Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher wears a gold captain's "C" on his jersey. It means he's been voted a captain by his teammates at least five times. An NFL player can't bear a greater sign of respect from his team. On and off the field, Urlacher is the Bears' leader of record; the face of the franchise.
I guess the franchise doesn't care about its fans.
"Two of the people I don't care about: fans or media," Urlacher told the Chicago Tribune on Monday. Fresh off a crushing loss to the Green Bay Packers, Urlacher was stung by Bears fans voicing their disappointment:
Our crowd was pretty good today for the most part. They were loud for a minute there, the boos were really loud, which is always nice [end sarcasm]. The only team in our division that gets booed at home is us. It's unbelievable to me.
Believe it, don't believe it, we don't care. We're going to go out there and play as hard as we can.
Quarterback Jay Cutler told radio station WMVP he gets Urlacher's point. "I know Brian is frustrated that he can't be out there to help us," Cutler said. "I think everyone in that locker room is supporting [Bears head coach Lovie Smith], and we'll see what happens."
On Tuesday, fellow linebacker Lance Briggs supported Urlacher on Briggs's own radio show. "Obviously, some people think the way it came off, they might be upset about it," Briggs said. "I understand where he's coming from. I've been here for a long time, too, and I've seen a lot of boos, for a lot of wrong reasons. Nobody, on any team I've ever been on, gets booed more at home than here in Chicago."
There's a reason Bears fans are booing. Urlacher said the 8-6 Bears are playing as hard as they can, but if that's true they're mysteriously much less talented than the Bears that started this season 7-1.
It's been a long time since Urlacher, Briggs and Smith led the Bears to the Super Bowl. In fact, this is the sixth season since the Bears came one game shy of winning it all. Practically every year since then, the Bears have made a major push to get back. At some point, mortgaging the future for the present won't work, because the future will be the present.
This past offseason, Bleacher Report's own Aaron Nagler wrote that this year's win-now move, a trade for troubled receiver Brandon Marshall, was the mark of a desperate team. If the team is so desperate to cash in while players like Urlacher and Briggs can still make an impact, how do fans feel?
For six years in a row, Bears fans have been blocking out the first week of February on their calendars, ready for the Bears' triumphant return to the game's biggest game. And for six years in a row, they've had to watch a talented but inconsistent team fail.
Briggs thinks he understands. "That's also a point to the passion of Chicago fans," he said. "Everyone is passionate, but everyone in Chicago doesn't know how to run a football team, doesn't know how to play for a professional football team. It's our job to do that."
Briggs is right: it's his job to play for a professional football team. His salary for this season, according to the Chicago Tribune, is $6.25 million. That salary is paid by the passion of fans.
Briggs, Urlacher, Cutler and Smith all owe their portly game checks to the hundreds of thousands of folks in Chicagoland (and around the world!) who part with their hard-earned cash to support the Bears. If the Bears aren't doing their job, those fans can withdraw their support—or show up and voice their displeasure.
Booing the home team has always carried a stigma; why abandon your team when they need your support the most? The reverse is fair, though: If the fans feel the team has abandoned them, why should they support them?
The truth is, it shouldn't matter. Urlacher, Briggs, Cutler, defensive end Julius Peppers and the other veterans shouldn't be publicly whining about the fans and media getting on their case, they should be shouting from the rooftops they're fed up with losing.
They should be in the media and in their teammates' faces, demanding more. They should be the first ones saying that going 2-5 in November and December is unacceptable for a team that was in position for a first-round bye and home-field advantage at Halloween.
Urlacher says that's not the way Smith and the Bears do things:
He's not going to call a player out in front of the people, he'll do it privately, which is the way it should be handled," Urlacher said. "He's not one of those coaches who's going to go out there and yell and scream at you. That's just not his style and we appreciate that. We know when it's time to play, we just haven't played well. It's not his fault we haven't played well. He can't get out there and do it for us, we have to do it ourselves.
Smith's job is to get the Bears "do it for themselves." If he can't do that, he won't have a job anymore—and neither, perhaps, will Urlacher.
Maybe the Bears have it right: they shouldn't care about the fans, or their boos. They should care about their jobs, and that they're not doing them.