ve thunk it after the Week 1 stinker? But here we are. And the defense looks as murderous to opposing offenses as we all dreamed it would be! It’s glorious! Now on to London – where Khalil Mack says he wants to make a statement against the team who didn’t want him – the Oakland Raiders. I almost feel bad for what’s going to happen to their offensive line in front of 100,000 Brits. Bear Down!!!!