Chicago Bears: High Expectations

Wanny's Bears

Bears expectations were high from 1994-1996.

As I trust everyone reading this realizes, there is training camp buzz around the 2012 Chicago Bears that hasn’t been present since before the 2006/2007 seasons. With the presence of the Bears’ first bonafide quarterback/receiver/running back combination since the days of the mid-1980′s, there are real expectations for a deep run into the playoffs (note I did NOT quote Wanny by saying “all the pieces are in place”). Looking back, following the hugely disappointing 2007 Chicago Bears season, I lost any high expectations for the team in 2008 and 2010. Even in the doldrums of the Wannstedt and Jauron years, there were preseasons filled with high expectations. Taking a look back at expectations for the Chicago Bears back to the 1980′s:

Mike Ditka 1984-1992:

In each and every year that Iron Mike coached the Chicago Bears from 1984 on, there were Super Bowl expectations for the team. As long as the offensive and defensive lines were strong, which they were, and there was talent at every position (which there was at least to some degree), there were expectations of deep runs into the playoffs. My fading memory has it that even going into 1990 following the disappointing 1989 Chicago Bears season, there was the expectation that the team would bounce back, and they did. Prior to the 1992 Bears season, while it was clear that age was taking a toll on the roster, most still thought the Bears had it in them to make one more run at it (they didn’t). The 5-11 season in 1992 led to Ditka’s replacement by Wannstedt and expectations for rebuilding in 1993.

Dave Wannstedt 1994-1996:

There was no real buzz for winning around the Bears in 1993, but that changed in 1994. Prior to that season Chicago added new quarterbacks (Erik Kramer and Steve Walsh), a receiver (Jeff Graham), and had begun a major transition on the offensive and defensive lines with a major addition of young talent. The team surprised everyone by winning a playoff game in 1994 and starting 6-2 the following season. This is when Wannstedt was given a five-year contract extension by then-team President Michael McCaskey. The ’95 team faded to a 9-7 finish and missed the playoffs, which was considered an anomaly, and expectations were sky-high in 1996. This was the preseason during which Wannstedt announced that “all the pieces were in place for a run deep into the playoffs.” The ’96 team fizzled to a 7-9 finish and after the season-ending loss to Tampa, it was clear that all those pieces were falling apart. Having been there I can tell you that there were no expectations for the team other than the 4-12 finishes in 1997 and 1998.

Dick Jauron 1999, 2000, 2002:

Jauron’s tenure as Bears coach began with utter disappointment and confusion after McCaskey announced the hiring of former Ditka disciple Dave McGinnis, only to have McGinnis refuse the position because he hadn’t yet accepted the position. But still there were expectations in 1999 with the addition of high-flying offensive coordinator Gary Crowton and an influx of talent from the draft the likes of which Chicago hadn’t seen since the 1980′s. After a two-game win improvement in 1999, coupled with a free agent spending spree prior to 2000, hopes were high for a return to the playoffs that year. But hopes evaporated when the team finished 5-11, leading to the “mutual parting of ways” of player personnel boss Mark Hatley. Ironically, expectations were low prior to the 2001 season when the hard-charging team was blessed by fate and finished 13-3, which led to sky-high expectations for 2002, when they again finished 4-12. There were no high expectations for the team in 2003, Jauron’s last.

Lovie Smith 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011-2012:

Finally onto our current head coach Lovie Smith. There were no real expectations for playoffs in his rookie season of 2004. There were hopes for improvement in 2005, which were dashed by a 1-3 start, then the Bears surprisingly hosted a divisional playoff game. Hopes were high for 2006 and mostly validated when the team made and lost the Super Bowl. This led to extreme expectations of a return trip in 2007, but that team and 2008′s disappointed. The addition of Jay Cutler, the club’s first true franchise quarterback since Jim McMahon, provided hope for 2009 that was dashed. Practically no one thought there were any chances in 2010, then the team hosted the NFC Championship game. This led to high hopes for 2011, when a 7-3 start tumbled to an 8-8 finish after an injury to Cutler. With the addition of what seem to be final pieces of the puzzle, here we are in 2012 again expecting the best.

If this lesson in history teaches us anything, it is indeed that anything can happen, given the seasons of 2001, 2005, and 2010 when no expectations led to playoff runs. But the best-laid plans for the Bears have also led to nothing at times. I for one am hoping there is no chance of the latter in 2012.

4 Responses to “Chicago Bears: High Expectations”

  1. If ANY Bears team did it with smoke and mirrors it was that 2001 squad. My takeaway from that year will be that two game, “Mike Brown OT INT for TD” stretch against the Niners and then the Browns. Had the good fortune to be at the Niner game coming in from Houston, TX. What made the 2002 4-12 record all the more disastrous was that they actually started out 2-0.

    Mixed feelings about the firing of Ditka after the 1992 season. I know that doofus Michael McCaskey was looking for ANY reason to get rid of Ditka, and I guess that bad finish was it. And perhaps Ditka was too loyal to the roster that still consisted of many of the aging players from the great ’80′s teams. But where he really erred was replacing Iron Mike with the likes of the overmatched Wannstedt and the clueless Jauron. Still remember Jauron’s response when asked about the troubles of erstwhile receiver David Terrell.. “We like D.T…” Oh……..OK. Thanks for that insightful answer, there Dick..

    That 1995 squad was a huge disappointment, mostly due to their siive defense. But they did put up some impressive numbers. I still remember when the downfall started, another game I happened to attend: The OT loss to the Steelers when they could NOT stop O’Donnell as he marched the Steelers right down the field. Then in 1996, Kramer hurt his neck, and that was that..

    But you’re right about expectations: I certainly have them this year, but am trying to keep them reigned in and just take it one game at a time.

  2. As long as they stay healthy, I don’t see them not making the playoffs. The only reason why they missed last year was because Cutler went down. He doesn’t, the Bears go 11-5 and the media darlings (at least in the beginning of the season) Lions stay home. I easily can see ATL and DET fading, especially DET. The team’s personality is just too easy to rattle.

    As much as we all hated Wanny’s regime, he was a great hire at the time. He was the hottest coaching prospect and top assistant available. He just wasn’t Jimmy Johnson, even though he tried to be. It’s just good to see that Wanny sucked everywhere he go. There were plenty of apologists when he left.

  3. I have higher expectations for this team than I’ve had at any time since the 80s. I think this can be a special season, with all the new talent on offense supplementing what should be a great, though aging defense. I also think Jay Cutler can win the MVP if the OL play is solid.

  4. This is the best I’ve felt since 2006, and I feel even better about this team than that team…it just feels like a special year, just like when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup. Here’s to hoping…

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