The hardest part about the Chicago Bears being one win away from the NFC Championship game is that I now have to find storage space for all those pitchforks and torches I was planning on bringing with me to Halas Hall this month.
For all the voices (my own included) who were calling for a management and coaching upheaval in Chicago in August have been quieted and turned into one glorious chorus of Bear Down Chicago Bears.
At the center of the bi-polar nature of the modern day Bears fan is head coach Lovie Smith. After the 2006 season saw the return of the Bears to the Super Bowl for the first time in 21 years, expectations were through the roof. However, immediately following the Colts victory there was trouble in paradise.
Then defensive coordinator Ron Rivera was pushed out for reasons no fan understands, only to be replaced by Bob Babich for the next two seasons. Running back Thomas Jones was traded to the New York Jets to make room for the unproven Cedric Benson. Safety Chris Harris was traded to the Carolina Panthers. The Devin Hester-needs-to-be-a-wide-receiver experiment was born. And all this happened before Opening Week in 2007.
The results of all those moves were atrocious. The defense lagged, Benson was a flop, the secondary was porous and Hester still hasn't proven himself 100 percent competent at the position.
Smith's answer to the defense was to make himself defensive coordinator in 2009. While losing linebacker Brian Urlacher in Week 1 for the season didn't help, Smith's dual role failed to provide significant improvement.
Since the Super Bowl, the offense saw Rex Grossman get ridden out of town, another gun-slinging risk taker with better feet get acquired in Jay Cutler, the offensive line aged faster than unwrapped cheese and eventually offensive coordinator Ron Turner was shown the door to make room for Mike Martz—their third choice.
All of these events and circumstances made fans grow tired of the coach who seemed to never show any emotion and seemed utterly disaffected by what transpired on the field. Bears fans are used to Halas and Ditka and Butkus and McMahon and McMichael and Urlacher. Lack of emotion simply won't do.
Unless it means the Bears are winning, of course, and like it or not this season has earned Smith a pass for little while.
To date the team is still wildly inconsistent. They have certainly been lucky leading up to an 11-5 record and first round bye in the playoffs. That luck is continuing into the postseason by having to face the Seattle Seahawks who finished 7-9 for the chance to play for the NFC crown.
The frustrating part for Bears fans is that even though this season is somewhat successful already, we just don't trust what next season will hold. If a Super Bowl team was bad enough to break up, what will happen to this far from perfect team?
Smith will have his chance to prove himself. Again. He may not be everyone's favorite choice, but he's earned it.